Far left anarchist protesters marched down the street, shouting and yelling anti-government slogans. Nearly ever night, rocks bottles and Molotov cocktails replaced the slogans, as the marching turned into looting and rioting.
Right-wing groups attacked the leftists. While police just looked on street fights raged in the City. Within a short time, the fights turned deadly.
Weimar Germany 1923?
Portland, Oregon, United States. 2020.
For over three months, every night there have been loud demonstrations from the far left in Portland. Nearly every night they start out peacefully, then degenerate. At one point, “protestors” tried to set a police building on fire and lock the officers inside. That this would be capital murder did not appear to bother them.
Sparked by the killing in Minneapolis, Minnesota of George Floyd in May, the Portland riots have been attributed to Antifa, the leftist group that calls itself “anti-fascist.” Too often, Antifa represents that which it claims to oppose. Among the protestors’ demands are the defunding of the Portland police department, large increases in social welfare spending and the resignation of Portland’s hapless mayor, Ted Wheeler.
Wheeler is America’s worst mayor. Given the presence of New York’s Bill DiBlasio and Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot, that’s saying something. No one person, however, has done more to destroy his/her own city than Wheeler.
For three months Mayor Wheeler has acquiesced in the violence ripping apart Portland. The Mayor seems to believe that maintaining his “woke” credentials is more important than safeguarding the welfare, safety and reputation of his City and its residents.
With either the tacit or active support of Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown, Wheeler has refused to break up forcefully the demonstrations, even as night after night they turned ugly. Two weeks ago Wheeler tweeted an open letter to President Trump refusing federal help in controlling the riots. In that letter, Wheeler claimed that the residents of Portland were “onto” Trump. Within 24 hours, the protestors thanked Wheeler by occupying his own apartment building, taking their grievance to his home. This is an appalling and unacceptable tactic for any representative democracy to allow. In response, Wheeler cowardly announced he was moving, although where to remains an open question. So much for the concept of safety and security in one’s home.
At least twice, right wing groups have attacked the demonstrators. Last weekend one of the counter-demonstrators, Aaron Danielson, was killed by an Antifa supporter. On Friday, Portland Police killed the suspect, Michel Reinoehl, in a gun battle.
Under orders from Wheeler, the Portland Police mostly stood aside. Belatedly realizing the political and social disaster that is unfolding, Oregon Governor Kate Brown called on neighboring police forces to assist in Portland. That broke down quickly as Police Chiefs in those neighboring counties refused to send their officers. They announced – with much justification – that they would not send their police to a City where any suspects arrested would just be released under orders of Wheeler and Portland’s District Attorney, Michael Schmidt.
Sensing the Mayor’s impotence and with fear growing that the authorities won’t protect the citizenry, right wing groups took matters into its own hands. Thus the street fights, and now the death. Just this weekend, a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators were attacked by a right-wing group known as the Proud Boys. Again, scenes that looked straight out European historical films happened in 2020. This time they happened in the United States.
Portland of course is not the only place where this is happening. Following the shooting in the back of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, by a white policeman, massive riots and looting broke out. Quickly white vigilantes armed to confront them, including a 17 year old boy from the neighboring state of Illinois, Kyle Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse shot three people, two of them fatally, in actions he claims were self-defense. He now faces murder charges. Just the fact that Rittenhouse went to Kenosha armed, however, is evidence of American failure.
Caught in the middle of this mayhem, of course, will be the Jews. Too white for the radical supporters of Black Lives Matter and its ilk, not white enough for the Proud Boys and its ilk, Jews are targeted by both sides. The riots that followed both the George Floyd killing were filled with little reported anti- Semitic incidents, including vandalism and destruction of synagogues. The same occurred in Kenosha in the aftermath of the James Blake shooting.
Throughout history, when the foundations of responsible government fail, the radical fringes take over. That is never good for the Jews. Most of us who grew up in the United States believed that radical populism could never gain power here as it did in the 1930’s in Europe. These last few months have shaken our confidence in that belief to its core. Whatever the political positions of the City Mayor, State Governor or President, the need to confront historical injustice goes hand in hand with the obligation to keep the citizenry safe and secure. Both must be done for the society to progress.
In the United States today, the exact opposite is happening. Fear of the mayhem on American streets now is showing up nationally in the Presidential polls, scaring the Joe Biden campaign, which foolishly believed the unrest was good for it in “Donald Trump’s America”. Instead, as is his way, President Donald Trump is highlighting the violence, using every opportunity to create more division. The social fabric holding the country together is fraying.
We can only hope that the vehemence of the national reaction against the violence will cause both political parties to think hard about its causes and to stop condoning both its perpetrators and vigilante opponents. This goes for all levels, from the White House down to City Hall. If not, we Jews unfortunately have centuries of experience as to where that leads. More than ever before in my lifetime, we understand why every Jewish life really is like the balancing act of a Fiddler on the Roof.