[News] Portland's dark history of white supremacy

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jun 1 11:42:29 EDT 2017


  Portland's dark history of white supremacy

Jason Wilson <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/wilson-jason> - May 
31, 2017

Ciaran Mulloy remembers how the neo-Nazis outnumbered the anti-racists 
in Portland <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/portland> in the 90s.

A union organiser and anti-fascist, he was was deeply involved in 
fighting against the far right’s infiltration of American youth culture 
in the 1980s and 90s. But when he arrived in the city in 1990, he said, 
“we were not prepared for what was out there in Portland”.

“There were multiple gangs, and 300 Nazis in a city of 300,000,” he 
said, adding: “The anti-racist youth were intimidated and isolated. The 
Nazis were just openly hanging out on the streets.”

Drawn to the overwhelmingly white population, Nazis brought violence to 
clubs, shows and the streets, carried out gay bashings, and assaulted 
people of color.

Two years before Mulloy’s arrival, three racist skinheads beat Mulugeta 
an Ethiopian student, to death in a suburban street. And in 1993, a 
racist skinhead named Eric Banks was shot dead by John Bair, a member of 
Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.

“It’s not hyperbolic to call it a war,” he said. “There was intense 
fighting.” The racially charged double murder on a Portland train 
last week may seem at odds with the city’s current image, and 
self-perception, as liberal. But actually, the history of Portland, and 
of Oregon, reveals an enduring current of white supremacy and militant 
racism, experts say, that is apparent in the far and recent past.

Nearly two centuries of exclusion, violence and intimidation have 
resulted in the whitest major city in the United States, in a state that 
has in the past been fertile ground for the growth of extremism. Last 
Friday’s violent attack came amid a new wave of “alt-right” organizing, 
but Portland’s very whiteness has attracted far right groups to attempt 
to make inroads in the city for more than 30 years.

Walidah Imarisha <http://www.walidah.com/>, an expert on Oregon’s black 
history, said that while “Portland spends a lot of time being incredibly 
self-satisfied”, the “foundation of Oregon as a state, and in fact the 
whole Pacific north-west, was as a racist white utopia”.

    It’s not hyperbolic to call it a war. There was intense fighting

First, the land was taken from its indigenous inhabitants and freely 
given to white settlers. And while Oregonians take pride in the state’s 
early move to outlaw slavery, Imarisha said that that pride rested on a 
misunderstanding of the ban’s intent.

“In 1844 Oregon outlawed slavery,” she said, “but it also outlawed being 
black in the state.”

Initially, the prescribed punishment for black people for simply being 
in Oregon was up to 39 public lashes. This was quickly repealed, and 
replaced in 1849 with a system of fines, arrests and deportations. From 
1857 to 1927, there was a prohibition on black people entering the 
state, which was enshrined in the state’s bill of rights. These laws 
were sporadically enforced, but they sent a very clear message to 
would-be settlers, black and white, and limited black migration to the 

“The goal was to keep out people of color,” Imarisha said. “Oregonians 
were anti-slavery not because of issues of racial justice, but because 
they didn’t want people bringing enslaved black folks to Oregon.”

The exclusion laws, incorporated in Oregon’s constitution, were not 
fully removed 
<http://articles.latimes.com/2002/sep/29/news/adna-racist29> until 2002, 
after one of a series of campaigns led by people of color to expunge 
them. Even then, 28% of voters opposed the measure to clear the language.

Has Donald Trump’s presidency emboldened racial violence? A brutal 
double murder in Portland, a stabbing in California, and the hit-and-run 
death of a Native American man – all within a few days – are dark signs

Chinese Americans were also prevented by the state constitution from 
owning property, and from filing or working mining claims. Amid a 
growing anti-Chinese movement throughout the country in the 1880s, 
buildings in Portland’s Chinatown were burned down. And in Hell’s 
Canyon, in eastern Oregon, a group of white men massacred 34 Chinese 
miners in 1887.

Around that time, so-called “sundown towns 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundown_town>” began to form in the 
state, as in the rest of the country – municipalities that endeavored to 
stay all white using “laws, practices and the threat of violence”, 
Imarishi said.

She added that even though racist ordinances are off the books now, 
covert methods are still in use such that “there are hundreds of sundown 
towns across this nation to this day”. An online project coordinated by 
James Loewen, who wrote a book on the phenomenon, lists 
<http://sundown.tougaloo.edu/sundowntownsshow.php?state=OR> several in 
Oregon which remain almost wholly white.

And in Portland, “redlining <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redlining>” 
was used in an attempt to confine people of color to specific 
neighbourhoods. Adding in waves of gentrification, the net effect has 
been the creation of the whitest major city in the US.

This deliberately crafted demography was one of the city’s, and the 
region’s, attractions for white supremacist organisers in the 80s and 90s.

The White Aryan Resistance 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Aryan_Resistance>, masterminded by 
Californian racist Tom Metzger, was actively recruiting skinheads in 
Portland from the mid-1980s.

“He saw the spontaneous self-organization of skinhead youths into white 
power organizations,” Mulloy said. “He wanted to turn it into a more 
politicized movement and a fascist force.”

    The foundation of Oregon as a state, and in fact the whole Pacific
    ​​north-west, was as a racist white utopia

Portland, and Oregon, were already integral to the far right’s plans.

“There was an idea floating around called the Northwest Imperative 
Mulloy explained. Far-right leaders like Metzger and Richard Butler from 
Aryan Nations imagined carving out the Pacific Northwest as a white 
ethnostate, because it was already “the whitest part of the United States”.

This idea echoed the desires that the State’s founders codified in the 
constitution, and is still enthusiatically discussed on “alt-right” 
podcasts and websites.

By the time Mulloy went to Portland, the skinheads were deeply 
entrenched. Anti-racists engaged them in a prolonged street conflict.

“The Portlandia image is quirky and middle class,” Mulloy said, 
referring to the popular comedy sketch show that lampoons the city’s 
liberal image. “Underneath that is a long history of working-class 
militancy in Portland, from the right and the left.”

But he says that in the 1990s, other, non-violent tactics also played a 
significant role in driving fascists underground – organizing and 
building anti-racism into youth culture.

He thinks these tactics are still relevant, as the city prepares for an 
“alt-right” rally downtown on Sunday 
The rally is the latest in a series that has been growing in numbers and 
militancy all year. Jeremy Christian, accused of attacking the three men 
on Friday with a knife, attended one of them on 29 April.

He says they feed on the current downward mobility of the working class, 
and Portland’s whiteness. “The ‘alt-right’ is careful not to embrace the 
neo-Nazism of Metzger, but they’re using the same ingredients.”

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