An Update on Antifa and Media Bias: The Ngo Case
The attack on a journalist by participants of an Antifa rally in downtown Portland Oregon has thrust the group and its violent tactics back into the national limelight. Gist Say'n covered the Alt-Left and its Alt-Right counterparts back in December, but now it's time for an update on the extremist group, as well as media bias.
A review of the episode entitled "New Year New Extremes; Know and Beware the Alts" can give you some great background on the extremist movements currently active in the United States. So I'm going to proceed under the assumption that you've listened to or read it.
The most recent developments in this story can also serve as an ongoing example to update Gist Say 'n's very first official episode that addressed media bias. That episode has two parts. You might want to give them a listen and look as well.
Multiple groups, including Rose City Antifa and the Proud Boys, went to the streets to protest in downtown Portland on Saturday, June 29th.
Protests by these groups in Portland are not unusual. Nor is the fact that police ended up declaring the unpermitted, roving demonstrations that blocked roadways as acts of civil disturbance and unlawful assembly. Police reports citing a few arrests and minor injuries are also not unusual.
Again, if you would like to understand these and other fringe organizations better, link back to the previous episode and article.
What got Twitter flapping on this particular weekend was the uploaded video of an attack on a journalist and the varied responses to it.
Andy Ngo is an editor and photojournalist for Quillette, an online magazine described as, depending on the sources you choose, a libertarian or conservative publication. The publication's founder has also been described as a "darling of the darknet."
During the Rose City Antifa protest in Portland on June 29th, Ngo was attacked by multiple masked people dressed in black bloc.
"While hearing people chant 'no hate no fear'" Ngo told Fox New's Tucker Carlson, "I'm suddenly bashed on the back of my head. A mob of people all dressed in black and wearing masks started beating me with their fists and some of them used objects to hit me ... all this time I kept thinking, 'where are the police?"
Video of the assault, of which there are at least two different angles, shows Ngo being punched, kicked, and struck by projectiles, that included multiple milkshakes that were handed out for free at the event. Visibly bruised and bloodied, Ngo went to the hospital where he was admitted overnight and treated for what his lawyer describes as a "brain bleed."
Quillette is based in Australia, but Ngo is based in Portland and has been threatened by Antifa groups before for his coverage of the movement that includes reporting efforts that claims some alleged hate crimes in the city are hoaxes.
Media outlets that appear to sympathize with Antifa, as well as those individuals who condone Antifa's premise that violence is an acceptable political tactic, characterize Ngo as a white supremacist sympathizer and right-wing provocateur.
I do not profess to know the man's personal views, but one, in my mind, contrary views do not justify a physical attack on a journalist or private citizen. And two, he does not fit the typical profile associated with white supremacy.
Does Not Fit the Typical Profile
Ngo, who is the Gay son of Vietnamese immigrants, says the characterizations of him are not accurate.
"Absolutely not," he said in an interview following the attack. "This is what I mean when they're adopting the rhetoric tactics of Antifa. It's to demonize your ideological opponents as quote-unquote Nazis or fascists. So then they have the moral legitimacy to attack you, and get praised for it in the public."
Ngo's detractors say his publications criticize some progressive views and Islam, and he says he doesn't get support from the LGBTQ community because he is not the right kind of victim. He may be right.
The Human Rights Campaign describes itself on twitter as the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the country. The organization's bio reads, "We envision a world where LGBTQ people are ensured equality at home, at work & in every community."
The night that Ngo was attacked, an HRC’s communications staffer tweeted on a personal account that, Ngo was not only asking for it, he was basically hoping for it, and that it was the best thing that could ever happen for his career.
"Andy Ngo intentially provokes people on the left to drive his content," Charlotte Clymer wrote. "Being attacked today on video taken by an actual journalist (because Ngo is definitely not) is the greatest thing that could have happened to his career. You know it. I know. He knows it. We all know it."
Clymer went on to tweet, "Violence is completely wrong, and I find it sad and weak to allow a sniveling weasel like Andy Ngo to get under one's skin like this, but I'm also not going to pretend that this wasn't Ngo's goal from the start."
Quillette magazine describes Ngo as an "elfin, soft-spoken man" who does not fit Antifa's narrative of, "smashing the heteronormative white supremacist patriarchy." Quillette believes the attack on Ngo further exposes Antifa for what it really is. In an article posted after the attack it wrote,
"Like schoolboy characters out of Lord of the Flies, these cosplay revolutionaries stomp around, imagining themselves to be heroes stalking the great beast of fascism. But when the beast proves elusive, they gladly settle for beating up journalists, harassing the elderly or engaging in random physical destruction."
Quillette has previously published articles critical of the "cozy" relationship some media representatives have with the Antifa movement. In it, publishers alleged that some outlets such as The Guardian and HuffPost are actually cheerleaders for the group. Quillette believes the media is too quick to portray Antifa as a peaceful, "anti-fascist community-defense group," and ignore or give moral justification to its tactics that are often more violent than those of the right-wing movements the group opposes.
Portland police have long faced criticism for letting protestors, particularly those affiliated with Antifa, wander the streets unimpeded often disrupting traffic and intimidating or outright threatening those who merely pass by.
Other critics blame the mayor, saying that he at least sympathizes with Antifa's beliefs and at worst uses the group to attack people and organizations he can not, but wishes he could. Such as when police stood by and allowed Antifa to surround the building where federal ICE employees work so they could not freely enter or exit for days.
