Interview with a Portland antifa/BLM protester, September 2020

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The following is a transcript from an episode of my podcast, People Who Read People, where I interview a Portland, Oregon antifa/BLM protester who intellectually defends the violent, militant aspects of the Portland protests and riots, and who talks about reasons for physically fighting with rightwing groups.

For more info about the topics discussed, and for links to the episode on podcast platforms, see the episode’s page on my site. If you enjoy this episode, you may also enjoy this follow-up episode: an interview with Omar Wasow, who’s done research on the effects of violent protests and riots.

Transcript with timestamps:

Zach Elwood (00:00:00): Welcome to the People Who Read People podcast. I’m your host, Zachary Elwood. In this episode, recorded August 31st, 2020, I interview a self-described Antifa, who has been regularly attending the recent anti-cop protests in Portland, Oregon. These protests are sometimes also referred to as Black Lives Matter protests. The person I’m interviewing will defend some of the more violent, aggressive aspects of these protests, including setting fires, physically fighting with or throwing things at cops, and resisting arrest.

Zach Elwood (00:00:34): I live in Portland, myself. My initial motivation in booking this interview was to try to understand what’s driving the behavior of these violent protesters. What do they hope to accomplish? How do they justify their tactics? Because, to be completely honest, I haven’t been able to wrap my head around this behavior. And I like to try to understand things that are hard for me to understand. And I think this ties into the goals of this podcast: to better understand psychology and behavior. If you stick around to the end of the interview, I summarize my thoughts about what I think of the interviewee’s arguments.

Zach Elwood (00:01:07): The person I interview has also been in confrontations with violent conservative groups, like the proud boys and Patriot prayer. These groups, in my opinion, come to Portland solely to agitate Antifa type people and to get in fights. So I asked him about that kind of activity. Also, I should note that this interview happened just two days after a pro-Trump person was shot by a self-described Antifa person in Portland during one of these confrontations. So the tensions are especially high in Portland, at this point in time.

Zach Elwood (00:01:38): On my website, I’ve got podcast, episode summaries and links, and I’ve also got links to related articles that have helped form my opinions or that are just related to the topic. You can find that at I’ve disguised the voice of this protester. I can tell you that they say they’re a recently graduated philosophy student and, to quote them, a newly dedicated anti-fascist. I’d also remind you that this is only one person, and obviously they can’t speak for everyone engaging in similar activity. Okay. Here’s the interview.

Zach Elwood (00:02:13): Thanks a lot for coming on.

Protester (00:02:14):
Thanks so much for having me.

Zach Elwood (00:02:16):
So let’s start out with, how many days would you say you’ve joined the protests in Portland in the last few months and how much of that was at night versus during the day would you say?

Protester (00:02:28):

I was on the ground in Portland the first night it happened the first night anything happened back in may and right after George Floyd’s killing. And, I’d say I’ve been on the ground probably 80, 75, 80 total days since, and almost exclusively at night, two or three times during the day, but mostly at the nighttime protests.

Zach Elwood (00:02:48):
And maybe you can describe a little bit about what a typical evening has been like out there.

Protester (00:02:53):

Oh, totally. A normal evening is: you show up at a park usually sometime between seven and nine. You sit down there, folks handing out pizza up, there are folks giving out flyers and literature and drinks, energy drinks, things like that. You sort of mill around and talk for an undisclosed amount of time, just kind of however long until the action starts. Then someone gets on a megaphone and you all start marching. You make your way to a direct action site. And that’s sort of where the night can veer in one of two directions. Regardless of what happened at that direct action site, the police are going to come out. And at some point in the night, they are going to start making arrests and using crowd control munitions and doing bull rushes and things like that. If you are one of the unlucky ones, you’re arrested. That looks like: you get dragged over to the justice center here in Portland, you get processed. That’s a process that takes hours. You’re usually out sometime within five hours to a day, and that’s kind of the unlucky version of events. And that has a whole suite of things that are difficult and problematic that I’m kind of glossing over there.

Protester (00:04:14):

But the other avenue is you don’t get arrested. You make it through the first bull rush. You make it through the gassing and you’re chased through the streets for however long you’re willing to be out there or until sun up essentially and the crowd is small. So, and that involves you’re sort of running through dark streets, there’s helicopters and planes circling, there’s cops shooting rubber bullets and dropping gas and putting out bear mace. And if you get close to a cop, you’re going to get batoned and you’re going to get pushed, and you sort of duck from neighborhood to neighborhood, trying to make your way through Portland and not get arrested. Usually back to your car.

Zach Elwood (00:04:54):
It seems like it usually devolves to some sort of militant activity, you know, in the last few months, pretty much every night. Would you say that’s accurate on the part of the protesters, I mean?

Protester (00:05:03):
It depends on how you define ‘militant activity’, but at the very least, there’s usually a contained fire set in a street. Something that happens pretty much every night.

Zach Elwood (00:05:20):

There’s obviously different forms of how that can, the more militant kind of aspects can play out. Which parts are you able to defend? You know, like if we broke it down by like setting fires or throwing things at cops, or, you know, setting fires in the street versus setting fire to a building: how much of it are you able to defend intellectually versus like the things you’re not able to defend? If that makes sense.

Protester (00:05:45):

Um, I would say I haven’t… All the strategies used so far in Portland are things I feel are defensible and support. So things from like setting a fire in the street, to things like setting a fire at the PPA, the cop union building. Which no one has like set the building on fire. An awning has been burned. There have been fires near the building. The building has not been set on fire like you see in Kenosha or anything like that.

Zach Elwood (00:06:16):
Oh, so there’s, you’re saying there has not been a case where they’ve actually set the building on fire.

Speaker 2 (00:06:21):
No, there’s been stuff that is on fire near the building and put through the windows of the building, but that has never expanded to like, for instance, even singeing the carpet.

Zach Elwood (00:06:34):
Is it accurate to say that there have been attempts to set the buildings on fire?

Protester (00:06:40):

Um, I think that kind of gets into an intellectual gray area. I Think that there are ways to look at it that it is yes, an attempt to set the building on fire, to light something on fire near it. I don’t know the intentions of the people doing it. I know that they were wildly unsuccessful if that was their goal.

Zach Elwood (00:07:05):
Right. I guess my question is, would you agree with it if they did set the, you know, set the building on fire?

Speaker 2 (00:07:12):

Yeah, I would. The PPA is, I mean, fires are something that get out of control and I do not like that element of it, but I think that direct attacks that do damage to police union buildings, and things like that, are something that is defensible and that I stand behind.

Zach Elwood (00:07:35):

A small update here. I wish I had mentioned a couple more things here. For one thing, protesters have been throwing Molotov cocktails. As I record this update just a couple of days ago, someone threw a molotov cocktail towards police that caught a couple of protesters temporarily on fire. Also, I wish I had mentioned damage to private businesses and if he was okay with that happening.

Zach Elwood (00:07:55):
There was that case of the guy who beat someone up pretty badly, assaulted a driver or something, last name Love, I think. Would you also defend that?

Protester (00:08:07):

No, I definitely wouldn’t. And as far as I’m aware and I’ve heard he is not a member in good standing with the general movement here in Portland, and that was not even at a Black Lives Matter protest or direct action; that was literally miles away from the direct action that night.

Zach Elwood (00:08:27):
Do you think part of the more militant protesting and that’s acceptable as is throwing things at cops and doing things like that too, right?

Protester (00:08:37):
Oh yeah, I would definitely support that.

Zach Elwood (00:08:41):
What would you say to the criticism that these things, activities make things worse and do not help the cause?

Protester (00:08:50):

Um, I think that, to me just seems obviously false, I guess, is the thing that comes to mind is just when these sort of fascist type organizations, like I would say the cops, I think a lot of people out in the street would say the cops, these organizations that expand their power rapidly, that have a lot of military fire power to come to bear, start shooting at you and start, I mean, they’re throwing things at you. It is fair to defend yourself. It’s fair to sort of stand your ground in the face of police assaults.

Zach Elwood (00:09:34):
So are you, you’re saying that when these things happen, are you saying that the police are starting it basically?

Protester (00:09:42):

Yeah. Um, I have, I mean, occasionally you see a water bottle get thrown at a line of riot cops, but they will respond with rubber bullets, with tear gas, with pepper balls. And a water bottle cannot hurt someone in full riot gear. It’s a physical impossibility, I think. And they respond to that by opening up on a crowd with all of those crowd control munitions, and then people have to defend themselves. They have to protect themselves from that kind of brutality.

Zach Elwood (00:10:15):

So is it your stance that if you wanted to be out there, say at the protest at 7:00 PM or whatever, when everything’s going, you know, peacefully, is it your stance that you should just be able to be out there unencumbered and it’s only when you get pushback from the cops that things start going downhill. Is that accurate or is it something else?

Protester (00:10:41):

Oh yeah, wholeheartedly. That is my stance, is that you’ll often walk up to a building like the PPA and there’ll be lines of riot cops, and people will be standing in the street peaceably, well within the sort of purview of something like a sit-in, which is a traditionally accepted mode of civil disobedience. And the cops will make an announcement:tThis is declared an unlawful assembly for obstructing traffic. And at that point they start using riot control munitions on people who are objectively peaceably assembling.

Zach Elwood (00:11:23):

Do you think the cops should not do anything at all? Say protesters are defacing property or setting fires like in the square there, or blocking traffic for, you know, however many days, is it your stance that the cops should never, the government should never do anything to prevent you guys from doing that?

Protester (00:11:46):

Yeah. I don’t see what, um… just to sort of work in from the least extreme example to one of the more extreme. I just don’t see what the damage is in blocking a street in Portland at nine o’clock at night or 10 o’clock; it’s not a busy street by any stretch of the imagination. None of these are super busy streets and they’re not, like, cars could easily go around, could easily navigate around the places that are being walked off.

