We won’t let Patriot Prayer go unopposed

September 6, 2017

John Monroe writes from Portland on plans to counter the far right's latest rally.

ON SEPTEMBER 10, far-right extremists are again assembling in a city that has become one of their primary targets: Portland, Oregon.

Cynically hiding behind claims about free speech, civil rights and nonviolence, the local extremist organization Patriot Prayer is leading a rally that will assemble fascists, white supremacists and right-wing militias.

Patriot Prayer is a local "free speech" organization that runs interference for more extreme organizations. They organize the rallies, and leader Joey Gibson spouts pacifist jargon--meanwhile, the Oath Keepers and Three Percenter militias, white supremacist group Identity Europa and fascist organizations like the Traditionalist Worker Party use these rallies to recruit and test out their forces in the streets.

Multiple counterprotests are being mobilized against the far right. One is organized by Portland Stands United Against Hate (PSUAH), a coalition formed in May to protest the far right in Portland that brings together a wide range of community groups and political organizations.

The far-right group Patriot Prayer rallies in Portland, Oregon
The far-right group Patriot Prayer rallies in Portland, Oregon

PSUAH first confronted Patriot Prayer on June 4, building the largest of several protests that brought out a combined 1,500 people to rally against hate and violence. The counterprotesters greatly outnumbered the few hundred who showed up on their side.

More than 70 groups have endorsed PSUAH, including 13 unions. Laborers Local 483, representing city workers, Ironworkers Local 29 and Portland Jobs with Justice have all participated in organizing for the September 10 counterprotest. The International Socialist Organization, Democratic Socialists of America and Socialist Alternative are building for a socialist contingent in the march and rally.

DESPITE RECENT setbacks after a national upsurge of protest against fascism and white supremacy, far-right groups are actively looking to assert themselves. While some in the liberal media oblige them by falsely equating Antifa anti-racist protesters and fascist thugs bent on terror, the extremists who murdered Heather Heyer in Charlottesville are trying to regain momentum.

Since then, Patriot Prayer has adapted its cynical language to claim not only a defense of free speech, but the mantle of Gandhi and King. Describing Patriot Prayer as nonviolent, Gibson is attempting to organize a "Reverse Selma" to gain support from more mainstream conservatives by posing as a victim of left-wing aggression. The tactic seems to be working at the Washington Times for one.

But it is the far right that has been the aggressors time and again. The June 4 PSUAH rally followed the horrific racist attack on a public train that claimed the lives of Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche. The previous week, a right-wing student attacked and killed Richard Collins III at the University of Maryland.

Following the Charlottesville terror attack carried out by a member of Vanguard America, an outright fascist organization, anti-fascists mobilized in cities across the country. Some 25,000 people came out in Boston, 15,000 in San Francisco, 3,000 in Berkeley, and thousands more elsewhere.

One important part of the mobilizations has been labor. In the Bay Area, some of the largest unions in the region joined forces to challenge the far right. A plan for Islamophobic far-right rallies in almost 70 cities was cancelled in the face of the upsurge, dealing a major blow to the monster.

But the monster is not a single group. It's a whole set of organizations that make up a far-right movement that is attempting to rise to its feet. Empowered by the Bigot-in-Chief, fascism speaks to the despair created by economic crisis, a despair that the Democrats have miserably failed to address.

The suffering and hopelessness caused by capitalism won't lessen by itself. Anger at the conditions endured by the majority in society can go in one of two directions--toward a social alternative that meets human needs and empowers individual and collective development, or toward vile bigotry and inhuman violence.

To challenge the right's politics of despair, we need to organize the left and offer a practical alternative. Meanwhile, the most important step we can take is to develop an anti-fascist movement.

We need to bring more people into the struggle, build the networks that can respond rapidly and militantly, and be prepared to protect ourselves and our comrades. The best way to develop our capacity to defend ourselves from another Charlottesville is to build a bigger movement against fascism.

That means when Democrats and their liberal allies call on protesters to stay home, we have to challenge them. After all, this is the same party that has been claiming to lead the resistance against Donald Trump, but it has been anything but that.

In the fight against the right, we need to win over more people to relying on their own collective power rather than the Democratic Party. And we need anti-fascist organizations to be democratic, open and oriented around working-class and anti-oppression politics.

In this way, we can not only build our capacity to fight the right, but also build a political movement independent of the Democrats that can challenge the roots of the massive social crisis and the rise of the right.

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