[Note from Vanguard Editor-in-Chief, Colleen Leary]:
In recent years, droves of new residents have flocked to Portland, many under the guise of a Portlandia-branded utopian liberal oasis: an easy-going city open to people of all ages, shapes, sizes, persuasions, colors and backgrounds. This perception is, quite simply, false.
Recent public displays of hate, racism, white pride and violence in the name of nationalism have solicited public response of shock and dismay. Surely this couldn’t be happening in our happy, safe and inclusive Portland.
In reality, this is nothing new to Portland, a city whose history has been mired in racism and discrimination from day one. In 1859, the state of Oregon established itself as white-only, an exclusion that officially ended in 1922. At the time, the state touted the largest per capita membership of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1988, three racist skinheads attacked a 27-year-old Ethiopian named Mulugeta Seraw. One skinhead bludgeoned him to death. Until the early 2000s, Oregon legislation maintained language excluding people of color from owning or leasing property.
The recent displays of hate, racism and violence in Portland highlight a longstanding crisis, one that has apparently attracted the attention of an up-and-coming, outspoken generation of extremists whose views reflect an unfortunately familiar Portland tradition.
So who is leading the charge? What do they really think? Why do they believe what they believe? How did they land on their views? What’s their intended outcome? The Vanguard’s Anna Williams spoke with some of Portland’s most well-known characters in these overlapping movements and consulted academic experts who helped shed light on how this type of ideology attracts its proponents.
Fascism on the rise
On a sunny Friday afternoon in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a sea of leather-vested Warriors for Freedom bikers, American flags, filming iPhones, and news reporters surrounded a calm and quiet man everyone seemed to recognize but no one seemed to know.
Raul Gonzales, who Trump-supporters and antifa, or anti-fascist, counter-protesters recognized from social media, arrived to participate in the June 30 “March for Freedom” organized by Washington native and libertarian vlogger Joey Gibson.
Gonzales’ identity was unmistakable: His distinct black polo branded by 1950s tennis champion Fred Perry, Levi’s tucked into his boots, and white suspenders are all garb traditional British working-class skinheads in the 1960s adopted as their signature style. A “skinhead” tattoo tagged Gonzales’ right forearm.
Gibson’s popularly-dubbed “patriot movement” publicly denounces white supremacist groups. Gibson includes groups and fraternities like Nazis, skinheads, Ku Klux Klan, and Identity Evropa in this classification.
The night before Gibson’s second visit to Portland on June 4, he announced such groups would be denied entrance into his “Trump free speech rally” held in downtown Portland’s Terry Schrunk Plaza.
However, Identity Evropa, Gonzales himself, and the Oregon National Socialist Movement, deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, all profess to having joined in on the march. They offered cheers, zealous speeches, and insult-hurling tossed at the antifa, union groups, and “anti-hate” liberals counter-protesting to the north, east, and west of Gibson’s rally.
Since Gibson brought the patriot movement to Portland, groups aligning with Gibson who call themselves western nationalists, national socialists, western identitarians, white identitarians, western chauvinists, neo-Nazis and traditional skinheads have popped up in the press, leaving Portlanders to question whether their city will retreat back to its deadly “skinhead capitol of the country” roots.
Highlighting this fear is the fact that Jeremy Christian, an alt-right, self-professed libertarian, participated in a Gibson rally last April. A few weeks later, Christian antagonized two women of color on a MAX train then stabbed three men that tried to intervene, killing two.
Christian has been unapologetic in the courtroom, calling himself a “patriot,” a title he shares with Gibson’s movement.
Gonzales told Gibson he wanted to march to support free speech. “If you supported us, you wouldn’t be here,” Gibson responded. “Because you give us a bad name.”
Not your typical skinhead
Gonzales does not look like the typical white, bare-shaven skinhead portrayed in the movies. As his namesake implies, Gonzales is half-Mexican on his father’s side. Though his dark eyes and hair belie European heritage, Gonzales considers himself “a very tan white person.”