Zach Elwood (00:12:16):
Your goals are, I know that’s a, it’s a large crowd, but what would you say your goals are, or at least yours or the people you closely know.

Protester (00:12:25):
My personal goal is the abolition of police.

Zach Elwood (00:12:29):
And I know that can be interpreted in different ways. How would you define that?

Protester (00:12:35):

I would define that as: police are the group in society who has a legalized monopoly on violence. They are people who the government uses to enact its will violently, to sort of put it in more layman’s terms. And that is a huge problem. The nature of their job makes them an organization that can’t be regulated. There’s always going to be huge gray areas in how they use that violence cause it’s their job to enact that violence. And because of that, it feels impossible for police to do a good job. That’s sort of the argument behind abolition for me.

Zach Elwood (00:13:20):
You say abolition, when you say that, are you saying that there should be no like investigators of crime or, you know, can you talk a little bit about that?

Protester (00:13:31):

Yeah, I can. I think that, one of the, I think there should be investigators of crime and of course there’s going to be a huge disagreement about all of those, but my personal opinion is there should be investigators of crime, but the goal of police is to investigate a crime and then cause people harm for committing that crime, whether that is jailing them, whether that is finding them, whether that is in the case of Jacob Blake, shooting them in the back. That is all inside the purview of policing. These are organizations not designed to prevent crime. They’re organizations designed to hand out punishment for crimes. The abolition of police looks to me like the abolition of the concept of crime. The question is, is what anyone’s doing, hurting someone? If the answer is yes, that’s something that the community can come together and deal with. If the answer is no, I don’t believe you need someone with a gun to resolve that problem. And so the police feel like an artificial step in between the community regulating itself and the problem being dealt with, that is unnecessary.

Zach Elwood (00:14:51):
Yeah. I guess it’s hard for me to imagine what you’re saying, because I mean: would you disagree with the statement that we have a lot of, for example, gun crime and violent crime in the United States?

Protester (00:15:05):
Yeah. I think that one great instance of this: do you know about the country Rojava?

Zach Elwood (00:15:12): No.

Protester (00:15:12):

It’s a country; it’s not a formal country, but it’s a semi autonomous zone that came about in Syria. And when there’s a, for instance, domestic violence complaint in Rojava, there’s a council of people, usually older people in the society, who come together and arrive at the house, discuss that domestic violence complaint with the people who are involved in it, and try to come to a meaningful solution that works for all parties. They don’t, for instance, get a call from a neighbor, show up with a gun, kick down a door and try to solve it by arresting someone. They try to solve it by making sure everyone in the situation is as safe as possible. And these aren’t people who are deputized, they don’t have a badge, they don’t have a gun, they come, they discuss, they know the people involved and then they come to a solution that works for everyone because they have innate knowledge of what’s going on. And I think more community-based, more personal answers to these questions will be better than people who don’t live in the town or don’t know the people in their neighborhood trying to tackle situations that are complex and difficult.

Zach Elwood (00:16:28):

I mean, it’s hard for me to imagine this and I don’t think I would be alone in this because, you know, just thinking of instances of violent crime, like for example, a home invasion down the street where the cops were called and had to go in and figure out what was going on. Like, it’s hard for me to imagine the community coming together and, you know, saving somebody in a, in a bad situation, you know? I mean, do you see why, you know, that’s hard for me to see that point of view.

Protester (00:16:58):

Yeah, I totally understand that. I would also say that it should be equally hard for you to imagine the cops solving that because they don’t often wind up solving, for instance, active shooter situations, while the shooter is still opening fire. Their job is not to step into dangerous situations and mitigate the danger. They’re an investigator force that usually helps after the fact.

Zach Elwood (00:17:24):

I don’t know, I would push back on that a little bit because, you know, for example, there was a, a guy who took his kid out, driving around and he had kind of lost his mind a little bit and was shooting at the cops and the cops, you know, chased him down and had a shootout. it’s hard for me to imagine, not needing cops to deal with situations that turned very bad, you know, somebody going out and shooting many people, for example, it’s hard for me to imagine, you know, that being solved by the community. I mean, obviously it would be eventually, but it’s just hard for me to imagine, not needing the cops, even if we can discuss ways that their involvement could be changed, you know? And I just wonder what you would see, as someone with such a, I don’t think I’m being insulting to call it extreme, I’m just wondering how you address those things. Because I think if you asked your average person, they’re like, yes, we need the police because sometimes very bad things happen that need to be dealt with.

Protester (00:18:26):

Yeah. I understand that argument and I definitely see that there’s an internal logic to that. Like there are people in the world who do scary things, that’s impossible to disagree with. But arguing from corner cases for entire systems is a danger. I’m not exactly sure how to deal with somebody kicks down a bank door and starts taking hostages. We don’t have a perfect way to deal with that situation now with police. These things often go awry, they’re often muddy. But I think that any violence short of that most extreme can often be dealt with by people like mental health counselors or crisis intervention specialists or friends and family. You see it happen all the time. In fact, there are people who get into violent altercations and it’s resolved internally. Their friends come out, their neighbors come out, their family comes out, and deescalates violence radically. And I think that of course doesn’t deal with the most extreme cases like you’re talking about. But I think those extreme cases, they’re sort of messy, no matter the system they’re is.

Zach Elwood (00:19:39):

Uh, I mean, I don’t want to get too stuck on this, but I would, just, to me, it just seems like we have lots of violent crime of various sorts and it’s, even if they’re responding after the fact, you know, just the ability to follow up and check out the scene and make sure it’s safe and take down the details. And obviously some of that’s investigative, but it’s also, you know, making sure that there’s no existing threat and those kinds of things. And anyway, I think you’ve said your stance.

Protester (00:20:08):

And I think there are members of the community we could definitely imagine stepping into those roles, right? Like go into a situation after the fact, and assessing the safety and sort of reintegrating that place back into society.

Zach Elwood (00:20:23):
Right. I guess, it sounds like you have a more, a positive view of what people are capable of in society than I do. It’s hard for me to imagine people doing much of that, you know?

Protester (00:20:33):

Yeah. I mean, I think that, uh, this view is sort of fostered by the fact that I’ve been in such extreme conditions for the past three months. And I’ve seen people who were, you know, plumbers or whatever three months ago, chefs, who have now strapped on a bulletproof vest and are talking people down in incredibly high stress, difficult situations, and I’ve seen people step into these roles fully here in Portland.

Zach Elwood (00:21:02):

Does the government, the cops know your goals? Do they know that there’s certain things that you want to happen if the protests were to stop or do you see it as just, you know. Basically what’s the, what do you see the goals are and how do you know when to stop the, the nightly more aggressive aspects of the protest?

Protester (00:21:23):

Yeah, I think that is of course, something, every protester would have to decide for themselves, but there are sort of a broad range of things that people have asked for. Our mayor, Ted Wheeler and our police chief, they know these concerns, things like, for instance, the mayor resigning is often stated. Some movement towards defunding, even if it’s not complete abolition is something that’s often stated. There were in fact, a group of people who sat in the lobby of the mayor’s apartment complex, who had an objective list of demands that they’d written up. So I’m sure he’s notified about what some members of the crowd want at least. And I don’t think anyone’s looking for Ted Wheeler to come out tomorrow and wave a magic wand to make it all better. I think what people are looking out and why they’re out protesting is we want to see progress. We want to see something, and we haven’t seen any of that.

Zach Elwood (00:22:24):

I guess, you know, it seems watching from a distance that the protesters are so varied, like there’s not a cohesive leadership or anything, organization, anything like that. So it seems the case that even if the city did something to appease the crowd, it seems like there’d be many people still people left that would not be happy with that and would continue with the protest. Is that accurate to say?

Protester (00:22:51):

I mean, I think that there are people who would continue protesting, but these things sort of have a critical mass. It’s a very different affair if it’s five people standing out front of the PPA, versus 5000. I think there’s various levels of how radical everyone is at the protests. And if our leaders start making progress, if they start working on these issues, people will respond. Discussions will be had. Some members will see that it’s enough and sort of, in the protester community, these things can be talked about and discussed. And we can come to a kind of resolution about when to stop, depending on what level of action they take. I think that any action starts that conversation, and the greater the action, the more likely it is that everyone stops.

Zach Elwood (00:23:45):

Do you have a personal thing that you would see happen that would make you go, oh, okay, I’m not gonna continue this tonight, and I’ll stop doing it. Is there a certain thing that you would see happen that would meet that criteria?

Protester (00:23:57):

For me? I would say defunding PPB by at least 50% and the resignation of Ted Wheeler as a move to start pivoting into doing more mutual aid stuff and less nightly protesting. That would seem like a step in the right direction. That Would seem like we were working in good faith together.

Zach Elwood (00:24:17):

What would you say to the criticism that, or the idea that, even if we had more mental health training for officers, or even if we had another separate set of people that dealt with mental health calls: does it seem to be the case that considering that, even if it’s fairly, quite rare, some mental health calls do become violent, do escalate. And it seems like, because of that, those people would also need to have some means of defense, offense. Do you agree with that or is that ?

Protester (00:24:52):

I actually don’t. I have multiple friends who are crisis counselors who I’ve met at these protests and they all told me uniformally, and of course I can’t speak for all crisis intervention therapists or anything like that. But from what I’ve heard in my community, they really prefer not to have someone with a gun there; that makes it much harder to deescalate a situation.

Zach Elwood (00:25:15):
Hmm. Do you think they would have mace or something like that?

Protester (00:25:20):

I’m not sure what they would have. I know some crisis intervention specialists who just go out, they bring snacks and water, and they’re usually able to have reasonable conversations with people that lowers the tension.

Zach Elwood (00:25:34):

It can be an ambiguous area because, you know, it would be uncertain a lot of times what would be like someone acting aggressively on drugs versus mental health. And I guess to me, some of these things would just be so uncertain. You would need to be prepared for worst case scenarios, you know?

