Threatened by a right-winger in Portland

July 12, 2016

A demonstration in Portland calling for justice for the victims of police violence was faced with a deadly threat when a known right-winger brandished a loaded weapon.

NEARLY 2,000 activists and community members took to the streets of Portland, Oregon, on July 7 to demand justice for the cold-blooded police murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

The event, organized by Don't Shoot PDX on less than 24 hours' notice, started in downtown Pioneer Square and grew steadily as protesters marched to rally in front of the city's so-called Justice Center. With megaphones in hand, speakers called for mass protest and organization to stand up to police brutality. The charged, yet peaceful, crowd answered these calls with chants of "Power to the people" and "I am a revolutionary!"

Suddenly, the uplifting, unified character of the event was punctured by shouts of "Gun!" and "Hit the ground!"

The frightened crowd was reacting to the actions of Michael Strickland, a right-wing blogger who, members of activist groups in Portland say, has regularly harassed and intimidated LGBTQ folks, communities of color and radical activists.

Participants in the march say that before the confrontation, Strickland was standing on the north edge of the protest, filming Black Lives Matter protesters. Once recognized, they say, Strickland was approached by those providing event security, who asked him to leave.

A right-winger accused of pulling out a gun at a Portland demonstration talks to a reporter
A right-winger accused of pulling out a gun at a Portland demonstration talks to a reporter (Twitter)

According to the account of people who were there, Strickland lifted his shirt as he was walking away and placed a hand on a belt holster that held a weapon. As folks responded with the chant "Racist, you gotta go...You're not welcome here," Strickland suddenly pulled out a handgun and leveled it at the crowd. According to court records described in media reports, the gun was loaded, and Strickland had five magazines in his possession.

Several individuals tried to defuse the confrontation and usher Strickland as far back from the crowd of families who were marching as possible. Others fled the immediate vicinity, and a few activists called for a perimeter to make sure Strickland was kept separate from demonstrators.

As Strickland backed further away, witnesses say he pulled out his gun again, waving it in the direction of activists, before finally retreating from the protest area.

Both uniformed and undercover Portland cops were swarming the area. Some later admitted to demonstrators that they were as close as 20 yards to Strickland when they saw him pull out the gun--and a media report said the prosecutor charged at Strickland's arraignment that he pointed his gun at a plainclothes police officer as well as demonstrators.

Yet the police waited more than 10 minutes after he threatened the demonstration to arrest Strickland. Imagine how these same officers would have responded if a Black activist had pulled out a gun at a Trump rally.

Strickland has been charged with two felony counts of unlawful use of a weapon, along with misdemeanor charges of menacing and disorderly conduct. The judge in the case set bail at $250,000.

LOCAL NEWS outlets described Michael Strickland vaguely as a "Trump supporter." But people in Portland who take a stand against racism or oppression say that they know Strickland all too well.

He has a history of verbally harassing activists on the left and showing up to events hosted by organizations such as Don't Shoot PDX, the Portland State University Student Union (PSUSU), Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO).

Members of these organizations say Strickland has filmed their events against their will. The confrontations were then posted on Strickland's YouTube channel "Laughing at Liberals," where people with anonymous accounts can mock and threaten individuals fighting for a better world.

The consequences of these actions are far from funny, say area activists. For example, many women who were part of the Occupy PDX movement in 2011 report being followed and photographed by Strickland, then finding their pictures posted online, along with addresses and other personal information.

Known as "doxing," this cyber-harassment seems to be a go-to method for Strickland and fellow right-wingers like Dan Sandini, who has regularly carried out similar harassment and disruption of left events in Portland. Members of the PSUSU and the PSU branch of the ISO have been filmed and doxed while participating in activities to protest campus militarization, protest the racist nationalism of Donald Trump and defend the assertion that Black Lives Matter.

Much of Strickland's previous harassment seems to have been directed against student groups at PSU. Campus organizations have lodged multiple complaints with the university administration against Strickland's threatening behavior--yet no action has been taken. On the contrary, the administration has stood behind Strickland's claim to have the right to videotape PSU students and organizational meetings on the on the grounds that the campus is a "public space."

This is in stark contrast to how PSU President Wim Wiewel handled the legitimate and peaceful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) resolution currently being reviewed by the student Senate, which calls on the university to not be invested in corporations profiting off racism and oppression against Palestinians.

While Weivel has condemned this anti-racist initiative, he and his administration have taken no action against a racist who has now stands accused of putting dozens of people's lives in danger. Student organizations will need to protest this double standard--and the administration's obstruction of their efforts to hold their meetings without harassment.

It is now clear that Michael Strickland is not simply an annoyance, but a real danger. In a period of political polarization like today, individual right-wingers will be emboldened to act--the instances of violence directed at protesters at Donald Trump's campaign events are an example.

At the same time, many people across the country are rightfully outraged by the continuing epidemic of police brutality, and tens of thousands have taken to the streets to demand justice. They have the right to demonstrate free from harassment and the threat of violence.

Whether challenging violent bigotry or the racist police, our greatest source of power as activists is in our numbers, our solidarity and our level of organization. We need to find ways to connect with the outrage that millions feel about the execution of Black people like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but who may not had the courage yet to act.

Our ability to mobilize wider layers of people who sympathize with our movements and help them enter the struggle for the long haul will be the key to success.

Wael Elasady, Nico Judd and John Monroe contributed to this article.

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