Soon the tensions escalated, with a black-clad activist striking conservative journalist Andy Ngo in the face while others slimed him with what protesters said were vegan coconut milkshakes. Ngo was left bloodied and obviously shaken, reporting the attack in a video livestreamed to his more than 140,000 Twitter followers when a city medic arrived to check on him.
In Portland, a punch and a milkshake rumor feed a fresh round of police criticism
It was by now a familiar scene of summer street warfare in Portland: Conservative marchers, this time pushing a #HimToo message in one of the nation’s most progressive cities, faced down a rowdy group of anti-fascist protesters.
“Where the hell were all of you?” Ngo demanded.
By Monday morning, the case was reverberating around the country through conservative circles, where prominent leaders were asking the same question. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called for a federal investigation, declaring without evidence that officials in Oregon’s largest city were allowing the violence as a result of their own liberal sympathies. A Portland State University professor called for impeaching the city’s Democratic mayor, Ted Wheeler.
Fueling the conservative alarm was the Portland Police Bureau’s own suggestion on Twitter during the height of the protests — later walked back slightly — that anti-fascist protesters had laced their milkshakes with quick-drying cement before lobbing them at the marchers.
With political polarization on the rise, the nation’s fraught conversations over immigration, race and policing are increasingly being held in tense street showdowns punctuated with eggs, bricks and, lately, milkshakes. Portland’s long history of street activism has made the city a central stage for many of those conflicts; this weekend’s protests left the Police Department facing unusual criticism that it had not only been slow to halt the violence, but with its questionable claim about cement milkshakes, had dramatically fueled the furor.
Ngo is an independent journalist in the Portland area who works with the online magazine Quillette, a publication which prides itself on taking on “dangerous” ideas — in some cases, writing about genetic notions of race, in others, about the shortfalls of feminism. Ngo has also written for The Wall Street Journal, including an opinion piece in 2018 highlighting the prominent display of Muslim identity as an example of “failed multiculturalism” in London.
He has a history of battling with anti-fascist groups, with the two sides sharing a mutual antipathy that dates back many months. The conservative journalist has built a prominent presence in part by going into situations where there may be conflict and then publicizing the results.
Before Saturday’s event, anti-fascist organizers had mentioned him by name. Ngo had written on social media that he was worried about the event.
“He’s a political pundit who certainly makes the most out of his conflicts, which sometimes turn violent on him,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino. “But to his credit, I’ve never seen him be the physical aggressor in the posts that he’s made generally.”
Ngo also fundraises on his social media platforms. A GoFundMe campaign created by Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator, had raised about $150,000 to cover Ngo’s medical expenses as of Monday evening.
A lawyer for Ngo, Harmeet K. Dhillon, did not respond to messages seeking comment but called out on Twitter to “Antifa criminals” whom she said “I plan to sue into oblivion and then sow salt into their yoga studios and avocado toast stands until nothing grows there, not even the glimmer of a violent criminal conspiracy aided by the effete impotence of a cowed city government.”
In Portland, demonstrations in recent years have led to clashes and violence. During one event last summer, skirmishes broke out that left a few people needing medical attention and the police with a collection of apparent weapons they had confiscated throughout the day. The city also saw other violent confrontations in 2017, with the police seizing bricks, knives and brass knuckles.
The department has in the past faced equally strong protests from left-wing groups over aggressive policing. This year, officials disclosed messages between a police bureau lieutenant and leaders of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, showing friendly exchanges and discussions about protests — messages which prompted many critics to accuse the department of having a built-in bias toward conservatives.
“This story, like many that have come before it, simply confirms what many in the community have already known — there are members of the Portland police force who work in collusion with right-wing extremists,” a city commissioner, Jo Ann Hardesty, said at the time.
The police were prepared for the event Saturday, with the goal of keeping the two sides separated, said Robert King, a senior adviser on public safety to Wheeler. He said demonstrators outnumbered police officers, including those tasked with managing traffic, and the movement of the demonstrations through the city made monitoring them a challenge.
King said he understood the criticism about how long it took to address Ngo’s injuries, and said there would be an assessment of the handling of the demonstration.
Still unclear Monday, though, was the Police Department’s tweet during the demonstrations about milkshakes.
“Police have received information that some of the milkshakes thrown today during the demonstration contained quick-drying cement,” the department wrote in a message that has now been shared more than 13,000 times and talked about by prominent conservative voices such as Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham.
Effie Baum, an activist with a Portland group called PopMob, said police officials were wrong — they were vegan milkshakes made not of cement, but of coconut ice cream, cashew milk and some sprinkles.
She said the group had come up with the idea of having an entertaining counterprotest building off Pride month.
The group spent $700 on the ice cream that went into the milkshakes, Baum said, mixing them up in a nearby commercial kitchen using the larger blenders available there. They were then brought over to the scene in a cart.
Baum said there was never any sort of concrete introduced into the blends and shared images that appeared to show people drinking the concoction. Baum said she herself drank a few of them. “Why would we put concrete into $700 worth of ice cream? It would be a huge waste,” she said.
Other images, of course, showed what looked like milkshakes being lobbed as missiles, but those, in Baum’s view, were aberrations.
“We served over 750 of those milkshakes,” she said. “The vast majority of them were consumed.”
King said a lieutenant had raised the question about quick-drying cement after observing what looked to him like a powdery substance being poured into the milkshake mixture, and also noting the unusual consistency of the product.
The police bureau was not backing down Monday, issuing a statement affirming that “officers learned from some participants that a substance similar to quick drying concrete was being added to some of the ‘milkshakes.’” The police did not elaborate on that information.
King said it had been appropriate to share the report about possible concrete, even if it was unconfirmed, to alert the public to a possible hazard.
“We’re going to share the information with officers if there’s a risk of injury,” King said. “We’re committed to sharing as much information that is available to us.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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