Protester (00:25:51):

Yeah. Just for example at the protests one day, I saw someone who was having a mental health episode, who was not involved in the protests, who started going after cars, started hitting cars with a stick. And a friend of mine who’s a crisis intervention specialist walked up to what is objectively a terrifying situation for most people, I think, and started talking, had a bottle of water in his hand and some snacks in the other. And within five minutes of starting that conversation, they were sitting on the curb, exchanging snacks, talking about what’s going on in this person’s life. And I think that that is a very real possibility for most of these interactions, if not all.

Zach Elwood (00:26:36):

What would you say to the criticism that perhaps these, the more aggressive actions might make the city less likely to meet demands? Because in sort of a way of, you know, not negotiating with terrorists kind of way. In the sense that if, if they were to give in to demands that were put out this way, then that would encourage other people to try to get their things met in similar ways. Does that make sense?

Protester (00:27:06):

Yeah. I would say unlike other organizations, the BIPOC community, especially here in Portland, has been dealing with this through normal channels, for years. They’ve been trying to get movement on these things for years, whether that’s Care Not Cops or Don’t Shoot PDX, or any other of the awesome community based organizations we have, who’ve been trying to talk and discuss and legislate and have just gotten absolutely stonewalled. I think it’s disingenuous for our city to say, why can’t you go back to doing the wildly ineffective strategies that you’ve done previously. Not wildly ineffective, these organizations have actually done a great job, but the city has fought them tooth and nail every step of the way to get their accomplishments.

Zach Elwood (00:27:55):

And if you could sum up the, what would be the main complaint, you know, take away all the protests and riots, like, say we’re back, uh, you know, several years ago, what’s the main complaint with the Portland police that you see?

Protester (00:28:10):

That they wind up killing a lot of people. They wind up killing a lot of folks who are doing nothing wrong or even that are doing things wrong, but a cop can’t be judge, jury, and executioner. And in Portland they are, especially for the black community. And the indigenous community.

Zach Elwood (00:28:33):
Do you see the large amount of guns we have in the country as a main factor, a big factor in police violence?

Protester (00:28:44):

Um, I guess I see the large amount of guns police have is a big factor, but no, I don’t think that the overall gun ownership is a huge issue. I think that there are places in America that have incredibly high rates of gun ownership that have relatively low rates of police violence. And there are places that have low rates of gun ownership that have higher rates of police violence. And short of like an argument based on like a national zeitgeist of gun culture, I don’t think that that is right.

Zach Elwood (00:29:15):

I’ll be transparent: that’s my viewpoint, that the huge amount of guns that we have in this country leads to cops both being fearful and sometimes overreacting. Now that’s not discounting that there are badly trained cops or just bad people as cops. Obviously those are true too. But to me, the predominant factor here is guns. And why, you know, trying to compare us to Europe is just so fruitless.

Protester (00:29:45):

Yeah. I mean, I think that, um, one great instance of why I think this is the according to Pew research, uh, 46% of people in rural areas own a gun, self-report owning a gun, whereas in inner cities 19% of people own a gun. And the vast majority of police killings happen in inner cities. And I understand that there’s like a broader thing that happens where we have a culture, we have like a toxic gun culture in this country, and that makes police jumpy and scared. But I think it’s just not, it’s police ignoring data. It’s clearly a bias because in these white, rural communities that have largely defunded the police already, we don’t see this kind of police violence despite incredibly high rates of gun ownership.

Zach Elwood (00:30:37):
I mean, what would you say to, you know, it’s obviously not just about gun ownership, it’s also about, you know, the statistical likelihood of guns being used in an area. Does that make sense to you?

Protester (00:30:50):

Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. And I think that that is actually a great argument. I think that how likely it is for there to be a shooting in an area is something that makes everyone nervous and jumpy. And I think that that’s not definitionally a problem the police can tackle, because they have largely been ineffective at preventing this kind of violent crime. And we need to defund the police, and put that money into making these areas have less widespread gun violence.

Zach Elwood (00:31:26):

Yeah. I mean, to me it seems it’s also, you know, it’s, it’s the two factors of not just other people’s guns, but the cops being afraid, because the cops have to carry their guns they are afraid of losing control of their guns. And it’s just a toxic, you know, environment that we live in that we, I think we just kind of take for granted and even the cops themselves take for granted that this is normal, you know, and it’s just not the case in European countries, for example.

Protester (00:31:55):

Yeah. And I think the cops are specifically trained to take that as more of a risk than it should be. They’re trained by groups like Killology Labs, who tell them that they’re sheep dogs protecting sheep from wolves constantly, and that they’re warriors, they’re the thin blue line. And I think cops see even more guns than the average person, they have that fear way more than the average person, because of their specific police training.

Zach Elwood (00:32:25):

And I know you’ve addressed this already, but what would you say to people pointing out like what, you know, we have things mass shootings, like the Las Vegas shooter, you know, and these things aren’t that rare anymore. And it seems like, I would agree with you that cops might be being trained in more aggressive ways than is normal, and that becomes normal for them. But it seems like there needs to be a force that can respond to these increasingly, you know, violent events that we have. You know, crime is going down, but we also have these large events that happen more and more frequently.

Protester (00:33:03):

Yeah. And I think at the very least that is a strong argument for a massive defunding. Crime in general is going down and you need to deal with specific things that happen in a big way. That seems like something that could be dealt with with far less money, far fewer beat cops, far fewer people to engage in these sort of deadly interactions with civilians. That seems like an argument for defunding to me actually. Shrinking the size of police forces, making them more tactical, if that’s something that interests you.

Zach Elwood (00:33:35):
How do you see the nightly protests in Portland playing out? Do you have a guess or are you fairly uncertain about how it’ll play out?

Protester (00:33:43):

I mean, that’s a, that’s a tough question. A month ago, we were protesting the feds outside of the federal courthouse and there were thousands of people in the street. Um, now it’s a month later and we’re going to police precincts on the East side and things like that. The landscape changes so quickly. My hope is that on November 4th, we get to change the city leadership.

Zach Elwood (00:34:06):
Why did people go to the other precinct that wasn’t downtown? Do you have an opinion on that?

Protester (00:34:12):

Um, I think the, the justice center is a really bad location to do a protest. The downtown precinct; the police have height on you. They have a whole bunch of exits that sort of span out on all sides. It’s just a really bad location. You can get kettled, you can get hurt really easily. For those people who don’t understand kettling, sorry, it’s a process where the police sort of herd you into a smaller and smaller area using riot munitions, sort of attack and arrest you once your back’s up against the wall. And downtown Portland, it’s easy to do that. So you go across the river because it is safer. It’s a safer place to protest.

Zach Elwood (00:34:54):

So I’ve seen some people say, some protesters say that the reason they do this, isn’t just about police. You know, there might be some other causes at work. Can you talk a little bit about that? Maybe that’s true for you or maybe you’ve heard other people talk about other things that this is accomplishing.

Protester (00:35:12):

I mean, I think there’s sort of a lot of philosophies that intertwine with defunding the police, but the overwhelming cause here in Portland is that black and indigenous lives matter. That is front and center. And that’s sort of the one unifying cause to people with disparate political thoughts, there are anarchists and communists and liberals and just centrist Democrats, which sounds bizarre, I guess, but they’re all those groups of people down there, including even conservatives. But it’s the fact that black and indigenous lives are being abused by the police on a daily basis that really unites all these. And so sort of what people think on the outskirts matters a little less down there weirdly than you think it might.

Zach Elwood (00:36:01):
Right, because there are some people out there that even apart from, um, you know, people of color things, just some people just believe the police are a fascist organization in general.

Protester (00:36:12):

Yeah. And I’ve had that belief and I’ve had it for years, but I didn’t get out into the street until the George Floyd killing, until Jacob Blake, until all of these things started stacking up. And so at the core of why I’m in the street is black and indigenous lives mattering.

Zach Elwood (00:36:29):

I was reading something in an article about the protest, where it says that the one of the strategies is to try to push the police to overreact basically and behave in bad ways to try to expose them as fascist or unfair. Is that something that you relate to or have heard talked about?

Protester (00:36:53):

Yeah. I mean, I think police get to hide behind a veneer of respectability cause they usually have to curate their own image. The things you see police do before this were sort of storming a building during a mass shooting or their PR team playing squirt guns with kids or things like that. But, um, I know that personally, the things that I find most chilling, that the whole nation is seeing now, are things like last night, a police officer yelled at a member of the Portland press Corps that they cannot talk if they are Press, they cannot ask the police questions if they are press. And if they ask questions, they will be treated as protesters. That’s like the veneer slipping, showing that these organizations are innately fascist because once you put them under pressure, they will start removing rights sort of left, right, and center.

Zach Elwood (00:37:45):

Do you think it’s the case that, you know, considering how many interactions there must be at these things, would you agree with the stance that sooner or later cops will behave in bad ways, even if they mostly don’t behave in bad ways? Would you agree with that?

Protester (00:38:02):

No. I think that this is exposing the bad ways in which cops always behave because they get routinely on the news. But I don’t think there has been a time when police have acted in a defensible way. I think that the long list of shootings and killings and brutalizing that has happened for years before these protests, these protests are just sort of turning the temperature up and to showing who police are. And there’s a history to prove it.

Zach Elwood (00:38:34):

I’ve heard this, and you said this and I’ve heard it before, that one of the reasons for this is that the traditional ways of political action don’t work. Do you think most of the people out there protesting at night, for example, do you think they’ve been active politically?

Protester (00:38:51):

Yeah. I think these are some of the most politically interested and motivated people in America. I think lots of them have traditional political credentials. They’re people who are civic minded, they’re people who routinely vote. They’re some of them ex party activists of one kind or another. I mean, these are people who are very politically motivated.