Calm and unphased, though a little awkward, Gonzales eagerly engaged in conversation about his day, his five-month-old daughter, his relationship successes and failures, and his favorite television shows.
However, Gonzales’ past proves to be anything but easy going.
Just 24 years old, Gonzales spent the majority of his life in and out of foster care in Hillsboro, Oregon. Beginning at five years old, Gonzales said he resided in 15 foster homes and six group homes, each of which were “physically, emotionally, and sexually” abusive. Gonzales’ father, he said, was entrenched in drug dealing.
Early on, Gonzales doubted his mother’s liberal worldview.
“My mom’s liberal beliefs made her think everything was OK,” he recalled. At a Boys and Girls Club owned by Beaverton police, Gonzales said he “was always getting into fights because there were gang members that wanted me to join [them].”
Gonzales recalled seeing the Columbine High School massacre on the news when he was five years old. Even at that point, Gonzales said he realized, “It’s not just me having problems, it’s the whole world. Something is going wrong. My mom’s beliefs cannot be accurate.”
As Gonzales grew older, he learned about Nazi WWII from his veteran grandfather. Gonzales’ Croatian ancestors helped build German U-boats for the war. He recalled his great-aunt had harbored anti-Serbian sentiments “because she thought [Serbians] treated [Croatians] like shit.”
The Ustase regime in the Independent State of Croatia exterminated what the United States Holocaust Museum estimates to be almost 350,000 ethnic Serbs between 1941 and 1945. Perhaps 200,000 more were forcefully converted to Catholicism. Having heard his aunts’ beliefs, however, Gonzales thought, “Maybe some of us really were the good guys on the Axis side of things.”
Becoming a neo-Nazi
When Gonzales was 12 years old, he bonded with a man everyone called “J.C.,” an ironic namesake, as he claimed to be a Satanist.
“When you’re 12 years old and got nobody to look up to and you’re getting picked on, someone’s going to come along and bring their values with them and sell you the pitch,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said J.C. often carried around a copy of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf.
At the same time, Gonzales developed a taste for anti-communist, white nationalist bands such as ¡Oi! and Skrewdriver. A foster brother stick-and-poked an “SS” tattoo onto Gonzales’ right wrist. “SS” represents a coalition of the German Nazi Party, the Schutzstaffel, some factions of which were responsible for running Jewish concentration camps during WWII.
Though Gonzales claimed at the June 30 march he was not a neo-Nazi, he later told the Vanguard, “I’m definitely a nationalist. I guess I could be labelled as a neo-Nazi and I’d be fine with that.”
Gonzales wears a swastika tattoo on his right shoulder.
The SPLC defines white nationalists as those espousing “white supremacist or white separatist” ideals. Neo-Nazis, sometimes described as national socialists, the SPLC states, “share a hatred for Jews and a love of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.”
Though Gonzales espouses nonviolence, he both doubts the validity of the Holocaust and believes whites are oppressed in America.
Gonzales echoed a sentiment common among followers of Gibson’s rallies: White freedom of speech is under attack.
Demystifying Identity Evropa
Originating on social media and “deep internet” forums and meme pages, the alt-right is a rabbit hole of racist and nationalist opinions cloaked in humor. Gionet, who worked alongside far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, has been criticized for past anti-semitic language.
In the livestream, Gionet asks Von Ott to recite the “14 words.” Smiling into the camera, Von Ott said, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The 14 words are arguably derived from a passage in Mein Kampf, which advocates for securing the future of the Aryan race.
The American 14 words were coined by David Lane, a former member of the Pacific Northwest terrorist organization The Order. In 1984, The Order assassinated a Jewish talk show host. Lane died in prison in 2007 while serving a 190-year sentence for crimes he committed as an Order member.
Von Ott, a tall, freshly turned-20-year-old with a long, confident stride, arrived at the June 4 rally with about 40 other IE members marching in formation. Gibson said IE was not allowed into the plaza, which Von Ott contends. Von Ott said some of his friends were present at the June 30 march, apparently unknown to Gibson.
