Portland City Council plans to pass a resolution to acknowledge the history of white nationalism in Portland, denounce the recent uptick in alt-right organizing in the city, and request a training that would educate city staff on the realities of white supremacy in Portland.
“Whereas, nationally, there has been a rise of white nationalist, white supremacist and alt-right hate groups, many of which have been emboldened by the words and actions of the current presidential administration,” the resolution, shared with the Mercury, begins. It's scheduled to be approved by city council on Thursday, February 7.
“Whereas, Portland has a documented history of white supremacist hate groups who have used intimidation and have committed violent repression of individuals in our community,” it goes on. “Whereas, there has been a recent surge of alt-right hate group activity and hostility, here, in our home, conjuring painful memories of our city’s past and causing harm to current residents.”
The detailed resolution does not mention any alt-right or white nationalists groups by name. However, it could easily be read as a direct response to the numerous violent protests instigated by Patriot Prayer, a Vancouver, Washington alt-right group, in the past year.
City council came to a head last November when, after a string of particularly unwieldy and aggressive visits by Patriot Prayer, Mayor Ted Wheeler proposed an ordinance that would restrict potentially violent protests. But the ordinance’s vague phrasing concerned constitutional law experts, and the protest ordinance failed a council vote.
Commissioner Nick Fish, who voted against Wheeler's proposal, says that this new resolution reflects the input city council received from criminal justice advocates during the lead-up to the controversial vote.
"Local leadership had not unequivocally put down a marker on where we stood on the alt-right," Fish says. "We want to show that there's no daylight between us and the advocates on this issue."
Fish's staff worked closely with Wheeler's office to draft the resolution, which includes input from all five members of the council. It's expected to pass next week's council vote unanimously.
"We’re at a crossroads in this country and in our community," said Wheeler in a statement emailed to the Mercury. "As elected officials, we have a moral obligation to speak out against white supremacy and white nationalism and stand together with all Portlanders.
"These aren’t just words or ‘thoughts & prayers,’" Wheeler continued. "This is signaling the city’s commitment to begin taking immediately proactive steps to denounce hate in our community and protect our residents.”
The city's introduction of the resolution comes amid an unusual uptick in Patriot Prayer visits to Portland.
Members of Patriot Prayer have become increasingly confrontational and violent with progressive Portland organizations in the past month. Just over a week ago, Patriot Prayer members held a rally in front of a union office where they'd been turned away from a Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) meeting the week before. The protest featured anti-Muslim shouts and general intimidation of community members.
Since then, Patriot Prayer members have ramped up a campaign to "demask" Portland anti-fascists (or, Antifa), a group in direct opposition to Patriot Prayer who regularly cover their faces during demonstrations. Patriot Prayer posted a video on its Facebook page Saturday showing a man grabbing a masked protester from behind at a recent pro-immigrant rally, while Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson aggressively removes the protestor's mask. Gibson calls this so-called "demasking" campaign "nonviolent."
On Monday, a spokesperson from the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) said that while the bureau was aware of these threatening encounters, no related police reports have been filed.
The city council resolution references instances in Portland's history informed by white supremacy, like the city's expulsion of Japanese Americans following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or the construction of I-5, which primarily displaced Black communities.
"Portland has… a history of bias in government services, including policing, all of which have led to the gentrification and decimation of historically black neighborhood," the resolution reads.
It concludes with a straightforward promise:
"Be it resolved that the City of Portland will not tolerate hate in any form and reaffirms its commitment to continue, in collaboration with Portlanders, pursing policies and directing bureaus in the next year and beyond to ensure civil and human rights to all individuals.
Be it further resolved that the City of Portland will work with community organizations to develop a training for all city staff on the history and impact of white supremacy and how to identify white supremacy."
Fish says he understands the resolution may be seen as a "purely symbolic" gesture by activists wanting a more action-oriented response to Patriot Prayer's unwelcome visits. He believes the message will set the tone for the rest of the city to follow, and give law enforcement a reference point when deciding how to police the alt-right in the future.
"Portland is a city that is proudly at the center of interesting movements," Fish says. "This is going to end up being an footnote in our history. Sooner than later, Joey Gibson will just be a footnote."