Zach Elwood (00:39:13):

I had talked to one protester just via email a little bit and he said, he thought that the protests were helping defend against Trump’s administration creating a white nationalist state. And he saw the protest is playing into that. Would you agree with that kind of stance or can you relate to it?

Protester (00:39:35):
Oh yeah, I can totally relate to it. I think that is exactly what the protests are doing at this point. And that’s sort of the front line against white nationalism.

Zach Elwood (00:39:47):

Well, I guess that would be a good lead into talking about the Proud Boy type of interactions. You’ve been involved in some of those things too. Can you talk a little bit about, have you been out to those very many of those and have you actually, you know, been in physical fights with those people?

Protester (00:40:06):

Yeah. So there’ve been three big counter-protests in the past two weeks that I’ve been to. One was in front of the justice center. It was a Back The Blue rally. There were a few hundred fascists, probably somewhere between three and six, I’m bad at these things. And they came down, they stood in front of the justice center, a crowd of anti-fascists started to form, to counter protest them. And very quickly the fascists sort of descended into violence. There’s always heckling at these events. And eventually the heckling gets to someone and a fascist will pull out bear mace and start using it, or regular mace, and start using it. And that’s exactly what we saw a few Saturdays ago. That’s exactly what I saw a week later in Gresham, Oregon. And it’s exactly what we saw at the Trump caravan parade is that these people have itchy trigger fingers, to start using the kind of crowd suppression techniques that the cops use and they start just tear gassing and beaten protesters, and then protesters respond.

Zach Elwood (00:41:15):

What would you say to the criticism, which I’ve heard from both conservatives and liberals, pretty much most people I talk to, who see those fights between the Antifa type of people and the right wing people. What would you say to the criticism that this is not helping anything? That these things are actually making things worse?

Protester (00:41:36):
I guess I would ask them how, and I know that’s getting into your personal opinions. I’m wondering how that would, how you view it, making things worse?

Zach Elwood (00:41:46):

I guess I would say, just for myself, I would say I’d see it as fanning the flames in a way that helps, for example, Proud Boy type of people recruit more people. And I see it as just bad optics for the liberal side, in general. When I see, for example, a group of proud boys doing a activity, I would respond to that in the same way I would respond to by of, you know, KKK marching, like they used to, you know, 30 years ago and everybody would just ignore them. I don’t see it as something that needs to be gone out and fight in the streets about, you know. I see it as ignoring it actually deprives it of attention and notice.

Protester (00:42:38):

Yeah, no, I mean, I understand that argument. Fights in the street get more media coverage than not fights in the street. But I think that these Klan marches that you talked about in the past, I think is a great analogy, but they often went unopposed solely because they were such a terror to their community. But I can guarantee you while these Klan marches were happening, the unopposed Klan marches that were happening, there were black folks cowering in their homes. And I think that is equally true of the proud boys, that if they go unchecked and if they go unwatched, their goal is to get out there and terrify people, terrify our friends and our neighbors. I just don’t want them to achieve that goal. I don’t want them to march through the streets of a city I love and live in and make sure that the black community here has to hide as it has had to in Portland for years. I mean, they don’t have to, but you undergo great risk to be out there during one of these events and asking them to just stay inside, feels unfair.

Zach Elwood (00:43:52):

Are you saying that you think that these Proud Boy people would go around and bother people unprovoked, like the people that were not obviously aligned against them, they would pick on people on the streets. Is that what you’re saying?

Protester (00:44:05):
Yeah. And I think they have a history of doing things like that and a history of doing things like that in coordination with the Portland police Bureau. Zach Elwood (00:44:14):

Do you think if no one were there to confront them and fight them, do you think they would still keep coming to Portland?

Protester (00:44:22):

Um, I’m not sure. I think that they probably would. I think we see these sort of racist, misogynist, homophobic organizations consistently expand their power or attempt to consistently expand their power. And one way they do that is street marches and demonstrations, and our country’s never lacked sort of far right street marches and demonstrations. And I think that they’d use it as a recruiting tool. They’d use it as a way to build a community in liberal places. And I think that not giving them that opportunity is important for the literal survival of the communities they want to attack.

Zach Elwood (00:45:05):

Do you think it’s possible that your stance on this is misguided in the sense that so many people I’ve talked to on both liberal and conservative, look at those kinds of encounters and just think like, ‘no one is being served here and it seems very silly.’ ?

Protester (00:45:23):

Yeah. I think that, um, I think that sort of questioning all of these things is something you do every day as a protester cause it’s really hard and I’d really love to be wrong and not have to go out and suffer violence another night or go have people pull guns on me at a fascist rally. But I think that argument for me sort of takes away the human element of these things. Takes away that women in an apartment building would have to listen to a misogynist on a megaphone in downtown Portland, talk about how their place is in the kitchen. I think it takes away from the fact that a BIPOC person in an apartment building would have to watch a Confederate flag be flown and racist chants be right outside their home. And I think that isn’t something that I want to allow to go unchecked. I don’t advocate violence, but I think that I want to go out there and stay up in front of those people and tell our community that we have their back, that they are protected. And I don’t know if that serves a broader political narrative in any direction, but I do know that for my friends and neighbors, it does mean something.

Zach Elwood (00:46:41):

To get to my, be transparent about my point of view is, I’ve read studies showing that riots turn countries to the right, you know, studies showing like in the sixties, the more violent protests and riots turn that area more conservative. And then also a big part of this for me, is in the lead up to Nazi Germany, you know, that the Nazis were able to successfully portray a lot of the socialist street violence that was happening in a way that’s like, are you with these socialists lawless types? Or are you with us the party of law and order. Right. And that’s what really worries me about the more violent aspects of this protest, riot type situations, uh, you know, not talking about the proud boys stuff specifically, but the whole thing overall, it kind has echoes of this the things that led up to, uh, you know, Nazi, Germany, turning, turning right to the right and, and supporting Hitler. Uh, so those are the kinds of things that really worry me. Yeah.

Protester (00:47:48):

Yeah. I think there’s a historical argument to be made there. But the thing I always try to remind people is that Hitler never won a majority of the vote. He was never a like broadly popular political candidate. He was handed power by essentially scared leaders who wanted someone to appear stronger, someone to be a fascist, to impose that law and order, but he was a wildly unpopular candidate. And I think you see the same thing happening with Donald Trump right now. And I think that this violence can protect our communities. This stand against fascist violence can protect our communities and we can use it as a call, an inspirational call, a way to not just roll over and hand that power over to a fascist right now. Like what happened in Nazi Germany.

Zach Elwood (00:48:43):

Yeah, I guess to me, it’s akin to what happened in Nazi Germany in the sense that, for example, right wing media, being able to take these things that are happening, which look very scary to a lot of people, the more violent, aggressive aspects of the protests, and take that material and use that to turn people, to get to the point where more people support Donald Trump basically.

Protester (00:49:11):

Yeah. I mean, it’s possible. And that is something that could happen, but Trump’s poll numbers haven’t exactly been, doing incredibly of late, short of a few outliers. And they’ve gone down during these protests.

Zach Elwood (00:49:25):

What would you say to the criticism that engaging in a lawful protest, like these things that have gone on, results in the people involved losing, basically, the moral high ground and preventing you from being able to object when other groups use the same tactics to get what they want.

Protester (00:49:46):

Um, I think that’s sort of the classic Obama era ‘We go high, they go low’ sort of deal. I think the one thing we see routinely is this high-minded politics is so overcome by, even on a nonviolent way, Obama’s attempts to change were so overcome by kind of the crushing weight of Mitch McConnell’s ability to mud fight. And I think that it’s good rhetoric and it sounds good to say ‘when they go low, we go high’. But in reality, it’s not an effective strategy to have the moral high ground and very little else.

Zach Elwood (00:50:29):

So what kind of scares me about these tactics is, you know, I can imagine so many groups behaving in a similar way. Say we took the example of pro-life people who believe that abortion is murder, or if we took a Q-Anon type group who thinks there’s literally pedophile leaders, you know, eating babies or whatever they believe, uh, you know, it’s a scary thing to me to imagine that by basically encouraging or, or looking the other way to abandoning the rule of law that you do encourage these groups, or at the very least you would lose the ability to critique them if they did that.

Protester (00:51:13):

I mean, I think that I don’t feel I lose the ability to critique these groups because the protest I’m engaged in is a specific critique of the rule of law. And I think that when you are fighting against a specific instantiation of law, you have a right to go outside of that law and work against it. But if you’re a Q-Anon protester, you’re not protesting the police, you’d just be jumping people on the streets

Zach Elwood (00:51:48):
Or legislators or politicians or something,

Protester (00:51:52):
No, your beef isn’t with law enforcement, your beef is with, I don’t really know what the Q Anon beef is with. It seems complicated.

Zach Elwood (00:52:01):
So are you saying, that because the police are a worthy militarized adversary that you feel better about it? Is that accurate?

Protester (00:52:10):

Yeah. I’m saying that I’m protesting the way that they enforce law. And so I have a right to disagree with the way they enforce law and work against it. Whereas if I was protesting something different, I might feel I was on different intellectual footing for that.

Zach Elwood (00:52:27):

Do you think there are approaches that you could take that might be thought out in such a way that wouldn’t appear to the mainstream so negative, in an optics way, that take a more thought out approach? You know, for example, like I think of some vegan activism I’ve seen where they specifically, their goal is to not just get arrested, but to also try to get something in a, in a court case, you know, and bring a court case. So it seems to me there’s some theoretical, more organized, more peaceful way to make these points and bring it to a higher court level kind of approach.