In a YouTube video recently taken down by the far-right “Right Source Media” channel, Von Ott claimed a close relationship with IE founder Nathan Damigo.
Damigo, a 30-year-old former U.S. Marine Corporal, founded IE in March 2016. Damigo told the LA Times that IE comprises “‘a generation of awakened Europeans’ who ‘oppose those who would defame our history and rich cultural heritage.’”
When Damigo first presented the notion of “white identitarianism,” he was widely criticized by students of the Cal State Stanislaus ethnic studies class, where he had been invited to speak for his complex, circumspect explanation.
Von Ott told the Vanguard identitarianism simply means “being proud of your European heritage.” Acccording to the SPLC, the phrase was coined in the early 2000s by Generation Identitaire, an anti-immigrant group in France that “mockingly” served soup containing pork in majority Muslim neighborhoods.
Beginning in 2007, Damigo served one year in county jail and four years in prison for holding a La Mesa, California cab driver, who Damigo thought was Iranian, at gunpoint and robbing him of $43. This came one month after Damigo finished his second tour of duty in Iraq. According to court records, the LA Times reported Damigo suffered from severe post traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, paranoia and flashbacks.
Damigo, however, took the opportunity in prison to study race and identity. Damigo was inspired by Lane’s book My Awakening, as well as by racial provocateur Jean-Philippe Rushton and science writer Nicholas Wade.
Damigo came out of prison believing that different races were separated by genetic predispositions.
Von Ott agreed. “The Africans” [are] “scientifically proven to have lower IQ’s and less impulse control” than people of European, or white, origin, he claimed.“[Black Lives Matter] only proves our point in terms of low impulse control,” Von Ott said
BLM formed in 2012 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for his murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. BLM, like antifa, protests police corruption and racism, and has been at the center of controversy for some demonstrations turning violent. BLM, however, also organizes vigils, participates on panels around the country, and lobbies for police reform.
Researchers from Stanford University who study genetic differences between races, condemn Wade’s “speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in IQ test results, political institutions and economic development.”
Adding to a commitment to back up its views with “scientific evidence” rather than “feeling and emotion,” Von Ott said, IE believes the “liberal” concept of multiculturalism is “toxic” to America. “A multiracial society is a multi-racist society,” Von Ott added.
Von Ott referenced a controversial study by Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam, which found that in newly diverse populations, fewer people vote, volunteer, or donate to charities. Some people view that as a strong case against diversity, but Putnam has publicly decried that view.
In a March 2017 letter to the Wall Street Journal, Putnam wrote, “Ethnic diversity is, on balance, an important social asset, as the history of the U.S. demonstrates. In the short to medium run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital. In the medium to long run, on the other hand, successful immigrant societies like the U.S. create new forms of social solidarity and dampen the negative effects of diversity by constructing new, more encompassing identities.”
Von Ott said he fears, however, that as more immigrants come to the U.S., white European identity will disappear.
Von Ott calls himself a “strong Christian,” while adding, “Christianity is not a warrior religion by any means,” but he believes every race has the right to “conquer another.” He said he isn’t advocating violence against any other race, but as non-white births exceed white births in America, IE sees sole reproduction with members of the Aryan race to be paramount.
Von Ott compared white people’s possible “plight” to that of Native Americans. “[Native Americans] are the most likely to interracially marry and have interracial children,” Von Ott said. “Their culture and [their] children have been obliterated from the face of the earth. They no longer have any relevance here at all. None.”
Islamophobia and xenophobia
Additionally, Von Ott argued that allowing refugees of Islamic origin into America will inevitably bring a culture of violence across the border. “In the Muslim world, at age 6 [children are] given an [AK-47] and told to go fight, go kill,” Von Ott claimed. “Well, you have two cultures colliding, a European and Muslim culture. At the end of the day, who’s going to win a one-on-one fight?”
