City leaders in Portland, Ore., are considering making it illegal for protesters to wear masks in an attempt to address violent clashes between left-wing and right-wing activists, the latest of which occurred a few weeks ago.
Police Chief Danielle Outlaw first called for an antimask law after dueling protests on June 29, where a conservative writer said he was assaulted by members of the left-wing group Antifa, who frequently wear masks. Demonstrators from Antifa, short for antifascist, were among those countering a march by the Proud Boys, which calls itself a “Western Chauvinist Group” and is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“A lot of people are emboldened because they know they can’t be identified,” Ms. Outlaw said at a news conference.
A spokeswoman for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said city officials have had initial discussions about outlawing the wearing of a mask to commit a crime or escape identification in the commission of a crime. Mr. Wheeler “wants to weigh his options thoroughly and hear concerns from community leaders before making a decision,” said Eileen Park, the spokeswoman.
The idea received a swift rebuke from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
“A policy that prohibits wearing a mask to a protest not only risks chilling First Amendment-protected activities, particularly for those who wear ‘masks’ for political and religious reasons, it misses the issue entirely,” spokeswoman Sarah Armstrong said in an email. “Behavior is the issue, not the mask.”
About 15 states and some counties and cities have some sort of antimask legislation. Many date to the middle of the last century when states and cities sought to target the Ku Klux Klan, but in recent years the laws have been passed amid activism by left-wing groups. Last year, police in Georgia invoked an antimask law passed in the 1950s to arrest antiracism protesters. North Dakota passed an antimask law in 2017 in response to protests over an oil pipeline. A federal version called the “Unmasking Antifa Act” was introduced in Congress last year but failed to make it out of committee.
While violent conflicts between White supremacists and left-wing groups like Antifa have been rare in the U.S. since a large and deadly clash in 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., the two sides have remained active in Portland. The Pacific Northwest has long been home to a volatile combination of white supremacist and militia groups on the right and militant antiracist groups like Antifa on the left, experts say.
The election of Donald Trump, viewed as an ally by some white supremacists, has only fueled both sides, said Joseph Lowndes, an associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon who has studied race and social movements.
A member of an Antifa chapter in Portland said his group’s goal is to disrupt fascist and white supremacist organizing, which has grown since Mr. Trump’s 2016 election as president. He said an antimask law would unfairly target Antifa.
Joey Gibson, who heads the far-right Patriot Prayer Group, cheered the talk of an antimask law. He began holding rallies in Portland and other cities in 2016 because he felt that police weren’t protecting Trump supporters from counterprotesters.
“The second the mask come off, they even act polite,” said Mr. Gibson. “If Ted Wheeler is tired of the national attention, all they have to do is enforce a no-mask law.”
Howard Jordan, a retired police chief from Oakland, Calif., where political demonstrations are frequent, said that the first goal for law enforcement should be to keep warring groups separated. Because that isn’t always possible, however, he said an antimask law could be useful. “It’s a good tool for officers,” he said.
Mr. Jordan said that Oakland police rarely enforced that city’s antimask ordinance, which was adopted in 1922 in response to KKK activity. However, he said it could be more useful in Portland if it is implemented to address a current problem.
DAWG SAYS: IT IS ABOUT TIME, HIDING THEIR IDENTITIES GIVES THEM MORE OF A SENSE OF SAFETY TO DO THEIR ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES…….