It was just a little pop, hardly noticeable amid the din of the shouting and the fighting on Inauguration night—January 20, 2017—in the University of Washington’s Red Square, a massive red-brick plaza on which a crowd of Milo Yiannopoulos fans, and an even larger crowd of people out to protest his appearance, had gathered that evening. But it nearly killed a man.
The handgun that produced the popping sound was a 9 mm Glock semi-automatic, and the person wielding it was a 29-year-old Milo fan named Elizabeth Hokoana. The single bullet that it discharged entered the stomach of a 34-year-old antifascist named Joshua Dukes, passing up through his lungs and narrowly missing his heart before lodging next to his spine.
Elizabeth—her friends call her Lily—fired the gun because Dukes had a grip on her husband’s arm. Marc Hokoana, also 29, had been circulating in the crowd and instigating fights all night; at the moment the handgun was fired, he had been attempting to douse antifascists with a pepper spray gun, and Dukes was attempting to take it away.
I had been standing only feet away from Dukes less than a minute before the shot was fired, recording the whole scene. My footage eventually played a critical role in the decision to file charges against the Hokoanas. But I didn’t record the shooting because my camera had been knocked away only moments beforehand by a black-clad antifascist.
More than two years have passed since that moment. Josh Dukes eventually recovered, after months in intensive care. Strangely, even though it involved antifascists and violence, the incident received almost zero attention from the media—no doubt because the victim was an antifascist, and the perpetrators were MAGA-loving Milo fans intent on violence. It didn’t fit the preferred narrative, a la Andy Ngo, in which antifascists are depicted as the violent freaks intent on wreaking harm, and not the other way around.
The Hokoanas were charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon. The trial has now come and gone, concluding to no one’s satisfaction. I was a witness in it. Let me tell you about what I saw, and what I learned.
Violence in Red Square
The incident in Red Square was badly misreported from the outset—which may have affected news organizations’ decisions about covering it—thanks in large part to Milo Yiannopoulos himself, the center of all the hubbub to begin with.
In early January 2017, Yiannopoulos was still relevant—and in fact was making headlines when one of his speaking appearances, on the University of California campus in Davis, was canceled by its sponsors. Interest in his Inauguration Day speech at UW intensified when a scheduled talk at Washington State in Pullman the day before was canceled because of icy roads.
So a big crowd gathered outside Kane Hall in Red Square, the line snaking around the plaza, in order to get in to hear him. Instead, antifascist protesters showed up and prevented many of the crowd from entering, turning the evening into a running series of melees between MAGA-hatted Milo fans and a much larger crowd of antifascists, Black Bloc protesters, and organized socialists.
I was there to cover it for the Southern Poverty Law Center, half anticipating a raucous evening, but never expecting the violence that occurred. Certainly I couldn’t have expected that a man standing next to me would be shot.
The confusion arose because Yiannopoulos claimed in his speech inside Kane Hall that it had been one of his alt-right fans who had been shot outside the event by an antifascist, making it a reason to continue speaking: “If I stopped my event now, we are sending a clear message that they can stop our events by killing people. I am not prepared to do that," he told the audience.
Breitbart News and The Daily Caller both reported the same. The Daily Caller wound up writing a story that corrected the facts but, notably, did not explain that it was a correction of the site's previous reportage. Breitbart, meanwhile, not only never bothered to correct its reportage, but it instead (without a hint of irony) accused the UW president of changing her story about the event, and left the shooting utterly unmentioned in its subsequent reportage.
I, on the other hand, knew better. After all, I was only a few feet away, in the middle of the crowd outside, when it happened.
I’d arrived early, when people were first gathering. The crowd setup was an invitation to disaster: Security was not allowing early arrivals inside to Kane Hall, so the line to get in to see Milo snaked around the plaza. As I walked past this line, I scanned it for its racial composition as well as looking for signs of white nationalists. The people waiting to see Milo were almost uniformly white, except for one Asian man I noticed with a red MAGA hat.
Initially, the protesters who showed up to the plaza were fairly sparse and mostly peaceful, but as the wait for Milo fans to get inside wore on, their numbers grew and the shouting began. Then, a large phalanx of black-clad antifascists, marching in a unified mass, arrived on the square, took up blocking positions to prevent anyone from entering, and the shit began to fly.