Shortly after three on the day of this attack, the Portland Police Bureau advised protesters that their gathering was now a civil disturbance and unlawful assembly. Meaning if they did not disperse, they were subject to arrest or use of force. The hundreds gathered did not immediately disperse, yet police reported making only three arrests that day.
During the clashes, police also put out a warning that some of the milkshakes may contain a quick drying cement type substance.
This information came from at least one officer who reportedly witnessed a suspicious powdery substance being mixed into an already made shake and a note sent to police that said the shake recipe included the toxic substance. The report did not come from Ngo. The next day police reported that they were still looking into the matter.
On July 1st the Mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, took to twitter to make a statement.
"Portland has always been a beacon of free speech. We are proud of that history.
But in the last couple of years, some have increasingly used their opportunity to exercise their 1st amendment rights, as an opportunity to incite violence.
Over the weekend some chose to engage in violence in Portland, which is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
We stand against all forms of violence - regardless of someone's political leanings.
Portland police officers have the unenviable task of keeping the peace. It's a difficult job and hard decisions are made in real-time.
While we continue to learn more about what transpired over the weekend, we will keep you informed.
We will do everything we can to make sure that those who have committed violence are held accountable."
His series of tweets got ratioed. Meaning there were far more comments than likes. When last I checked there were more than 18-thousand comments and 800 likes.
The majority of the comments were critical.
Senator Ted Cruz took to Twitter as well saying it was a "Sickening criminal assault." He added, "To mainstream "journalists": don't cover this up, don't ignore it."
The video initially tweeted out on the personal account of an Oregonian photographer, made it hard for the media to ignore, though it does seem that at least some wanted to downplay its importance or at least put qualifiers on it.
Portland's local newspaper, the Oregonian said, "Saturday featured only a few isolated flashpoints of violence. Still, one of them has garnered outsized attention with many in conservative circles condemning the mayor and police for perceived inaction in the face of violence."
The article also referred to Ngo as a right-leaning provocateur.
A Contributing Editor for the Atlantic, Yascha Mounk, took the New York Times' depiction of events to task saying, “I strongly disagree with some of Andy Ngo's work. But to suggest 'he has a history of battling with anti-fascist groups' is slander. Ngo criticizes Antifa. Antifa members assaulted him. It's astonishing that this @nytimes report erases that difference.”
These types of narrative qualifiers in news stories are one of the reasons I started Gist Say'n. In my opinion, the coverage of this event by national media was not neutral. However, it was at least not ignored.
The coverage was nothing in comparison to the frenzy back in February when the headlines read things like: "The Racist, Homophobic Attack on Jussie Smollett Is America's Endgame," GQ "Assault on 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett serves as reminder — lynching, noose symbolism still prevalent" USA Today "Jussie Smollett, Star of 'Empire,' Attacked in What Police Call a Possible Hate Crime" New York Times
While few questioned the validity of Jussie Smollett's initial claim that he was attacked by right-wing, homophobic, low lives, in general, even with video of the event, outlets and their reporters were much more skeptical of Ngo's assertions.
New York Times writer Charlie Warzel tweeted that, "This is whole event should be seen through the context of what it is … an information war.
A number of people who go to these protests are looking for fights or to document them. They're all live streaming. When tensions boil over, it's meant to be ammunition for a culture war."
There is truth in what Warzel said, however, I have viewed the videos, and from what is visible on them, there is no outward evidence that he was trying to provoke the crowd.
Unless that is you believe his very presence among the protesters on a city street is grounds for a beating. If that is the case, freedom of the press is dead.
Quillette hopes the media and public obtain a less rose-colored awareness of what the Antifa movement stands for as a result of the attack.
"Given the widespread support for Ngo that has manifested itself over the last 24 hours—and the corresponding disgust with his attackers—we hope that these events will herald new policies to protect the public (including journalists) from those who claim the right to use violence as a form of political expression. Following the hate-killing of Heather Heyer by James A. Fields Jr. in Charlottesville, Virginia two years ago, attention was drawn to the problem of right-wing political violence. And rightly so. But this attitude of vigilance must be broadened to include all radical groups. It shouldn't require an actual fatality to goad Portland's mayor and police into real action. Surely, a brain hemorrhage should be enough."
So here's the Gist
The assault of Andy Ngo will end up in court. Even if police in Portland fail to make arrests and Prosecutors fail to bring charges, Ngo's attorney will be filing civil cases against the city, the police department, and those attackers they can identify.
In the meantime, there is no real reason to believe that the protests in Portland will stop. Given the mayor's and police department's, keep your distance policy, it is more likely that the skirmishes will continue and will likely escalate throughout the summer. The Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer attendance numbers were way down from last year, but Antifa is still searching for a fight. If they can't find it in Portland, they will travel elsewhere, like the nation's capital over the 4th of July holiday.
Given the media responses to this and other stories, there is also no reason to believe that news bias has improved since I started this podcast a year ago. In this instance, Ngo's political views should not matter. If the headlines read "Liberal writer was attacked by Right-Wing Nationals," would the response and coverage be the same?
The fact that it would not is a problem. Concern and outrage should be the response either way. If you think only those members of the press with views in lockstep with your own deserve the protection of the 1st amendment, then we are lost.
But hey, you can agree or disagree, cause I'm Gist Say'n.