Portland socialists won’t be silenced

January 30, 2019

Nikki Williams reports on a far-right group’s harassment of Portland socialists and how campus administrations are protecting the reactionaries at the expense of free speech.

A JANUARY 24 meeting on climate change hosted by the Portland State University (PSU) branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) was canceled — against the wishes of the ISO — by the university after Joey Gibson, founder of far-right group Patriot Prayer, announced on Facebook that he would be attending with other “patriots.”

Another recent meeting held by a Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) was canceled by Portland Community College (PCC) because of a similar threat by Gibson and his followers, who are escalating their attempts to silence any views that diverge from their own.

As DSA said in a statement after the cancellation:

PCC has effectively stifled the free speech of Portland DSA and allowed Patriot Prayer’s hostile tactics to intimidate them. Decisions like this will encourage them to continue to suppress positive organizing, and will only embolden them in the future. Although PCC intends to reschedule this event, the threats of violence will not stop. There is no “better time” for us to organize in the face of this fascist threat. That time is now.

Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson rallies supporters in Portland, Oregon
Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson rallies supporters in Portland, Oregon (Tiffany Von Arnim | flickr)

Patriot Prayer members have been harassing Portland DSA meetings for months, bringing cupcakes and attempting to get in the room under the guise of “debate,” but with the clear goal to antagonize and provoke attendees of the meetings.

Their entry has been blocked peacefully by DSA’s security team. Patriot Prayer members record these encounters and post videos online, always portraying themselves as victims.

In mid-January, members of the group succeeded in escalating violence outside a DSA meeting that was being held at the local Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union house.

That altercation, which involved individuals not connected to the DSA meeting, ended with two members of Patriot Prayer being hospitalized — which Gibson has used to rile up his followers and intensify the harassment of the DSA and other socialist groups.

Days after the altercation, Patriot Prayer called for a rally at the IWW union house. The rally was filled with hate speech, and Patriot Prayer figurehead Haley Adams was pictured holding a pink Taser to the neck of one counterprotester.

Patriot Prayer was able to split their forces on that day, and some of their followers attended a #MeToo rally that had been co-sponsored by the DSA, Socialist Alternative and the ISO. Patriot Prayer followers brazenly taunted survivors of sexual violence as they told their stories.

On January 24, the IWW house was sprayed with graffiti that read “Antifa House” and “Smash Communism.” The Democratic Party of Oregon building and Cider Riot, a local venue hosting an upcoming “Rock Against Fascism” event, were also graffitied. Patriot Prayer claims this was a “false flag” — and that “Antifa” graffitied their own house.

LATER THAT same day, Gibson shared on Facebook the event hosted by International Socialist Organization a few hours before the start of the meeting and asked his followers on social media to “challenge their bubble.”

Shortly before the meeting, Gibson flew into an 11-minute narcissistic rant on Facebook, describing the supposed evils of “Antifa” and explaining why he was targeting socialist groups for supporting Antifa. He promised to target every socialist meeting or left-wing event until socialists “disavow Antifa.”

His followers targeted a DSA event on ecosocialism that was happening at the same time, while Gibson focused on the ISO’s event. He live-streamed himself heading to the meeting while his followers cautioned him to be careful, compared the ISO to al-Qaeda and called us “thugs.”

Despite these clear threats to freedom of assembly and speech, PSU’s Campus Public Safety Office (CPSO) chose to do Patriot Prayer’s dirty work for them, canceling the meeting 30 minutes before it was supposed to begin.

ISO organizers informed CPSO that there was a security plan in place — to not engage with the far right and to keep them out of the meeting in order to keep attendees safe — and that cancelation of the meeting was not necessary.

But CPSO said it was canceling the meeting based on threats made on the Facebook event page after one person, unaffiliated with the ISO, posted a comment directed at Joey Gibson.

Event organizers had taken down the post and blocked the person, but CPSO still decided to cancel the meeting in order to protect Gibson — who was not welcome at the meeting. CPSO Chief Donnell Tanksley claimed he needed to put “safety and security first.”

It soon became apparent how little Tanksley was actually concerned about the safety of attendees.

A known and aggressive far-right provocateur named Gregory Isaacson, who had taunted survivors of sexual violence at the #MeToo rally the previous weekend, arrived early to the ISO the meeting and was denied entry by the security team.

Isaacson carried a cane with a large metal head shaped like a hammer — raising concerns that it could be used as a weapon. Though Isaacson complained he was being discriminated against, the left has a responsibility to protect itself from such blatant provocations.

PSU EMPLOYEES were in the process of turning Isaacson away, since he had not been invited to the meeting, when the PSU administration and Tanksley stepped in to inform Isaacson that the meeting was canceled — but that he did have a right to attend if it had occurred.