Almost literally: As a ruckus erupted among a cluster of protesters and Milo fans near me, someone’s red MAGA hat came flying out and landed near my feet, but closer to a young couple who apparently had wandered into the square by chance and were gawking. We all looked at each other, then the young man reached down, picked it up, tucked it inside his jacket, and sauntered off. I thought nothing further of it until much later.
The mood in the plaza had turned ugly for good, and I could see brawls breaking out, mostly in the vicinity of the entrance gate to the event. Elsewhere in the plaza, there was lots of shouting, but the brawls appeared to break out randomly and then were quickly extinguished.
However, I was also dealing with an unexpected kind of violence—from antifascists who were upset that I was wielding a camera (actually, an iPhone in what turned out to be an extraordinarily rugged case at the end of a selfie stick with a less-than-absolutely-secure clip). The first time I got whacked from behind by someone clad in black and masked up, I was able to turn to them and plead my case, after which they left me alone. A second whack, also from behind, came from an unmasked woman with whom I again successfully pleaded my case and retrieved my phone.
One man in particular set off my warning instincts: the Asian man I had seen standing in line earlier, who was now wandering the crowd and buttonholing people, including me: “Have you seen my hat?” It felt like it was less an attempt to retrieve a hat (and it wasn’t until much later that I recalled the young couple who had made off with the random red ball cap at their feet) than to provoke a fight. I backed away and he wandered off into the crowd.
This, it turned out, was Marc Hokoana. I didn’t learn his identity for another three days.
A little later, I encountered him again near a dust-up that had broken out when a teenage Milo fan had wandered too close to a pack of masked-up Black Bloc activists (he later claimed he was only attempting to read their signs) and got hit with a blue paintball atop his head. The boy’s father was also there, and angrily denounced the antifascists to assembled TV reporters.
Hokoana was nearby. My camera caught him nearly diving into the same crowd of antifascists to help pull the teen back out of the crowd during the encounter—and, as it happened, it also caught Elizabeth Hokoana in the same frames. She was reaching behind her back, inside her puffy winter coat—which is where she kept her 9 mm Glock in its holster.
The audio also caught Marc Hokoana, who turned and caught her in mid-reach, laughingly admonishing his wife, “Calm down, don’t shoot anyone.” Mind you, I hadn’t heard or seen any of this myself.
The protest kept up this kind of intensity for nearly three hours. I found myself gravitating toward people who were clearly there to act as peacekeepers in the audience: wearing bicycle helmets and backpacks, and wielding their bikes as barriers that they would place between would-be combatants. They seemed to be a safe place to be, relatively speaking.
There was a tall young man in black leather who behaved similarly—inserting his sizable body between would-be combatants until they backed down—whom I also found myself standing next to. This man was Joshua Dukes.
The alt-right element finally unfurled its banner, literally, when a large yellow-and-green Pepe flag was hauled out and waved happily in the faces of the protesters, and a space between the warring sides opened up. The Asian man was there with them. As they put it away, though, the two sides began mixing, with angry shouting and shoving.
I was watching Dukes, a tall man with a circle-A anarchist tattoo on his neck, stand stock-still between a bellicose alt-righter and a woman who appeared to be a protester, when I was whacked for a third and final time. This time, the phone skittered across the bricks of the plaza and, just as I was about to reach it, was kicked by another masked Black Bloc dude, who looked like a tall teenager.
I just had a moment to gesture in exasperation—“Really?” I said—before getting back after my phone, which of course had all the data I would need for reporting that night. Just as I tracked it down and retrieved it from a kid who had a foot on it, I heard the pop.
I didn’t think much about it at first. There was a lot of noise. I was focused on my damn phone. Sure enough, it was all intact and working. I also had caught a blast of the pepper spray, and had to pause a moment to wipe out my eyes and nose. And then I looked up, and the crowd had dissipated, and that tall young man was lying on his back on the red bricks, surrounded by police and emergency workers, who were working on him with feverish desperation.
Sifting through the evidence
The next morning I called the University of Washington campus police, which had been overseeing the scene that evening and now was in charge of the investigation into the shooting of Joshua Dukes, to check on his condition. They told me he was stable but in intensive care. I also learned that a couple had turned themselves in to police later that night.
