A Portland venue is taking heat from the local anti-fascist community for hosting an event featuring two far-right personalities.
The event will feature Dinesh D’Souza, a prolific author and documentarian known for peddling dangerous conservative conspiracy theories and comparing progressive politicians to Nazis, and Brandon Straka, an alleged former liberal who came into alleged prominence last year with an allegedly viral campaign encouraging fellow Democrats to “walk away” from their party and start voting Republican. It is under Straka’s branding— “#WalkAway”—that these two will converge for "#WalkAway Presents: Rescue America," a meeting of the minds Tuesday evening at the Melody Event Center, an inner Southeast Portland venue that hosts a range of community events.
But a group of local anti-fascist activists and other concerned Portlanders are hoping the Melody will reverse course and cancel the event.
For Effie Baum, an organizer with local leftist group Popular Mobilization (PopMob), the motivation to get the event canceled is two-fold: it gives a platform to “known provocateurs of the far-right,” and it will be used as “a recruitment opportunity for our local hate groups.”
“While we have our own issues with the local fascists organizing,” said Baum, “an event like this gives an opportunity to broaden their recruitment and organizing strategy from more of a local scale to getting that national reach.”
D’Souza’s far-right bona fides include poking fun at the Parkland school shooting survivors mere days after the shooting, questioning the importance of Black civil rights activist Rosa Parks, and trying to link homosexuality with Nazi Germany—and that’s all just in the last couple years. Straka hasn’t been in the public eye as long as D’Souza, but his Twitter account features transphobic comments, and PopMob shared an image over the weekend in which he appears to be dressed as Adolph Hitler.
But the party doesn’t stop with D’Souza and Straka. #WalkAway is being fashioned as a town hall, and other right-wing figures are invited to table at the event. Until recently, that included Joey Gibson, leader of far-right Vancouver, Washington group Patriot Prayer, and Angela Roman, an Oregon political candidate with links to the radical militia group Three Percenters.
PopMob started publicly calling for the Melody to drop #WalkAway over the weekend. But Baum said that going public was a last resort, after owners and staffers at the Melody declined organizers’ private requests to cancel the event. The group is are now calling on others to call and email the Melody to express their own concerns about the event. Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone amplified that call to action on her own Twitter page.
“We didn’t plan to do a big public call-out,” Baum said. “We had a lot of people reaching out to us via email or messages on social media, saying that they were concerned this event was happening, and they wanted to make sure we were aware of it.”
While the Melody did not agree to cancel the event, it did disinvite Gibson and Roman from tabling after receiving calls from PopMob and others. Facebook links promoting Gibson’s and Roman’s appearances at the event now appear to be broken. However, Gibson is still promoting the event on his personal website.
“That’s a great first step, but it’s not enough,” Baum said. “The two people who are going to be hosting the town hall are also problematic.”
Baum pointed out that the Melody hosts many community-oriented events, including weddings, quinceañeras, and nonprofit fundraisers.
“This is an event space that’s affordable, where community groups can hold their events,” they said. “If they’re also hosting events that attract these far-right groups, then it’s not a space for their community.”
“We’re concerned for the safety of [the Melody’s] Black and brown and LGBTQ+ employees, and people that are in the neighborhood,” Baum added. “Because when these events happen, all these folks get together and feel emboldened, and that’s when they go out in groups and start attacking people.”
As of press time, the Melody had not yet responded to the Mercury’s requests for comment. We will update this post later if they respond.
Update Tuesday, November 5:
The Melody Event Center responded Tuesday morning with a press statement, saying owner Alan Peters "wants the community to know that he will not allow any presenters in our facility that promote racism, anti-LBGTQ rhetoric, or that incite or promote violence."
"It came to our attention that some groups that promote those very ideas were invited into our space," the statement continues. "There is no question that those groups will not be allowed into our space. The Melody Event Center has barred those groups from participating in the November 5 event. We have implemented a safety and security plan in conjunction with the presenter and local law enforcement."
The Melody's statement is unclear about which groups will and will not be allowed in to the event, or how it will be determined which presenters "promote racism, anti-LBGTQ rhetoric, or that incite or promote violence." We have asked the Melody to clarify, and will update again if we hear back.