Protester (00:53:11):

Yeah, no, I think that that is an argument that cuts its way through sort of all of American politics, is this idea of like nonviolent resistance being the most effective form of resistance, “violence” in quotation marks. I think that it’s just not true, unfortunately. I think that for instance, vegan activism, broadly hasn’t changed a whole bunch. It’s still, we’re still consuming mass amounts of meat. I think that we want to cling to these ideas of non-destructive protests being effective because it sounds really good and it feels really good, but I think historically it’s relatively false.

New Speaker (00:53:56):

A small update here: I phrased this question badly, but the question I asked was meant to be about animal rights activism that WAS unlawful and that DID result in arrests, but that didn’t involve aggressive behaviors like attacking people or lighting fires or resisting arrest. One example of this was a protest in Petaluma, California at a duck farm, where there were animal welfare laws being broken and protesters attached themselves to the farm’s machinery. By doing that, they hoped to draw public attention to the cruelty of those operations and create court cases that might win legal victories. Well, obviously these are very different issues, my question was only that if you are okay with unlawful protest and even within that category, could there perhaps be some less aggressive and maybe even more effective approaches that people are not trying.

Zach Elwood (00:54:46):
Would you be okay with vegans going out and breaking things at an animal agriculture location?

Protester (00:54:53):

Yeah. If vegans wanted to go out and, you know, slow down the processes of the meat packing plant in a way that didn’t hurt anybody, I think that’s a great form of activism.

Zach Elwood (00:55:03):
Would you agree with pro-life activists throwing things at abortion doctors’ offices.

Protester (00:55:11):
No. I mean, I’m very. I disagree with their viewpoint.

Speaker 1 (00:55:15):

Right. So, and I’m not trying to be a smart alec here, but it seems like the thing that kind of bothers me about these kinds of activism is, you know, it boils down to, this is what I agree with and that’s why I think it’s right.

Protester (00:55:30):

I mean, but I think it’s a step more complicated than that because I guess sort of to move all the way back, I think that we all support violent activism, violence once again in quotations. I think that at some level we all support it because, this gets into a really broad discussion, but that’s what our government is in some way, it’s a body that legislates, that passes laws, and then enforces those laws through violence. There is no government that doesn’t work that way. So at core we all support the government’s violent act. Well, most people support the government’s violent activism. And I think that totally removing that from all other forms of activism gives the government sort of bizarrely broad-ranging powers on how to control people. I think that saying the only form of acceptable property destruction is civil asset forfeiture, is wild. I think that that’s dangerous. I think it’s a scary precedent to set.

Zach Elwood (00:56:45):

Right. The government, most nations operate under the idea of the state having a monopoly of force, that they are the only ones that can legitimately commit violence. And for me that can obviously be abused, but it’s also a fundamental part of having a stable society. So to question the, you know, unless you’re willing to take a government down, you know, that that’s where I would feel the line of like, okay, I can disobey laws now because I’ve decided that this government is no longer legitimate and they must be taken down. But anything below that feels like for me personally, it would have to rise to the level of like, I am a revolutionary trying to take down the government to, in order to violate the laws of the land. And obviously you feel different about that.

Protester (00:57:39):

Yeah. And I think we all, I think everyone in America breaks some laws. I think that’s everyone jay-walks or people in states smoke weed or things like that. And I think that it’s a matter of what laws you break and the why and when. And if you can draw a clear line for me as to how this a) doesn’t ruin anyone’s life and b) advances a cause you support, I can understand that and I can support that. And I think that that is valid anti-government action because the government will do the same to any civilian unless we think that the government is sort of utopian and objective, it by nature will take your property, it by natur, will harm members of your community unjustly. And so some form of taking that power back and of standing against the government is important.

Zach Elwood (00:58:46):

Yeah, I guess so, you know, you know my stance by now, but it’s just, it’s a scary thing to, for me to imagine, you know, I was pretty creeped out when the right wing people were, you know, standing around the state capitols with guns and getting very aggressive, you know. The idea of a country descending and, and normalizing that type of behavior is scary to me because I just see so many groups that could theoretically take this approach. You know, that’s why it’s worrisome to me, because I can easily imagine things getting to that level.

Protester (00:59:20):

No, and I think the next step is what’s scary, but that action in and of itself is just good democracy. I think that people coming out and standing for what they believe in, in a way that doesn’t do harm is sort of what democracy was based on.

Zach Elwood (00:59:36):

Right. I guess the argument would be around what is doing harm and what’s not doing harm because it seems like there’s many ways you could say these protests do harm, but that’s obviously a subjective, you know, things everybody has to decide for themselves or has different opinions.

Protester (00:59:55):

And anyone who ever protests for anything, we’ll be doing some level of harm, even if it’s just, you know, blocking your street or sitting at a lunch counter or standing at a state capitol. You’re doing some form of economic damage.

Zach Elwood (01:00:08):

Right. Or the, you know, you always hear the thing about people who hate protests. They’re like, you’re blocking something from getting to the hospital, you know, that kind of, that kind of, yeah, that’s a good point. You know, there’s, there’s all these shades of, of what constitutes harm.

Protester (01:00:23):

Yeah. I was talking to a trucker who was just viewing the Portland protests the other day. And he was like, yeah, you guys can’t block off a highway; that sets back shipping and trucking for hours. It’s a finely tuned logistical machine. And you just ruined the whole thing for 30 minutes of protest. That’s a good point and when you’re protesting, you’re always going to be committing some level of harm. And it’s just about where you draw the line.

Zach Elwood (01:00:48):
If you got your wishes and succeeded in the current fight, where would you turn your attention next?

Protester (01:00:59):
Um, if I sort of got the police abolished and all of that money (laughs).

Zach Elwood (01:01:04): I know it’s a tall order.

Protester (01:01:07):

Yeah, it’d be cool though. And all that money distributed to BIPOC communities and things like that. I think environmental justice is the thing we have to turn to next. The clock’s ticking, we have a date for the end of the world.

Zach Elwood (01:01:21):
So seeing as that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon, would you say you’re committed to the current cause for quite a while?

Protester (01:01:29):

Yeah. I’d say I’m sort of, you learn, you get better, I’m committed to kind of a fair number of causes at once here. Cause they’re all just kind of intertwined. The environmental justice is important for black liberation, is important for the reestablishment of BIPOC communities and their native lands. Portland is in Chinook territory and the Chinook people were better stewards of the environment than we are now. And so an issue like that is so deeply intertwined that you kind of can work on all of them at once, which is great.

Zach Elwood (01:02:03):

One more hypothetical situation for you, let’s say in these protests in the next few days, a cop accidentally kills a protester just out of the various conflicts that can arise. And let’s also pretend that protester is black. What do you think happen in that scenario? What would that lead to?

Protester (01:02:22):

Oof, that’s a tough one. I think that, um, one thing you see about Portland that you don’t see at other places like Kenosha is the Portland protests are incredibly well-disciplined comparatively. You don’t see any burned out buildings, for instance. You don’t see any of this sort of widespread damage that happens in other cities. You see some targeted graffiti, you see things like that, but I honestly have no idea. I think it’s possible that that kind of discipline tightens and people get more careful and more cautious and react, definitely not going to put down the protest, not going to stop, but kind of thousands of people come to the street and it looks more like a traditional acceptable action. Or I mean, I think on the other end something like Kenosha could happen. My bet Is more like thousands of people pouring into the street. And it looks more like a traditional action, but sort of all of those options are possible for sure.

Zach Elwood (01:03:24):
Right. That’s also what scares me about these things, because it feels like there’s some people in the protest community that wouldn’t mind that happening in the sense that you would create more anger.

Protester (01:03:39):

Um, yeah, I think that’s something that’s easy to feel from the outside, but I think contrary to most media narratives and contrary to what the rightwing would say, sort of the outpouring of grief amongst the activist community for what happened this weekend for the murder of an objective fascist, and someone who we fought in the street, I was personally hit hard by it. Lots of people I know were personally hit hard by it. There was a huge push against this kind of violence. It was an Antifa street medic who was one of the first people to treat him, for instance, and their life’s never going to be the same. I think the kind of the outpouring of grief for someone objectively against us is something that means that people certainly would be equally sad if something like that happened on our side. And it’s a very real possibility. I think it’s almost an inevitability. I have friends who are nursing concussions right now from rubber bullet rounds that could have killed them if they weren’t wearing their helmet. I have friends who’ve broken limbs.

Zach Elwood (01:04:45):

Right. It seems inevitable to me that that’s going to happen. And that’s also what scares me because it just seems inevitable at this point. In the same way, it’s inevitable to me that there will be more police brutality. There will be more shootings by police. And in a way I don’t see that as avoidable. I think we can, I think we can lessen those instances by various policies, but you know, for me, it gets back to the guns again. And I just don’t see a way around some of these things happening from time to time because it, I just, it’s hard for me to imagine because we have such a gun problem that these things go away But got off a little bit off topic there, but that is what scares me about the, these protests is like, I see bad things happening as an inevitable.

Protester (01:05:31):

Yeah. And I think most people at the protests think that someone will die at the hands of the police. I think it feels, it feels inevitable to me as well. But I think that there are, like, you’re saying legislative ways to tackle these things and things like that. But also if every time the police in a city shot an unarmed BIPOC person, they had to deal with two days of difficult protest, three days of difficult protest, they might shoot fewer people. I think that that is a theme of this direct action, that like taking these problems to the police, making them something they can’t sweep under the rug actually does help. It gets into the mind of officers.

Zach Elwood (01:06:14):

One of my big things I talk about a lot is the influence of social media on so many issues these days, you know, in, for example, we had that example in Minneapolis of people responding to basically fake news of, of police shooting someone when it was actually a suicide. Do you feel like social media really amps up things, acts as an accelerant these days. And do you see that as positive or negative?

