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Andy Ngo, Antifa and the Breakdown of American Justice
By Melissa Chen
This week, Melissa Chen, one of my favourite journalists in the world, reports on Andy Ngo’s unsuccessful attempt to get justice for a vicious assault he experienced at the hands of Antifa in Portland, Oregon. Follow her work here.
American cities from San Francisco to Seattle are still grappling with the aftermath of a failed cultural experiment. This attempt to implement radical chic ideas has led to soaring rates of violent crime, unprecedented levels of homelessness and an intractable drug addiction crisis.
Portland, Ore. once considered a bastion of earthy, crunchy West Coast progressivism that served up good-natured fodder for prime time satire has now become the poster child for how liberal excesses can lead to a downward spiral into darkness and chaos. I was in town to attend Andy Ngo’s civil trial against Rose City Antifa, the group largely responsible for turning this city into a hellscape unfit for human flourishing.
Since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, Portlanders have lived through years of continuous riots and protests which persisted even after Joe Biden’s inauguration. Federal buildings – with people still inside – came under siege and were torched. Mass looting was normalized. Open warfare between rival political tribes erupted regularly on the streets, culminating in the fatal shooting of Aaron “Jay” Danielson by self-described Antifa activist Michael Reinoehl for the crime of being a Trump supporter. Twice, journalist Andy Ngo, who has made Antifa his beat, was assaulted by black-clad rioters, covered in milkshakes and almost pummeled to death. The shocking attacks were all caught on tape.
When I arrived earlier this month, Downtown Portland was still strewn with the remnants of this Reign of Terror Barricades with high chain-link fences still encircled federal buildings, and pedestals where statues once stood proudly remained vacant. Countless stores from REI to Starbucks had shuttered due to break-ins and theft, leaving the city light on foot traffic for a Monday. The police station downtown was boarded up with plywood, a symbolic manifestation of Antifa’s cri de couer to “defund the police.” As I pulled up to the Multnomah County courthouse, I took note of a large painted mural right next to the entrance that featured the vapid bromide “Defund Hate.” As far as I was concerned, “hate” itself was on trial for the week.
[Photos by Katie Daviscourt and Melissa Chen]
It's probably worthwhile to interrogate exactly what or who the defendant here - Antifa - really is. While its clever branding implies continuity as the spiritual descendants of the “anti-fascist” military forces that stormed the beaches of Normandy to fight the Nazis, the reality is that this amorphous, decentralized network of confused militant anarchists is “anti-fascist” in much the same way that Stalin and Mao were. Their specific approach to opposing fascism involves the pre-emptive initiation of public violence against “fascists”. Naturally, “fascists” are defined so broadly as to encompass a wide range of people, from everyday conservatives to liberals who think the existence of a police force is necessary for a functioning society. In Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, Mark Bray writes that Antifa explicitly rejects “the classical liberal phrase incorrectly ascribed to Voltaire that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’” According to Bray, “anti-fascism is an illiberal politics of social revolutionism” to achieve their ends.
Any clear-thinking person can, in theory, see the problem with this posture and how it invariably leads to the flagrant dismantling of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, due process and respect for property rights – civil norms that are foundational to our society. Since Antifa leapt from obscurity and into the mainstream following Trump’s presidential victory in 2016, America has been subjugated to brand new norms: mob-driven censorship campaigns, Maoist purges and public humiliations, escalating violence in response to ideas, the politicization of every institution, hostility to civil debate, the cultish demand to sever family ties over politics, and the dehumanization of people according to a Manichean Marxist dichotomy between the oppressed and the oppressors. Make no mistake: this is the politics of hate.
Inside the courthouse, an “intersex-inclusive progressive pride flag” flanks the entrance to each of the 44 courtrooms, featuring an ostensibly compassionate note welcoming you into an inclusive and safe space. This was my first inkling that Andy wasn’t going to get a fair shake. Lest you think I’m being facetious, consider for a moment that Lady Justice is supposed to be blind and neutral. Yet, an explicitly political symbol, coupled with jargon representing progressive orthodoxies that are contested by at least half of the American population, welcomes all those seeking justice to Portland’s formally impartial chambers.
