By Brad Smith
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Over the last few years, "Antifa" has become a term demonized in the media by conservative politicians and organizations.
Last summer, Donald Trump took to social media and held Antifa responsible for the violence that occurred at the numerous rallies and protests held at the time. Trump wanted Antifa groups to be classified as a terrorist organization -- despite the fact there was no evidence linking said groups to violent activity.
And, in September 2020, FBI Director Chris Wray testified on Capitol Hill that Antifa wasn't a cohesive organization but an ideology. Wray's statements put him at odds with Trump -- who later had a social media meltdown about the subject.
During the Black Lives Matter rallies held throughout Southern Oregon, many claimed that Antifa operatives were in buses and headed for area communities -- to commit violence and arson. None of that happened. Rogue Weather.com owner Greg Roberts posted on social media that Antifa was responsible for the September fires and even claimed Antifa and BLM allies were hiding among the homeless living at Hawthorne Park. A scanner group, one overseen by Ryan Mallory, echoed the same false information.
Someone even created a fake Medford Police Dept. press release stating that Antifa members were arrested for the fires.
Even more shocking, some Republicans still believe Antifa was behind the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill attack -- something actually planned and carried out by right wing extremists.
According to an August 2018 USA Today article, Rose City Antifa is the oldest known active Antifa group in the United States, forming back in 2007. According to an RCA member identified as "Milo," RCA's mission "is to combat and deplatform the far right while organizing in solidarity with others struggling for collective liberation."
In Mark Bray's 2017 book, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, Rose City Antifa was formed over 14 years ago to help others oppose a Portland music festival organized by neo-Nazis allied with White Aryan Resistance, a white supremacist organization. Since then, Milo said the RCA has been tracking fascists and other far-right groups.
"We monitor the rhetoric and activity at fascist and far-right events occurring in our area," he said. "We also track fascist activity online, in both public and private channels. We rely a lot on tips from our community members as well -- so when people see fascist activity in their area, whether on social media or in real life, we encourage them to send us those tips so we can investigate the activity. Our goal is to connect fascists' public identities with their hateful organizing activities, so that their community can keep themselves safe and hold fascists directly accountable for advocating genocide and white supremacy."
Milo said he joined because his community was threatened by the presence of fascists.
"I have the capacity to do something about it. I care deeply about community solidarity," he said. "As well as dismantling systems of oppression -- it's hard to build a better world when you have Nazis running around."
Milo said that's what Antifa wants: A better world.
Recently, RCA published in depth information about local neo-Nazis Keith "Biome" Michael Erickson and Gregg Marchese. Andrew Patterson, who once organized a very small neo-Nazi group here in the Rogue Valley, has been mentioned - -albeit briefly -- in an article. "We have definitely monitored some other instances of far-right activity and fascist organizing in Southern Oregon," Milo said. "Because we're a Portland-based and mainly Portland-focused group, local activists and journalists elsewhere in Oregon are often more familiar with the important far-right figures in their area than we are."
Milo and his fellow RCA members have noted the increased activity by white nationalists over the years.
"The election of Donald Trump certainly emboldened white nationalists, who saw an ally in the Trump administration," he said. "However, we want to make sure people don't falsely conflate emergence of white nationalism with Trump's election. There have always been white supremacists in the United States, and even the Obama presidency didn't do much to stem the growth of the far-right. We have to remain vigilant in our work regardless of who our elected officials are, because we can't rely on existing systems to do our work for us."
In response to Trump's social media posts about Antifa and violence, Milo said:
"When antifascists engage in violence, it is out of community self-defense. In our case, when Proud Boys and their ilk descend on Portland with the intent to cause harm to our communities, sometimes we have to meet them in the streets," he said.
violence on a large scale? It's not us."
"We frequently get ill-wishes in our inboxes and voicemail. It comes with this work. Some of the insults get really creative, which is an amusing part of our day.
nationalists overall, or beyond the scope of that single event in January."
"Not currently, and we would encourage people to route their financial support to explicitly BIPOC organizations doing liberation work in their local areas," he said.
If people wish to pass on information, Milo said the RCA can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
regular contact with other groups within that network."