The Battle of Portland rages still. Having worn down federal agents and local police, leftist protesters spent a recent weekend in gas-choked melees with a motley, right-wing “Back the Blue” rally.
The remarkable endurance of these protests is subject to debate. The May 25 death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer sparked a historic outcry against police brutality and racism. Three months later, marches under the Black Lives Matter banner have faded away elsewhere, but protesters — mostly white — are still in Portland’s streets. Why?
My take: Portland, uniquely, is home to a far-left branch of a warrior culture that exists mostly in conservative areas of the United States.
Well documented by historians of cultural geography, this group originated in the war-ravaged borderlands of England, Scotland and Ireland. Displaced by aristocratic landlords in the 1700s, they bypassed America’s coastal settlements to settle in the Appalachian Mountains, far from government regulation or taxation. They moved south and west, dominating areas like Kentucky, with some following the sunset through Missouri and across the plains.
Wherever they settled, they brought their aggressive ethos. Overrepresented in the US Marine Corps, they have supported every war the United States has ever fought. The group has been credited with producing hard-charging American presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson and Lyndon B. Johnson.
In Oregon, Puritan-type New Englanders first arrived by ship and quickly took over the government. But they were outnumbered 15-to-1 by individualistic Appalachians who came along a certain famous wagon trail. In Portland, especially, the result has been a unique blend of Yankee politics and bare-knuckle tactics.
Today, hard-to-trace groups like Antifa and the Youth Liberation Front are active in recent protests. But based on my reading of history, there’s only one cultural group that — instead of clever signs and uplifting songs — brings skateboard helmets and baseball bats to a protest.
Conservative heirs to Appalachian culture recognize these protesters like a Hatfield knows a McCoy. In May, would-be militia members with long rifles and body armor took to the streets of Spokane, Klamath Falls, Oregon, and Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. They were ready to stop what they believed was a pending Antifa invasion from Portland.
Turns out President Trump did the invading. In July, federal officers dressed in camouflage and without badges appeared and reportedly threw protesters into unmarked SUVs. Protesters shifted their attention to the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse. They used leaf blowers against tear gas and chanted “Stay together! Stay tight! We do this every night!”
Portland leaders, including some in the Black community, questioned what was being accomplished through continuous street combat.
“The focus has been moved from where it is supposed to be and made to be a spectacle, a debacle,” said the president of the Portland NAACP, the Rev. E.D. Mondainé.
Ferocious portesting is dangerous. A leftist videographer was beaten by a group of men on suspicion of being a police informant. Another man was pulled from his pickup, kicked in the head, and left unconscious on the street.
Ferociousness is overwhelming. Federal officers made a “phased withdrawal” from Portland. Protesters turned to police union headquarters — first attempting to break down the doors, then running a hose into a window, then attempting to burn it. Next came the “Back the Blue” confrontation, complete with bats, fireworks and pepper spray but no intervention by law enforcement, local or federal.
Dakota Means, a former Marine of mixed race, was knocked out when a pro-police protester shot him in the head with a paintball gun. But the day ended with the Back-the-Blue crowd retreating and Means standing his ground.
“They’re not welcome in the city. I’m gonna make sure they are run out,” he said.
When will it all end? Based on the history of Appalachian culture, I would say they won’t stop fighting. The best you can hope for is that they find someone else to fight.