Protester (01:06:41):

I feel like it’s both, it’s a blessing and a curse. I mean, I think the one thing, like happened in Portland this weekend, is that that guy got shot and immediately the story was broke, by I think the Times, and right away, you have people on the right calling for retaliatory violence before we had many details before we knew anything about it. And that’s an instance of social media being scary. I also think I’ve seen a Portland protest, that social media is the greatest way to organize mutual aid. It’s the thing that gets people protected, gets peopl, safe, gets people fed, gets people supported when they come out of jail. So I think it’s an accelerant in sort of all directions. The good and the bad, which is dangerous and overwhelmingly positive.

Zach Elwood (01:07:33):
Well, this has been great. Thanks a lot for coming on. I really respect your willingness to come on and talk about these things.

Protester (01:07:41):
Thank you so much for having me.

Zach Elwood (01:07:41):
Is there anything you want to say, anything you want to communicate that you didn’t feel was communicated?

Protester (01:07:48):

Yeah. One thing I always love to tell people is that the media paints a narrative like Portland is in flames right now. And if you didn’t know specifically where to go to find the protests and the actions, you would not notice they existed. There’s normal city graffiti, just with a black lives matter message in some places that you wouldn’t see otherwise. And then you go to the PPA, you go to the north precinct, you go to the justice center and you see that these are fortified bunkers to fight civilians. But outside of that, it just looks like Portland, nothing’s changed. And I think that’s important to get across.

Zach Elwood (01:08:34):
Okay. Thanks a lot for coming on. This has been a great talk.

Protester (01:08:36): Thanks for having me.

Zach Elwood (01:08:38):

As always happens with every interview I’ve ever done, I have quite a few regrets about questions I didn’t ask. If I could go back some questions I would have asked would have been, “Do you see a problem lighting fires of buildings when there are people inside?” “Do you see a problem with disrupting or actively hurting private businesses in the course of the rioting?” “Do you see a problem with throwing Molotov cocktails?” “Do you think the slogan ‘all cops are bastards’, which is frequently used at these events, is actually accurate. Is it helpful?” I wish I had pushed back on the idea that Portland was fine because while it’s not as bad as biased outlets like Fox News report, a good portion of downtown Portland does look horrible now. And many business owners have been negatively affected by this thing while they’re also suffering from COVID related impacts.

Zach Elwood (01:09:27):

This has also impacted residents who have experienced protestors going through their neighborhoods and fighting with police and having to deal with the repercussions from that conflict. For me personally, this interview didn’t change any opinions I had. It actually made it more clear to me how weak and incoherent the arguments were in support of these violent protests. I’ll do a wrap up of why these ideas were so bad and incoherent for me.

Protester (01:09:51):

First point, this person doesn’t think we need a police force. I would think that the large majority of people would recognize this as laughable and absurd, but just to state the obvious, the United States has a huge number of guns and a lot of gun crime. And we have a good amount of other crime, too. We clearly need some sort of organized police force that is capable of responding to bad situations who’ll be able to handle threats. We can of course debate what exact limitations and policies police departments should have. But arguing that we don’t need cops is to me as ludicrous as saying that we don’t need fire departments, that the community will just naturally come together and put out fires on their own. This is that weird, anarchical no-rules area where I think the extreme right libertarian type views meet the extreme left views. Basically the idea that we don’t need any hierarchical power structures to enforce laws, which to me, and I think to most people, is absurd and dangerou. because in order to have a stable society, you need rules and you need enforcement of those rules.

Zach Elwood (01:10:54):

As a way of supporting his idea that we don’t need police, he held up a war torn region in Syria called Rojava as an example of a society doing okay without police. This was a new idea to me, but I found that apparently this is a popular thing to say amongst the ‘abolish the police’ group. If you search online for ‘Rojava police’, you’ll find many articles talking about this idea. One such article, on a site called is titled “how to abolish the police: lessons from Rojava.” Another article is called “Police abolition and other revolutionary lessons from Rojava.” I’ll read a little bit from that one:

Zach Elwood (01:11:31):

“Through this alternative method, the possibility of instituting hierarchies of power and authority are considerably reduced. The people are protecting themselves. Security forces protect those who they live with and interact with daily in the neighborhood. This proximity ensures that violations occur only rarely. The neighborhood communes immediately activate community mechanisms of justice, honor, and restoration. The chances of one group establishing a monopoly over this process are further reduced by the encouragement of everyone in the community to participate in a roster system. Anyone can volunteer. This explicitly includes the elderly who have to take on more responsibility due to the fact that most young men and women are fighting at the front lines in the war against ISIS. Particularly, women are active in civil protection. Nothing restores and empowers the soul of a traumatized war-torn community more than seeing the matriarchs of a neighborhood stand confidently at street corners wielding AK-47 rifles for the people’s protection. These images do not inspire fear and terror. The inspire communal confidence, pride, dignity, self-respect, and belonging.”

Zach Elwood (01:12:37):

Does the idea of quote “the people protecting themselves” sound appealing to you? Do you like the idea of people in your community acting as vigilante protectors? Do you like the idea of needing armed citizens in your community to enforce the rules, however those citizens interpret them? If you saw a group of people breaking into your house at night, would you feel comfortable calling only your neighbors to handle the problem we can of course debate how to implement policing in many ways, but the nature of a police force is that it is trained, it has processes, it has policies. The idea of some sort of subjective citizen led community form of justice is madness to me, mostly because if you know anything about history or human nature, you can imagine how it would only end up being implemented in chaotic and hypocritical ways, because there must always be some people who end up leading the thing. And often those are the most power hungry and selfish people. The whole point of having laws and policies is to protect us from that chaos, from that subjectivity. And all of this is not to denigrate Rojava; from what I’ve read, they’re implementing order in the best way they can in a dangerous war-torn region, but to hold them up as some sort of template, as a way to support the idea that an organized police force isn’t necessary, seems, to put it lightly, misguided.

Zach Elwood (01:14:02):

Now I think most of us are probably on the same page about all of that, but then you might be thinking “but not everyone out there protesting wants to literally abolish police.” Yes, this is only one person, but I’d push back on the idea that their views don’t represent a good percentage of the people out there. I see these kinds of views regularly on social media. I see a lot of abolish police and all cops are bastards type of graffiti around town. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the slogans that’s been taken up by some in the more mainstream is the rather extreme sounding “defund the police,” despite some liberals trying to make excuses for that phrase. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the few people I reached out to and had conversations with about this happens to feel this way. And this person gave me the sense that they were part of a group of likeminded people.

Zach Elwood (01:14:52):

I’d also argue that, getting to the point where you’re out fighting with police and being okay with people setting fires to buildings, kind of pre-selects for some pretty extreme views. I think it’s the case that many liberals would rather not believe that the people out there doing these things have such extreme views because they don’t want to think badly of their side. If you’re a liberal listening to this, would you be as charitable about a group of violent right-wing protesters who were doing the exact same thing every night? If some of them said “we want to abolish the police” but some others in their group said “no, we don’t agree with those guys, wehave other goals.” Do you think you would think “Oh, okay. They have a wide variety of goals. Let’s not lump them all into the same bucket. Some are less extreme. So let’s not be too hasty and judging their actions.” Or would you instead think something more like “even if some of them are not that extreme, those people are out there next to the people with extreme viewpoints and they are okay with the violent actions of those extreme people. So they are therefore tacitly supporting the most extreme viewpoints.”

Zach Elwood (01:15:54):

For me personally, it’d be the latter. And I think that’s a valid stance to take. If I were out protesting for something, some cause, and I found myself next to many people who were very extreme, who made it obvious that they held much more extreme viewpoints than I did, I would find another way to make my point or to take action so that it wouldn’t appear I was aligned with them.

Zach Elwood (01:16:14):

One big incoherency for me was that this person says that they’re fine with such tactics because they’re for a cause that they believe in. But obviously there are many people in groups who could be using such tactics. As this person said, they wouldn’t agree with the situation if it were pro-life activists harassing people at an abortion clinic. And I’m sure you can imagine YOU wouldn’t appreciate these tactics If they were for a cause you found not worthy. And that’s where I see so much hypocrisy and arrogance. It’s the arrogance that you know the right way, that the violent aggressive tactics you’ve chosen are correct. That the risks involved, and I can point to many risks, great and small, are worth it. It’s hypocritical in the sense that even though you disagree with other people using similar tactics, you are fine with your tactics simply because they’re being used for your beliefs.

Zach Elwood (01:17:05):

Some of you might be thinking, “ut what about police brutality? There are legitimate problems here. How do we solve them? Is it possible this kind of approach is the correct way?” Now, obviously there are many ways to view the problem. There are many angles on what exactly the problem even is. The problem is not at all very well defined. On one extreme end, you’ve got people who think that police are literally part of a fascist state, that by going out and fighting with the police, they’re defending against the encroachment of a fascist government. Now, obviously we have a problem of some sort. Personally, as I stated, I think our problem with police mostly has to do with our huge amount of guns and our gun crime. And this leads to cops being very on edge and sometimes over-reacting. It’s been strange seeing liberals avoid talking about guns being a factor almost as much as conservatives usually avoid the topic, almost as if talking about our gun problem might insult those focused on racial justice issues.

Zach Elwood (01:18:02):

In between my point of view and the extreme “all cops are fascists” view, you have a range of opinions across the spectrum, across multiple dimensions, about what the problem really is. And this is a range of opinions amongst the people who all agree that we have a problem with too much violence by police. Now I don’t judge anything by social proof alone. I judge things on their logic and merit. But if I were someone who was looking for supporting evidence for why violent protesting was justified, I might look around and see what many people who agree with me, who agreed there was a problem to solve, thought about the situation. Because for people who commit violence, who do unlawful things for their cause, the burden of proof is on them. And if you are a part of a pretty small group of people who want to commit violence and the large majority of people do not and disagree with you and even many people who agree that there’s a problem here, think you’re wrong, you should probably start to wonder if YOU’RE the one being unreasonable. The people committing violence should be able to make a very strong case for why they’re correct. And the rest of society isn’t correct. And I think there are so many questions and uncertainties here, not just about diagnosing the problem, but about the potential negative outcomes of violent, militant courses of action.