The misinformation was already thick on the ground, thanks to Milo, and even the earliest Seattle Times reporting on the shooting suggested that the shooter who turned themselves in explained that they had shot Dukes believing he was a violent neo-Nazi skinhead. So my story filed at Hatewatch was the first to explain that the victim was a left-wing activist who for the most part had been acting as a peacekeeper.
When I spoke with the detective overseeing the case, Lt. Doug Schultz, I mentioned that I had been shooting video all through the evening. He asked if he could have a look. I had no objections, since I had no sources to protect in this case and was interested in seeing it resolved—and I suspected that I had some key evidence in those files. I checked with my superiors in Montgomery, got the green light—the SPLC has a long history of working with law enforcement—and trundled down to the campus police headquarters to hand over copies of my video files on a thumb drive to Lt. Schultz.
The Seattle Times straightened out its version of the story a day later, though neither Breitbart News nor The Daily Caller ever ran corrections.
I didn’t hear anything more for four months. I tracked Josh Dukes’ recovery—out of intensive care after two months, back in his home after three. Then, in April, prosecutors announced they were charging both Marc and Elizabeth Hokoana with first-degree assault with a deadly weapon. If found guilty, they both faced serious prison time—in Elizabeth’s case, up to 15 years.
The charging papers described how, the day before the event, Marc Hokoana had messaged a friend on Facebook: “I can’t wait for tomorrow. I’m going to the milo event and if the snowflakes get out off hand I’m going to wade through their ranks and start cracking skulls.”
The friend asked him whether he was “going to carry.” Hokoana replied, “Nah, I’m going full melee.” He then added: “Lily … is.”
Marc Hokoana had messaged Yiannopoulos via Facebook from the protest, saying his “Make America Great Again” hat had been stolen. He also asked Yiannopoulos for a new hat, but the alt-right provocateur never replied.
Josh Dukes, however, announced that he intended to pursue “restorative justice” with the Hokoanas rather than backing the criminal charges: A dedicated leftist, Dukes (who I met with for coffee a few months after his recovery) told me he has no faith in the criminal justice system and was looking for alternatives.
“Being shot was devastating for Mr. Dukes, his family, and his community,” his attorney, Sarah Lippek, told reporters. “The Hokoanas harmed many people by their violent actions. Mr. Dukes hopes that the defendants will take accountability for shooting him, for taking guns and other weapons into already unstable circumstances, and for their involvement in escalating violence in the situation. It is crucial for the Hokoanas to understand the damage they caused, in order to reach accountability and resolution for this violence.”
However, Elizabeth and Marc Hokoana never took Dukes up on his offer. Instead, they refused to meet with him, and the court case moved slowly forward for another two years. It finally became a reality in July of this year—an unusual trial in that the victim refused to testify against the accused perpetrators.
After the trial was over, I interviewed Raam Wong, the prosecutor, to learn what I could about their decisions throughout the trial, beginning with why they chose to pursue the case even with an uncooperative victim. He explained that, to begin with, he comes from a background of dealing with domestic violence and sex-offense cases in which the victims also are unwilling to testify.
“It's unusual for this type of case, I would say,” Wong said. “Certainly in domestic violence cases we see it all the time, and we have to consider whether we're going to do a material witness warrant, which is obviously a conversation we had in this case about Josh. But it does happen from time to time.
“You would think in a case like this you would not expect a victim to be so uncooperative, because it's really a situation where he was doing nothing wrong. There's some times when you can understand why a victim would be disengaged or disinterested. But usually the reason is not political. And that's what I think made this case unique for any number of reasons.”
The King County prosecutor’s office, he says, uniformly decides whether or not to proceed in such cases if the larger public interest is at stake. “We've brought charges. The defense is raising a claim of self-defense. Well, who better to decide whether or not this was a legitimate defense than a jury, than 12 men and women drawn from the community?” Wong said.
“I felt like it was an important case to let the jury decide. Now, it's not in my hands whether or not we proceed forward. Certainly we can have that conversation. But I also thought the case could be proven without Josh's testimony.”
In Wong’s mind, the paramount issue was one of public safety—and for him, the key moment caught on video that helped prosecutors decide to move forward involved Elizabeth Hokoana’s reckless regard for that safety. It occurred nearly a half-hour before the shooting, when she reached for her gun behind her back in case her husband got in over his head in the trouble he was causing.