In contrast, the Council on American-Islamic Relations says 2017 is set to become “one of the worst years ever for anti-Muslim hate crimes.” Most incidents documented by CAIR are of non-violent harassment, but the second most common are hate crimes that involve physical violence or property destruction.
According to researchers at the University of Buffalo and the University of Alabama, on the other hand, over two decades of research have consistently shown areas of high immigration statistics to have lower crime rates than those with minimal immigrant populations.
I’m not a neo-Nazi, but…
Though self-proclaimed libertarian, “American-loving” people like Von Ott and Damigo deny being neo-Nazis or fascists, the roots of IE’s ideology are undeniable.
Von Ott said he admires George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of neo-Nazism in America. Rockwell founded the American Nazi Party in 1959, which was formerly known, in more convoluted language, as the World Union of Free Enterprise and National Socialists. Rockwell, a well-documented racist, was ousted from the Navy and assassinated in a shopping mall parking lot in 1967.
Von Ott said he denounces Rockwell’s violent rhetoric and behaviors. However, Von Ott qualified, “I admire his willingness and how American he was.” Von Ott paused. “By how American, I mean the fact that against everybody he still stood for what he believed in.”
Rockwell believed former U.S. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman were “traitors” that should be “hanged.”
Former Portland State professor, author, and white supremacist expert Randy Blazak explained that groups ranging from “white identitarian” to “white supremacist” operate under different language, but the same ideology.
“Hate groups don’t call themselves hate groups,” Blazak said. “They call themselves white civil rights organizations. It’s public relations. It’s a new title of an old song.”
Many such groups deny Nazi sympathy but cling to symbolism like the 14 words and “sieg heil” gestures. “Logically, they would just abandon all that to bring [new members] in,” Blazak explained. “But the reality is, that’s their roots. They feel connected to it.”
Gibson said on June 30 he was aware Gionet and Von Ott had hailed the 14 words at his June 4 rally, to his disapproval. “We’re looking into it,” Gibson said. “If a statement needs to be made, it will be made.”
Over a month later, Gibson has not issued any statements.
How do I look?
Von Ott wears a neatly-clipped haircut identical to Damigo’s. Damigo’s Twitter handle, in fact, is @fashyhaircut, a play on fascism. Gonzales said he believes this “all-American teenager” image attracts young people into movements like IE and skinheads “a lot more” than “a guy wearing a band t-shirt and waving a swastika flag.”
Recently, Rose City Antifa leaked a series of overtly violent and racist statements Von Ott posted on a white nationalist Facebook page. In one of these posts Von Ott said his brother, who was dating a half-Asian woman, had “yellow fever.” Tagged to his complaint, Von Ott posted a photo of Hitler and his associates looking up with disgust, with the word “degenerate” written underneath.
In another post, Von Ott asked group members what the punishment would be if “his friend” stabbed refugees in Germany. His post was met with humor and encouragement from the group, which included his own mother. In another screenshot, Von Ott’s mother posted a sketched image of a white family, the father wearing a swastika armband, with a caption that read, “We are rising! Unite!”
Von Ott confirmed these posts were his own and his mother’s. Von Ott said he regrets his posts, claiming he has “matured” in the four months since, and they were merely “locker room talk.” This is the same justification Donald Trump offered after he was caught saying his celebrity status allowed him to grab women by the genitals.
Von Ott explained that he posted about stabbing refugees after his cousin, allegedly, was sexually assaulted by three refugees in Europe. Neither Von Ott nor his mother mentioned any incident like this in his post.
Von Ott added that because white voices are so “silenced” in America, people like him are “forced” into online “echo chambers” where hateful statements turned to humor are a “release” for those who fear losing their jobs because of their views.
Von Ott said since creating another white nationalist group on Facebook, he deletes any posts encouraging violence. However, he admits there may be some people that actually espouse violence in online “echo chambers.” Von Ott reasons such posts should be removed because they are unproductive and “we need to be professionals.”