Zach Elwood (01:19:13):

Some people who do these things defend it out of an “I’m defending minorities” or “I’m defending black people” stance. This point of view is that police brutality is mostly a racial issue. Now this is obviously debatable too. And there is a spectrum of beliefs here. You’ve got the more extreme end of beliefs, the belief that most cops are white supremacists who are engaged in purposeful violence and suppression of black people and minorities. You can find many reports of Portland protesters calling the Portland police and the Portland mayor “white supremacists”. I know some liberals who say things like “all cops are Nazis”. Even as someone who feels pretty informed about what motivates these types of views, I find these kinds of statements and beliefs so unreasonable and so lacking in evidence, especially considering the horrible, extreme nature of the accusations. I find these kinds of beliefs as dumb and unreasonable as some right-wing beliefs like “Democrats support Antifa and want to destroy the suburbs” or “Democrats want to cause a race war to overthrow Trump”.

Zach Elwood (01:20:16):

A bit farther down that spectrum, you’ve got other beliefs like believing that the entire system is fundamentally intrinsically white supremacist in nature and needs to be torn down or hugely restructured. And on the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got points like this is mainly a gun issue and the statistics do not support the idea that race is a large factor. To support this view, people would point to the fact that there are many white people killed and many police shootings of minorities done by minority cops. And the fact that there are multiple studies done that do not find evidence of race being a big factor in police violence. And while black people are statistically more likely to be harmed by police, when considering population percentage, some people would point to the fact that there are more crimes and policing in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Zach Elwood (01:21:05):

Now those are two ends of the spectrum just amongst the people who believe that there is a police violence problem that we need to solve. As you probably gathered, I’m towards the second half of the thought spectrum I described. While I think there are problems we need to solve, I think guns and fear of guns are the main factors at work here, and not purposely malicious cops. One of the resources that formed my opinions about this as an educational online tool called “The Counted: people killed by the police in the United States.” This tool was created by the UK newspaper, The Guardian. It’s a breakdown of all people killed by police in the United States in 2015 and 2016. And you can filter the killings by race, by age, by sex, by whether the killed person was armed or unarmed. I really recommend checking it out because I think it helps give a good understanding of how police shootings happen, what situations police are dealing with and how the more justified shootings can help explain the things that the cops are afraid of happening. I should clarify here and say that it’s not that I don’t believe racism is a factor; I do believe it is. But I am saying that when you look at all the factors, I think race takes a distant second to our gun problem.

Zach Elwood (01:22:13):

There are many liberals who, like me, don’t believe that race is the main factor for this problem. But some of these people defend the racial framing of the problem, because basically to summarize the idea “it’s okay to let black people lead the way on this issue because it draws attention to the problem and help solve it.” But I would say there are prices to pay for framing problems inaccurately. For one thing, the racial framing of the problem increases racial polarization and racial anger on the part of black people. Whereas if more people tried to frame the problem with more nuance, it might dissipate the feeling that it is purely a black problem, or that the problem reflects a white supremacist system. In short, there’s a price to pay for not treating complex issues with nuance, for framing the issue as a narrative about a single group of people being persecuted, instead of narrative that examines the many factors at work. I’ve done a good amount of research into fake and deceptive online activity and on Facebook I’m in some black rights groups where the sharing of fake news, of biased news, of hateful viewpoints, is just as common as in pro-Trump groups.

Zach Elwood (01:23:22):

But in any case, my personal viewpoints are not that relevant. What is relevant to my greater point here is that there’s a range of opinions about even defining what the problem is. And again, I think that for people who choose violent, aggressive tactics, the burden of proof is on them to show why their framing of the problem is correct. One thing you can hear some protesters say in defense is that traditional tactics aren’t working. This is, again, something anyone with any grievance could theoretically say. Any people with extreme viewpoints can say that things aren’t moving fast enough for their liking. I’d argue this argument disregards the fact that change in any society takes some time. It also disregards the huge amount of progress that we’ve had in this country addressing injustice of various sorts. It also assumes that it’s possible to fix the problem entirely, when considering our huge amount of guns and gun crime, I think it’s a valid argument to say that even with a near perfect system, we’d still have a decent amount of police overreactions, as long as we had many guns. And I’d argue that the peaceful George Floyd- related protests did so much; even many conservatives were expressing the belief that things needed to change soon after George Floyd’s death. It’s not at all clear that going out and fighting the cops does anything at all. I’d point you to a study done by Omar Wasow where he studied the 1960s civil rights protests and riots, and found evidence that violent activity made people vote more conservatively. And I’d say that resorting to chaotic violence is about the laziest, least strategic approach you could take to a problem.

Zach Elwood (01:24:55):

I’d recommend looking back at writings about the 1960s civil rights movement, there was so much strategy put into those efforts, So much planning, with the goal of making it obvious who the oppressed and the oppressors were. They specifically set up scenarios that made overreach by authorities very clear, that made the protesters sympathetic. There is so much room even within breaking the law in ways that are non aggressive, that don’t involve violence. That helped make your point and draw attention to the problem, either for the public to see, or to bring a court case that helps you fight things Legally. The fact that these people have resorted to violence to provoke the police, to try to get the police to overreact, doesn’t help make their case to me. It makes it seem like they are desperate to prove their case.

Zach Elwood (01:25:41):

To compare more strategic activism to this situation and the Portland protest, I see only chaos. I see nobody in charge. As my interviewee admitted, there is no cohesive plan, no real list of demands, no specific thing that might happen that would let them know to stop. When I see videos of what some people hold up as overreach by the Portland police, like the police tackling someone aggressively, or punching someone, I don’t think “those poor protesters being tackled.” Honestly, my first thought is “what did those people do to deserve that?” Because obviously these people are doing some bad things, like setting fires and attacking cops and resisting arrest. And any approach the cops take to enforce order will sooner or later result in a situation that looks bad for the cops and be a helpful clip for the protestors. That I think is what the protesters count on; the cops going too far, which really seems inevitable to me when you take such tactics day after day.

Zach Elwood (01:26:39):

But what the protesters don’t seem to realize is that their own violent tactics weaken their own stance. I’d be much more likely to side with the protesters if I knew they weren’t doing anything violent. But I know they’re doing violent things. They admit proudly to doing and intellectually supporting such violent things. So their strategy doesn’t work very well. This interviewee said that the protesters had the right to hang out unbothered downtown and should be able to congregate as long as they want, and said that the protestors were only responding when the police tried to make them disperse. But this is dishonest because the police are responding to actual bad things happening out there. Fires started, molotove cocktails thrown, vandalism of various sorts, setting fires to buildings, physically resisting and fighting when arrests were attempted. And there are complaints by Portland citizens and business owners who are being negatively affected once bad things start happening like this. The police have understandable reasons to try to prevent that unlawful activity.

Zach Elwood (01:27:33):

To act as if this was all some simple and obvious overreach by cops is dishonest. It’s pretending to be naive about the situation. And this is again why these protesters are not as sympathetic as they might think they are. And even if there were a list of demands by the protestors, I would think that the authorities would be unlikely to give in to those demands because they wouldn’t want to encourage similar tactics by the same people or by other people. It’s just bad policy to give in to a violent mob. Would you want the authorities to give into a violent mob who demanded getting rid of all gun control laws? Or a violent mob demanding that abortion be made illegal?

Zach Elwood (01:28:12):

I’ve sometimes seen people make arguments like “the United States was founded on violent protest,” which references things like the Boston Tea Party and other instances of unrest in revolutionary America. But this makes as much sense to me as defending assault or murder by saying the United States was founded on physically attacking people you don’t agree with. The destruction of things, or physical assault, only seems justified in hindsight, in this case, because it became part of the narrative of a revolutionary war for independence that was deemed justified by most people. If the rioting hadn’t been part of a broader narrative of a justified revolution, it would be much harder to defend it. When America became a country, they passed laws saying that violent protest was illegal, just as most successful societies set up a monopoly of force that says violence can only be committed by the state. Justifying violent protests by pointing to the American Revolution might make sense if the people saying that were trying to say that we need to rise up and take down the government, that the government was illegitimate.

Zach Elwood (01:29:12):

But they aren’t saying that. Or at least I don’t think they are. They seem to think violent protests are a fine local solution for addressing whatever a small group of citizens deems appropriate. And again, this is a scary idea. When you think about how many angry groups might take similar approaches or what this might mean for our country in terms of as yet unknown political reactions to that behavior.

Zach Elwood (01:29:34):

But for argument’s sake, let’s pretend that you are certain that you are in the right on this subject, that you have accurately diagnosed the problem, that you think some militant action is called for. You’d then maybe have to think through all the implications and consequences of taking that route. To give a few examples of potential negative effects of this stuff it’s probable that riots turn the public more conservative. This seems intuitive to me, but has also been shown in studies, including a recent one by Omar Wasow. You can see how Trump and the GOP are having a field day with these protests and riots, running them 24–7 on their news channels, using them in their campaign emails and ads. In my opinion, this is a huge gift to conservatives. I think liberals underestimate how scary these things are to many moderate, middle of the road people, and not just conservatives.

Zach Elwood (01:30:21):

Another interesting thing about this interview: you’ll notice that this person didn’t mention anything about being angry about the presence of federal troops in Portland. This wasn’t surprising to me because I didn’t think Trump’s sending federal troops played much of a role. At least to the core group of people out there. I do think the federal troops helped rile up more mainstream sympathy for the protesters, and got a few more people out there. But IdDon’t think it changed much about the people who were out there before that. Many of these people just hated cops in general. In other words, I think we’d still be in pretty much the same situation now, whether there had been federal troops sent or not. And I think this is an important point because I think in many liberals eyes, Trump’s sending of federal troops was a big factor. And I just don’t think it is. And I think the fact that this person didn’t mention it at all is meaningful.

