Behind the Black Umbrellas

Debating violence with Portland’s Antifa and the Proud Boys.

Patrick Tomassi
Patrick Tomassi is a teacher and writer in Portland, Oregon, his native city. He helps organize the annual New York Encounter and is a contributing editor at Veritas Journal.

“What’d you see?” a man shouted. Around him, a crowd of black-clad activists gathered outside the Multnomah County Democrats building in northeast Portland, Oregon, the Sunday night after the US presidential election in November 2020.

“You didn’t see shit!” the protesters chanted in response. Several people with hammers, rocks, and cans of spray paint broke windows of the building and tagged it – “Fuck Biden,” “ACAB,” “BLM.” Others opened black umbrellas, shielding the vandals from security cameras and passersby. The chanting continued: “Whose lives matter? Black Lives Matter!” and “All Cops Are Bastards” (to the tune of “nana nana boo boo”). Two men with drums kept rhythm for the chants. Within minutes, most of the windows were broken and the group was on the move again, back through neighborhood streets towards Laurelhurst Park.

During summer 2020, as my hometown was front and center in the national news, I found that my idea, and other Portlanders’, about exactly what was going on was largely determined by what media we relied on: conservatives and liberals seemed to be living in alternate universes, with the same timelines but different facts. After one more argument about whether downtown Portland was actually “on fire,” I decided to begin attending and reporting on the nightly demonstrations.

Continue reading at Plough Quarterly.