John “Based Spartan” Turano showed up to Gibson’s April 27 Berkeley, California rally and June 4 rally in Portland cos-playing as a Trojan soldier, sporting a plastic helmet and chest armor atop his American flag board shorts. When Turano got riled up at counter-protesters, he ripped his armor and helmet off, then flexed his arm and chest muscles at the crowd and cursed them out.
At the Berkeley protest, Turano called antifa protesters “cowards” and declared, “I’ll smash on them until I can’t breathe.” Turano could be seen on video screaming and chucking back projectiles antifa threw at the “patriot” crowd.
On June 11, however, just one week after his appearance in Portland, Turano showed up to another “free speech” vs. antifa demonstration in San Bernardino to counter-protest the same “patriot” crowd he hailed from. Turano held a sign that read, “Resist hate, love only.”
Gibson’s followers were quick to call Turano a traitor.
Turano is a single father from La Puente, California. Turano’s Facebook is devoid of any Based Spartan pictures, featuring only photos of him and his kids in clothing sprinkled with marijuana leaves.
Turano said he’s never been a political person. He has only voted once in his life, and that was for President Trump. Turano said he disagrees with the president on immigration and women’s rights issues.
Turano said he used to think all antifa “hated our guts” and intended to protest violently. When Turano came to Portland on June 4, however, he said a petite Jewish counter-protester came up to him and asked, “Does my life matter?”
“It just made me feel bad,” Turano said. “I hadn’t really been paying attention; I just thought we were surrounded by all these people who hated us. But I met some people that seemed so nice.” Turano added that in his state of mind when he attended the Berkeley protest, he thought “these [antifa] people hate America.”
Turano said as a single, working father, he did not have time to sit behind a computer screen and follow the alt-right. When Turano began to see swastikas at these protests and racial slurs on the internet, however, he came to understand how the “other side” saw “patriots.”
“Racist ain’t too far from the truth,” Turano declared.
Being Based Spartan gave Turano a rush, but he said he now feels the patriot movement only “loved me because they thought I was violent and I looked threatening and intimidating.” Turano added, “People emailed me to tell me I helped these ‘idiot’ groups grow, and I’m responsible for making it a family idea. I made a horrible mistake. I don’t like bullies.”
Turano said he thinks the discrimination he sees Latinos face in Southern California is “spearheaded by the alt-right.”
“Even the good people say horrible things,” Turano said. “This lady I know struck out at a [Latino] girl and I can’t believe she went there. She has a Mexican husband and an immigrant mother-in-law and she said this racial slur. There’s no hope.”
When Turano was sixteen, he got a swastika tattoo on his right hand. Turano did not explain why. “I ended up cutting it out,” he said. Turano ended up marrying an undocumented immigrant and having children.
Still visible on Turano’s right bicep, however, is a “White Pride” tattoo. Turano said he got it to identify himself in prison, but he does not plan on removing it. Turano, still a conservative, declared like Von Ott and Gonzales, “I think everyone should be proud of who they are.”
Perhaps this is what attracted Turano to the “free speech” patriot movement in the first place.
The questionable appropriation of free speech
Gibson said if extremist groups show up to his events, “they show up.” Moving forward, Gibson said he wants to empower leaders “to create their own groups.”
From “Western Chauvinist” Proud Boys fleeing the rise of feminism, to alt-right “Kekistan” members who wish to free offensive “shit-posters” from liberal “social justice warriors,” to IE members that claim “white genocide,” every “patriot” wants First Amendment rights on their own terms.
Whatever the patriot movement seeks to empower has been lost in a name game of nit-picked, white-pride identities. As Gibson shouts “free speech” and “freedom from cultural brainwashing” from his loudspeaker, his movement brings to the surface a violent, racist, and un-American past.
Turano said he has just now come to understand that. To the people of Portland, Turano wished to say, “I’m sorry for disturbing you while supporting something I did not understand. It was during a healing time and I totally dropped the ball.”