Zach Elwood (01:31:06):

Also, I’ve heard from two people, this person and another protester, that they believe that they are helping protect against Trump’s government setting up a white supremacist system. Now I’m more pessimistic than most people about worst case Trump scenarios, and these views are still so paranoid

and illogical to me. Whether you believe such things or not, I think my interviewee’s confirmation that this was a factor in his motivations weakens their arguments, because it shows that it’s not just about police brutality, it’s about for some people a much more extreme “we’re fighting the government” type of belief, that’s not related to the police. To confirm this belief, I’ve seen tweets from protesters, that frame the situation in terms of “fighting the government.” I wanted to call attention to this because I think the idea itself is so paranoid and wrong, but more importantly because it shows that this is not, as many liberals seem to believe, just about the Portland police or even about police brutality in general.

Zach Elwood (01:32:03):

Another area that would concern me if I were thinking about doing this kind of stuff: street violence is thought to be a key factor in the rise of Nazis. There’s an article on entitled “How should we protest neo-Nazis: lessons from German history” where the author, Laurie Marhoeffer, writes the following: “The Nazis often held rallies right where their enemies lived, to provoke them. The people of Wedding were determined to fight back against fascism in their neighborhood. On the day of the rally, hundreds of Nazis descended on Wedding. Hundreds of their opponents showed up, too, organized with the local communist party. The antifascists tried to disrupt the rally, heckling the speakers. Nazi thugs retaliated. There was a massive brawl. Almost 100 people were injured. I imagine the people of Wedding felt they had won that day. They had courageously sent a message: fascism was not welcome. But historians believe events like the rally in Wedding helped the Nazis build a dictatorship. Yes, the brawl got them media attention, but what was far, far more important was how it fed an escalating spiral of street violence. That violence helped the fascists enormously.”

Zach Elwood (01:33:09):

While I don’t believe Trump is as dangerous as Hitler, I am afraid of many very bad Trump-related scenarios, including authoritarian overreach of various sorts or Trump losing but not leaving office, which could result in a constitutional crisis, or various civil war scenarios. I’m afraid of the increasing amounts of street violence now that we seem to have normalized these things more than they used to be. I’m afraid of all this combining with the stress and anxiety and anger from COVID financial impacts and combining with conservative-aimed news that drums up fear and anger. And I think things like fighting Proud Boys in the street and fighting police in the street all have the same impact. It all pushes people in general towards the right. And so even if I was theoretically on board with some aggressive tactics, I might look around at the current situation we’re in with Trump and COVID and think something like “maybe now isn’t the best time. Maybe this can wait until we reach a bit more stability as a society. Maybe I’m making the worst case scenarios more likely.”

Zach Elwood (01:34:09):

Regarding the Proud Boys, I disagree with my interviewee when they said they thought the proud boys would still be coming to Portland if nobody fought with them. I think it’s quite clear that this is why these right wing groups come. I actually, haven’t heard of the Proud Boys picking on anyone apart from picking fights with the people who like to fight with them. I’m sure there are such things that have occurred. I just find the argument that we’re protecting people from the Proud Boys very unpersuasive and a weak excuse. From what I’ve seen, the Proud Boys know they are winning the media war, in the sense that conservatives are able to drum up much more anger and hate on their side than liberals are able to do on their side, no matter what actually occurs on the street. I think both of these groups like fighting each other and like feeling that they’re part of something important. And I think this feeling of importance takes precedence for them over other concerns. They don’t care that most people look at their actions and think “this is idiotic, you’re not helping, you’re making things worse.”

Zach Elwood (01:35:06):

Another potential thing I’d be concerned about if I were one of these protesters: it’s possible your aggressive actions will turn people against your cause and make them not want to be associated with it. I think this is a real risk here, and this is why you’ve seen more people lately speaking up against these behaviors. There was a recent Washington Post op-ed by a black columnist who differentiated between antifa and BLM, and said that the violent protests were hurting the BLM movement. Joe Biden recently spoke about it more forcefully than I’d heard him do before. And even in liberal Portland, everyone whose opinion I respect that I’ve talked to recently thinks that the violent protests are doing more harm than good.

Zach Elwood (01:35:44):

Another potential effect here: it’s possible this kind of aggressive approach and rhetoric could decrease police morale so much that we’d end up with more police brutality, due to lower quality police recruits and worse training. And maybe more crime and murder due to less policing. And if that were to happen, much of that crime and murder would happen in poor and minority communities. Again, I’m not saying I believe these points are necessarily accurate. I’m saying that these are the kinds of doubts I’d have that would make me question taking such violent, risky approaches to affecting change.

Zach Elwood (01:36:16):

Another potential effect I’d think about: physical harm to the protesters themselves or to cops or to anyone who gets involved in these things, whether it be residents or store owners. The chaotic nature of these events means bad things happen more easily. The severe beating of the driver in Portland from a few weeks ago, the one my interviewee said he didn’t condone, is one example. The shooting of the Trump supporter from a couple of days ago is another example. There are unintended consequences that naturally arise from creating a lawless and violent environment. Like my interviewee, I think there’s a good chance a cop accidentally seriously hurts or kills a protester if this continues for much longer. And then what happens? More riots, more civil unrest, more deaths, more gifts to Trump?

Zach Elwood (01:37:00):

Another potential outcome I’d have to consider: maybe these actions will make it harder to convict cops for wrongdoing. It’s not often talked about, not as much as I think it should be, but one big factor in this police brutality issue is that it’s very hard to get juries to convict cops. Because as you can probably imagine, it’s pretty easy to get some cop-sympathetic people on a jury. And maybe by making the issue so unreasonably cop-hating and politically and racially polarizing, this behavior has actually made it more likely that conservatives will want to protect cops, no matter what the incident was.

Zach Elwood (01:37:32):

So to sum up a lot of my concerns here: they mostly relate to the moral arrogance these people seem to have. I would have to be so confident of so many things before engaging in such behavior. And I’d look for broad support amongst people who also saw the problem in a similar way. And I just don’t think these people have thought these things through. I think they’re misguided and, on a broader level, I think they’re in danger of making worst-case scenarios take place. Many people, many liberals, have the same concerns as I do. I think many liberals these days have a feeling of “the Republicans are so cohesive and tribal and so good at sticking together no matter what, maybe liberals need to be more like that.” I think this kind of feeling can be behind liberals not wanting to criticize those they perceive to

be quote “on their side.” Liberals feel threatened. They want to stick together. They want to present a solid front.

Zach Elwood (01:38:21):

But I think this is a mistaken stance. I think liberals hurt their cause by not having more dialogue and conversation and disagreement. When liberals have discussions and disagree, besides the obvious benefits of crafting better beliefs and more nuanced policies, another benefit is that some conservatives and middle of the road moderate people can see that liberals are not as extreme as they think. They see that, unlike what they’ve been told by places like Fox News, liberals have many different points of view, that it’s not only the most extreme liberals speaking up. Conservatives can see that there’s not just a binary choice with extreme liberals on one end and an extreme conservative like Trump on the other. In short, I think it lessens the paranoia and rage these people have and shows them that there’s room for debate, that you can critique many things about liberal beliefs and still, for example, not vote for someone like Trump.

Zach Elwood (01:39:15):

The benefits of more dialogue and disagreement and criticism of thought might seem obvious to some people. But I don’t think it is for many people. Not with how polarized we’ve become and how much everyone has been taught to distrust and fear each other. And I think that social media is a big factor in this polarization. Social media has become so toxic that disagreeing with others, even with others you have a lot in common with philosophically, can be exhausting, draining, and angering. And so many people have just stopped doing it. And this leads to a group appearing more extreme than it is because the more moderate disagreeing members are more silent, which in turn actually can lead to actual polarization, as people in each group do actually become more extreme to counteract what they see as the other side’s extremism.

Zach Elwood (01:40:04):

And there are psychological studies showing that groups with all the same viewpoints who are in bubbles of belief become more extreme. To quote from a well known 1969 study, “group consensus seems to induce a change of attitudes in which subjects are likely to adopt more extreme positions.” And we’re all increasingly in bubbles these days, whether online or in real life. It’s not surprising that groups are tending to get more extreme from this effect. And also from responding to the other group’s perceived extremism.

Zach Elwood (01:40:34):

I also think it’s the case that, for some people, if they can’t find liberals discussing certain topics openly, then that makes them more likely to move towards conservative views just because they recognize that there is a lack of reasonable debate there. To take one example: some conservatives support Trump because they think illegal immigration increases for jobs and hurts them financially. Now, obviously this is a topic that can be debated. But my point is that I do not see many liberals, whether citizens or media op-eds, talk about this concern. To pretend that this is not a real concern amongst conservatives, to not take it seriously and to just avoid the topic, or to mock it, helps the conservative party because conservatives see that their concerns are not taken seriously.

Zach Elwood (01:41:16):

In a similar way here, I think liberals not wanting to call out the more unreasonable and dangerous aspects of these protests and riots help Trump and the conservative party because the concerns many people have are not being discussed in an honest open way. So in short, I do recommend speaking up when you disagree with your own side. In having more discussions and pushing back on ideas, we may find that with this approach, we end up changing more minds and not less. Okay, this has been the People Who Read People podcast. If you’d like to reach me, you can find me on Twitter at @apokerplayer, or you can contact me on my site

Want to hear more? In this follow-up episode, I interview Dr. Omar Wasow, who’s researched the societal and political effects of violent protests and riots.

Written by

Have psych podcast “People Who Read People.” My research into online deception featured in NYT, WaPo, more. Wrote books on poker tells (translated 8 languages).

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