A similar cycle has played out at UC Berkeley. In February, masked antifascists broke store windows and hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at police during a rally against the planned speech by Yiannopoulos. After the university canceled the speech out of what it called “concern for public safety,” white nationalists announced a “March on Berkeley” in support of “free speech.” At that rally, a 41-year-old man named Kyle Chapman, who was wearing a baseball helmet, ski goggles, shin guards, and a mask, smashed an antifa activist over the head with a wooden post. Suddenly, Trump supporters had a viral video of their own. A far-right crowdfunding site soon raised more than $80,000 for Chapman’s legal defense. (In January, the same site had offered a substantial reward for the identity of the antifascist who had punched Spencer.) A politicized fight culture is emerging, fueled by cheerleaders on both sides. As James Anderson, an editor at It’s Going Down, told Vice, “This shit is fun.”
Portland offers perhaps the clearest glimpse of where all of this can lead. The Pacific Northwest has long attracted white supremacists, who have seen it as a haven from America’s multiracial East and South. In 1857, Oregon (then a federal territory) banned African Americans from living there. By the 1920s, it boasted the highest Ku Klux Klan membership rate of any state.
In 1988, neo-Nazis in Portland killed an Ethiopian immigrant with a baseball bat. Shortly thereafter, notes Alex Reid Ross, a lecturer at Portland State University and the author of Against the Fascist Creep, anti-Nazi skinheads formed a chapter of Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice. Before long, the city also had an Anti-Racist Action group.
Now, in the Trump era, Portland has become a bastion of antifascist militancy. Masked protesters smashed store windows during multiday demonstrations following Trump’s election. In early April, antifa activists threw smoke bombs into a “Rally for Trump and Freedom” in the Portland suburb of Vancouver, Washington. A local paper said the ensuing melee resembled a mosh pit.
When antifascists forced the cancellation of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, Trump supporters responded with a “March for Free Speech.” Among those who attended was Jeremy Christian, a burly ex-con draped in an American flag, who uttered racial slurs and made Nazi salutes. A few weeks later, on May 25, a man believed to be Christian was filmed calling antifa “a bunch of punk bitches.”
The next day, Christian boarded a light-rail train and began yelling that “colored people” were ruining the city. He fixed his attention on two teenage girls, one African American and the other wearing a hijab, and told them “to go back to Saudi Arabia” or “kill themselves.” As the girls retreated to the back of the train, three men interposed themselves between Christian and his targets. “Please,” one said, “get off this train.” Christian stabbed all three. One bled to death on the train. One was declared dead at a local hospital. One survived.