For the next few days, I would witness a litany of ridiculous objections proffered by the defense which were, to my amazement, sustained by the judge: critical evidence that was selectively excluded from being entered into the record; the disruptive behavior of Antifa sympathizers who came to lend moral support for their comrades; preferential treatment granted to a local photojournalist known to be friendly with Antifa members; a smarmy activist with academic credentials masquerading as an extremism expert take the stand; the line of attacks discrediting Andy Ngo as a journalist by calling him a “right-wing provocateur” (with the heavy implication that he got his just deserts); the defense attorney coding Antifa as a just and righteous group fighting for social justice and civil rights; the same attorney declaring “I am Antifa” and that she would “remember each one of their faces” to the jurors in her closing statement; intimidation tactics that would lead the jury to disclose their fear of being doxxed to the judge; the car belonging to a reporter from The Post Millennial (Andy’s colleague) who meticulously covered every day of the trial getting smashed, vandalized and looted for documents. I imagined that this was not too far off from the melodrama of a mafia trial.
After five hours of deliberation, the jury found the defendants - alleged Antifa members John Hacker and Elizabeth Richter - not liable for the charges of assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. This despite ample evidence presented by the plaintiff’s lawyers showing that Richter and Hacker identified Ngo in real-time during the harrowing 2021 attack – which saw a group of Antifa assailants in black bloc strike him repeatedly as he lay, pinned to the ground; one of them, putting him in a guillotine chokehold. Video recordings of Richter hurling invectives and wishing for Ngo to meet a violent end just inches from his face failed to move the jury.
However distressing it was to re-watch grainy cell phone videos and surveillance footage of thugs beating Ngo to a pulp on the big courtroom screen, it pales in comparison to the disquieting realization that this verdict mirrors the ongoing pattern of an establishment media that is utterly craven and derelict in its duties with its systematic downplaying of left-wing violence and, in particular, the actual threat Antifa poses to our way of life. You would think that all journalists would be unanimous in their defense of one of their own to report on the disintegration of a major American city without the threat of violence. But you would be wrong.
It is into this vacuum of journalistic curiosity about Antifa that Andy Ngo decided to venture. He conducted on-the-ground reporting as he expertly navigated marches and rallies, released mugshots, booked photos of alleged Antifa members who were arrested and followed up on whether their charges were dropped. In other words, he did what any journalist with a beat would do. But instead of lauding his dogged pursuit of truth in the face of grave death threats and bloody violence, fellow journalists functioned as Antifa’s public relations team, uncritically echoing claims regurgitated by far-left activists that Andy Ngo - the docile, gay, Asian American journalist whose parents came to America as refugees from Vietnam – was in cahoots with far-right and white supremacist groups, and therefore complicit in his own attack.
The gaslighting came from all directions. Vice News called Antifa “the Right’s boogeyman.” Whoopi Goldberg, whose garbled rumblings emanate from The View, proclaimed that “no one has found Antifa.” Her co-host Joy Behar outdid her by declaring Antifa a “fictitious idea” that “doesn’t even exist.” Even President Biden contributed to this reality distortion field by intimating that “Antifa is just an idea,” a half-truth that was further bolstered when the court dismissed Rose City Antifa as a defendant on the grounds that a non-legal entity cannot be sued. It is this rhetorical grayzone that serves as a motte whenever someone needs to retreat from the bailey of Antifa’s indefensible violence.
The collective moral myopia that suddenly gripped the media class would almost be bemusing if it wasn’t so downright dangerous. It’s fair game and perfectly reasonable to characterize Ngo as biased, and his body of work too hyper-focused on a partisan topic. But no one seems to throw the same accusations at journalists who cover neo-Nazi groups or Al Qaeda networks. No one seems willing to fill the void with dedicated investigative reporting on far-left extremism, leaving local residents who have to endure the carnage on their streets flummoxed. The few that do - Andy Ngo and Jonathan Choe among them - are shunned, smeared and left to defend themselves. Andy himself was ultimately driven away from his hometown, far from his family, in order to live with peace of mind. Having witnessed the ordeal that Andy has been through, any aspiring journalist would rightly conclude that it would be best to avoid covering Antifa.
And so, Antifa is once again emboldened, and its tactics, incentivized. Its ideology becomes more entrenched in the institutions as individual actors continue to be captured by fear and cowardice. Locked into a dialectic with the far-right, the black bloc is ready to engage in the next cycle of violent escalation. In fact, we are just one cop killing incident or one bad election away from lighting the fuse all over again. Homicide rates will skyrocket, while police budgets will shrink further. More residents will flee, leaving the county short of over a billion dollars in income.
The nation must not memory hole the chaos and destruction wrought by Antifa, nor how America’s intelligentsia and cultural elite granted an open license to Antifa to upend civil norms. This decline and rot are difficult to reverse. Andy Ngo couldn’t have possibly expected that Antifa would be brought to justice in, of all places, Multnomah County. Let this be a cautionary tale to all: any city not actively hostile to the American cultural revolution taking place in our midst will eventually become Portland.
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