When members of the ISO’s security team pointed out to Tanksley that Isaacson was known to the group as an aggressive disruptor, Tanksley stated, “We want to ensure the safety of all people — all views of people.” Tanksley then insisted that the 20 attendees who were already in the room exit immediately.

The security team argued that it was unsafe for attendees to leave in an unorganized way, knowing that members of Patriot Prayer and another far-right group, the Proud Boys, have been alleged to lurk in the shadows after events, and provoke or attack people as they go to their cars.

ISO organizers asked that attendees be allowed to stay and meet other people who may not have heard that the meeting was canceled. Tanksley was eventually persuaded to let the group stay until the time the meeting was supposed to start, but forced attendees into the hallway with Isaacson and CPSO and Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers.

At least a dozen more attendees did arrive. At exactly 6:30, CPSO forced everyone attendees to leave. The group remained safe and had a strategic exit plan only because of the security team, not because of CPSO.

Gibson did arrive shortly after attendees were forced out and posted a picture of the sign saying the meeting was canceled — and his followers celebrated the cancellation as a victory.

Students and community members have no reason to feel safe in the presence of Portland police, which the ACLU has repeatedly exposed for using aggressive force. They also have no reason to feel safe with CPSO officers, who are armed despite protests by staff and students. In June of last year, CPSO officers shot and killed local postal worker and father Jason Washington.

CPSO also reportedly have assisted in silencing survivors of sexual assault, telling survivors that they could not stop the person who assaulted them from attending student group meetings.

CPSO and the campus administration’s insistence that no one can be denied entry to meetings on their campus has endangered meetings of student groups in the past.

For years, CPSO have forced student groups to allow entry to dangerous right-wing provocateurs, who have disrupted meetings. This decision is supported by the administration and continues to be enforced, even after one of these provocateurs was arrested for aiming a gun at protesters during a rally opposing police violence.

As the PSU branch of the ISO noted in a statement following the meeting cancellation:

[Patriot Prayer’s] intention is to intimidate and silence their political opponents, which includes both the organized left and anyone who speaks out against oppression and exploitation. By shutting down our events on the pretext of concern for our safety, CPSO is doing the right’s dirty work for them, stifling our free speech and adding to an atmosphere of fearfulness.

GIBSON AND Patriot Prayer have recently escalated their tactics with a “de-mask Antifa” campaign. This campaign entails members of Patriot Prayer wandering the streets and searching for people with bandanas or other face coverings, and taking their “masks” off, which they claim is not assault because they are only touching the mask.

The weekend following the canceled socialist events, Gibson and his followers attended an event against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and filmed themselves holding protesters in bear hugs while Gibson pulled their masks off.

Gibson and his followers are open about the fact that they are escalating their tactics against the left. As he said in a video on social media:

I think the point where I had enough was December 31st. It was a day where I was thinking about 2018 and thinking about 2019 and I was thinking about what I want to do with my life and how I want to change some of my tactics and how I want to be on fire in 2019. And I don’t mean like on fire like more people know me or in publicity more, no. I want to be more effective and more diverse in the things that I’m doing.

“More effective” in intimidating the left into silence, he means.

In the same video, Gibson reiterated his threat against socialist organizations:

I want to go after any sort of legitimate organizations who pretend to be legitimate and are using Antifa as their Nazi militant group that can go around and force their ideology on people who disagree with them. If you disagree with the communist socialist ideology, there are extremists who believe it is justified to use evil tactics against those who speak out against them.

Socialist groups are refusing to be intimidated, and are vowing to continue planning, organizing and hosting meetings and other events — and organizing against the far right at every turn. As the statement from DSA noted:

Although we understand the fear that groups like Patriot Prayer generate, as it is their primary tactic, we in Portland DSA will not be deterred by their threats of violence and harassment. We take Patriot Prayer’s threats very seriously, and we can reassure members that we have a skilled safety team that uses de-escalation tactics that have protected our community for the past three weeks. This particular event will be rescheduled in the future.

We invite everyone who is curious about DSA, who wants to organize to create a better world, and who is courageous in the face of Patriot Prayer’s opposition, to join us and organize with us.

The PSU branch of the ISO concurred in its statement:

The PSU International Socialist Organization has no intention of giving in to these silencing tactics, either by the right or the state. We stand in solidarity with our comrades in the Industrial Workers of the World, Democratic Socialists of America and all others who have been the target of similar attacks in recent weeks.

We take the threat of the growing far-right movement in this country (and internationally) seriously and continue to take every measure to ensure the safety of our community in our meetings and at public events. We will continue to speak out about and organize around the issues that impact our communities every day. We know that the way we defeat fascism is by building a mass movement which counters the politics of hate, despair and bigotry with a positive vision of a better world for all.

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