It’s been quite a week here in Portland. First, there was the tragic murder of two men attempting to protect two girls, one of whom was a Muslim, from a knife-wielding maniac who was screaming insane white supremacist and ethnic slurs. In response, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler pleaded with federal authorities to revoke the permit for a pro-Trump, pro-free speech rally (it’s in a federal park, so the city has no jurisdiction to revoke the permit).
Now, in response to this latest episode of the city’s failure to protect the First Amendment rights of those with which the city disagrees (see, for instance, the riots that were allowed to rage uncontrolled after Trump was elected, and the threats to the Multnomah County GOP that got an entire parade canceled), the chair of the Multnomah County Republican Party responded in an interview by saying that if Portland would not guarantee security for Republican Party attendees at public events — events in which they’ve participated peacefully for years — they would consider bringing in Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters group to handle security. The liberal world exploded at that musing from the chair, as the media descended to describe these groups as “paramilitary white supremacist anti-government hate groups” (using the Southern Poverty Law Center’s definition).
There’s a lot to unpack here. First, Portland is still reeling from the senseless, tragic murders of innocent people on the MAX light rail train. Accused killer Jeremy Joseph Christian is a homeless man who has shown signs of mental illness, though he claims he’s never been diagnosed. He was shouting anti-Muslim slurs and pro-Trump rhetoric at two girls on the train when three men attempted to intervene. The details are gory, but when the men intervened, Christian was shown on video to have stabbed them in the neck. Two of the men died, and the third was critically injured. The word tragedy is overused in our society, but what happened to these two victims is truly tragic.
It has been convenient for the media to refer to Christian as a white supremacist and use this tragedy to paint everyone who is to the right of Hillary Clinton with the same brush, or at least lead their readers and viewers to come to that conclusion on their own. The simple truth is, however, a lot more complex. He stated in social media that he supported Bernie Sanders, and has a lot more insane-sounding rantings there that don’t amount to a coherent political philosophy. He was actually kicked out of a pro-Trump free speech rally by the organizers on April 29 because of his white supremacist rantings.
The same pro-Trump group that ran the April 29 free speech rally, not affiliated with the local or state GOP, had applied for a permit at Terry Schrunk Plaza, a federally owned park in downtown Portland, to hold another free speech rally this coming Saturday, June 4. In response to the murders, Mayor Ted Wheeler issued a statement urging the feds to revoke the permits. According to KATU News:
“My concern is they’re coming here to peddle a message of hatred and bigotry,” Wheeler said in a news conference Monday. “They have a First Amendment right to speak, but hate speech is not protected.”
The ACLU of Oregon tweeted the mayor cannot revoke or deny a permit “based on the viewpoint of the demonstrators … we are all free to reject and protest ideas we don’t agree with. That is a core, fundamental freedom of the United States.”
When you’ve lost the ACLU …
So, that leads us to Monday, when the interview with Multnomah County GOP chair James Buchal appeared in the UK Guardian. The reporter prefaced Buchal’s remarks with a statement from Mayor Wheeler:
Portland mayor Ted Wheeler told the Guardian: “Our current political climate allows far too much room for those who spread bigotry. Violent words can lead to violent acts.
“All elected leaders in America, all people of good conscience, must work deliberately to change our political dialogue.”
Buchal told the Guardian that, despite threats and hostility, Republicans have every right to be allowed to express themselves in the public square:
Multnomah County GOP chair James Buchal, however, told the Guardian that recent street protests had prompted Portland Republicans to consider alternatives to “abandoning the public square”.
“I am sort of evolving to the point where I think that it is appropriate for Republicans to continue to go out there,” he said. “And if they need to have a security force protecting them, that’s an appropriate thing too.”
Asked if this meant Republicans making their own security arrangements rather than relying on city or state police, Buchal said: “Yeah. And there are these people arising, like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters.”
Asked if he was considering such groups as security providers, Buchal said: “Yeah. We’re thinking about that. Because there are now belligerent, unstable people who are convinced that Republicans are like Nazis.”
Wheeler, of course, is responding much the same as other left-leaning politicians over the past several years. Every time a tragic event occurs that costs innocent lives, the “hateful rhetoric” and “toxic political environment” are blamed. This is the Democratic playbook that has been successfully deployed for years. On the other hand, when the far left threatens actual criminal violence and gets a parade shut down to squash the right to free expression of those with whom they disagree, it makes for a good news cycle.
So, perhaps the frustration of local Republicans can be understood. Buchal wrote in a blog post Tuesday that,
The problem is violence, not speech. The failure to distinguish between those who are instigating violence, and those who are attempting to defend themselves, is moral blindness. Any cop on the beat can tell the difference, but Portland has few police for a City of its size, preferring to spend the money on nonessential services.
The Oregon Republican Party, the parent organization to the Multnomah County GOP, issued a statement noting Mayor Wheeler’s rank hypocrisy in allowing violent protesters to march while attempting to shut down peaceful demonstrators simply for their party affiliation:
“It appears Mayor Wheeler has decided he has the authority to cancel Freedom of Speech in Portland when it suits him,” said Currier. “It is a blatant violation of the free speech provisions of both the Oregon and U.S. Constitutions, a violation of equal protection under the 14th Amendment, and a betrayal of his sworn duty as a public official in the state of Oregon.”
At the end of April Wheeler allowed permits to the Alt-Left “Portland Resistance” protest groups that he knew included violent elements that would, and did, riot during the traditional May Day Socialist-Communist Celebration. These groups enjoyed full police protection while protesters spray painted “Kill Cops” all over the city.
Again it must be noted that the free speech rallies are in no way affiliated with the Multnomah County GOP or Oregon Republican Party. These are private citizens standing up to say what they believe. Additionally, despite what the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League may write, the GOP is not affiliated with the Oath Keepers or the Three Percenters.
What is a group to do when their rights are not being equally protected under the law as guaranteed by both the Oregon Constitution and the United States Constitution? In the case of the Multnomah County GOP, the threats have forced them to consider “alternatives to abandoning the public square.”
Editorial note: Jeff Reynolds previously chaired the Multnomah County Republican Party from 2010-2014.