A member of the Wall of Moms protesting near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore.Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times
PORTLAND, Ore. â Iâve been on the front lines of the protests here, searching for the âradical-left anarchistsâ who President Trump says are on Portland streets each evening.
I thought Iâd found one: a man who for weeks leapt into the fray and has been shot four times with impact munitions yet keeps coming back. I figured he must be a crazed anarchist.
But no, he turned out to be Dr. Bryan Wolf, a radiologist who wears his white doctorâs jacket and carries a sign with a red cross and the words âhumanitarian aid.â He pleads with federal forces not to shoot or gas protesters.
âPut your gun barrels down!â he cries out. âWhy are you loading your grenade launchers? Weâre just standing âââ
Dr. Wolf, an assistant professor at Oregon Health Sciences University, helps at a medic stand operated by volunteers from the medical school. Could they be radical-left anarchists? No, theyâve imposed order on the anarchy of the street by establishing qualifications for field medics and a hierarchy among them, so that any badly injured protester will immediately get the right kind of care.
Accomplishing all this while tear gas is swirling and impact munitions are whizzing by, without even asking for insurance cards â that seems the opposite of what fanatical anarchists might do.
Maybe the rioting anarchists were in front of the crowd, where there are discussions about Black Lives Matter? I found musicians and activists and technicians, who were projecting a huge sign on the wall of a nearby building â âFed Goons Out of PDXâ â that seemed a bit geeky for anarchists.
Oh, wait, there was a man using angry language about the federal âoccupationâ and calling it âabhorrent.â Lots of protesters donât seem to like him, so could he be a crazed anarchist rioter?
Then I heard someone calling for the overthrow of Portlandâs âleadership,â and Iâd figured Iâd finally found an anarchist. But it turned out to be Maria Bartiromo of Fox News, asking Chad Wolf, the acting head of homeland security, âWhy canât you just arrest the leadership in Portland because of their ignoring whatâs really happening on the ground?â
She may be a crazed anarchist trying to topple legitimate authority, but I doubt sheâs the kind Trump meant.
OK, Iâll fess up: Sure there are anarchists and antifa activists in the Portland protests, just as there are radiologists and electricians, lawyers and mechanics. Report on the ground here and any single narrative feels too simplistic. The protesters arenât all peaceful, nor are they primarily violent. Theyâre a complicated weave, differing by time of day.
In the evening, the throngs are entirely peaceful, listening to speeches about Black Lives Matter, and the authorities do not intervene. Then, as if following a script, about 11 p.m. some protesters begin to shoot fireworks or set small trash fires. (No, theyâre not trying to burn down the federal courthouse, as Wolf suggests.)
Some of these late-night protesters try to provoke the federal forces, partly to show how federal agents overreact with indiscriminate force. Meanwhile, Trump is deploying federal forces to provoke protesters into using violence that he can campaign on.
We see dueling narratives. One is Trumpâs, and it portrays Portland and other cities with protests against police brutality as teetering on the abyss and requiring his Lincolnesque hand to hold America together. The other is â well, shall we call it reality? Yes, thereâs violence and vandalism, as well as opportunistic looting, and itâll be a challenge to manage it, but local officials are much better placed to do so than the White House.
Oregon and Trump administration officials on Wednesday announced an agreement to reduce tensions around the federal courthouse. But the timing and extent of the withdrawal of federal forces was unclear.
Iâm against all violent attacks on officers, and I worry that Trumpâs provocations are succeeding in seeding violence â as weâve already seen in Seattle, Oakland and elsewhere. Every time angry progressives burn a building down, they win votes for Trump.
Thatâs what this is about: politics. The big threat in Portland and across America is not anarchists but Covid-19, so Trump welcomes street clashes to change the subject. If he actually cared about the defacement of the federal courthouse in Portland, he would remove the graffiti; instead, he leaves it there for photo ops. Itâs the protesters, not the federal authorities, who deploy teams each night in Portland to clean up the area around the courthouse.
It also must be said that while thereâs violence from both sides, what Iâve seen firsthand is that the most violent behavior overwhelmingly comes from the federal agents, and indeed the most serious injuries have been suffered by protesters. Your federal tax dollars paid to shoot a man in the face with a âless lethalâ munition â an unprovoked assault that left him with a fractured skull and possible brain damage.
If you want to call one side âriotersâ or âanarchistsâ working to create tumult in Portland, itâs the uninvited feds who qualify.
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. Weâd like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And hereâs our email: [email protected]
News – Opinion | Help Me Find Trumpâs âAnarchistsâ in Portland