“She was anticipating, and it showed just how extreme and unreasonable her standard for using force was,” Wong said. “I mean, in that moment where nothing is happening, there's no violence, it's just her husband running up to a bunch of antifa members, and getting in their faces. In that moment, she's reaching for her gun. So it goes to show you that when she was reaching for her gun later on, when Josh Dukes runs up to Marc, that it was a hair trigger thing.
“And I think your video and the second video really caught this telling moment where Marc turns around to her, sees her reaching for her gun, and says don't shoot anyone. Well, even her own husband knows she has a gun and is poised to use it,” he added. “She has a gun, and that she's willing to start shooting at any moment. So even this guy who knows her more than anyone else in the world is concerned that she's about to start opening fire. It gives us some insight into her state of mind and her threshold for violence when reaching for that gun.”
Wong sees Hokoana’s eagerness to reach for a gun as a symptom of a growing sickness that makes everyone less safe. “I think when you're seeped in this culture of guns as a self-defense tool, that your gun becomes the go-to weapon for defending yourself at the slightest provocation,” he says, “when really our law allows the use of lethal force only when you're backed into a corner and there are no other options. But for her, it was the go-to instrument.
“The public should have an expectation that they can go out into a square in the middle of a public university in the heart of our city and feel safe. You shouldn't have to enter the world with this feeling of unease or anxiety that at any moment someone could pull a gun.”
The alt-right on trial
Even before the trial, Wong realized that some of the witnesses whom defense attorneys intended to call actually would be able to provide powerful evidence to support his case. The young man who was hit with the paintball, for example, told Wong in pretrial interviews that Hokoana had been communicating with him over the rest of the evening: “He ends up telling me that Marc kept coming up to him saying he was getting into fights with antifa members. Marc was yelling at them, calling them communists, getting in their faces.” Wong made him a prosecution witness.
He did not, however, have Josh Dukes on the stand, and there was no chance he would. “I realized that Josh had still a lot of trauma over the case,” Wong said, so he proceeded as he would in any case with no victim testimony. This meant that, in many regards, I was his star witness, because I was present during most of the activity leading up to the shooting.
So for the entire lead-up to the trial itself, and to my testimony—opening arguments were July 3, but jury selection took nearly two full weeks—I remained in the dark about how things were going. Normally I would have been in the courtroom gallery taking notes, but I was forbidden from doing so by my status as a witness. I finally took the stand on Tuesday, July 23, and basically just repeated my story for them.
The defense attorneys’ cross-examination at times veered toward lunacy—the first interlocutor, Kim Gordon, seemed to find it unlikely that I hadn’t made my having absorbed some pepper spray (something I became accustomed to while covering Seattle events clear back during WTO in 1999) the centerpiece of my story. However, it mostly involved my characterization of Josh Dukes as someone who seemed intent on keeping the peace and minimizing the violence—they brought out some of Dukes’ pre-event antifascist tweets that suggested he favored violent action, and concluded with a bit of court theater questioning whether my characterization was accurate. Fortunately, Wong rose immediately and asked whether I had any awareness of Dukes’ pre-event tweets when I was forming my judgment of his behavior that evening, and I of course answered no. At that point, the prosecution rested.
What I didn’t know was that Marc Hokoana was claiming that he had pulled out his pepper spray gun and fired it in my general direction in my defense. Defense attorneys characterized his decision to use pepper spray with that claim in opening statements; later, Marc Hokoana would claim on the stand that he used the spray to defend me, even though I in fact got a snootful of the oil the little gun emitted and was wiping my eyes and nose afterward.
Wong described it for me: “He keeps describing you as an elderly guy, as being beaten on the ground. Marc said the reason he stepped in is because ‘he reminded me of my father.’”
Apparently, my testimony had already undermined this claim, since I made it clear that at no point during the attempt to rescue my phone did I feel threatened, nor was I on the ground at any point or even close to being beaten: My assailant in fact had only been a young woman who whacked the phone out of its clip and onto the ground, and in the process had knocked my ball cap off as well. When they asked me on the stand whether I felt threatened at that moment, I had laughed: “No, they were just kids being stupid,” is what I answered.
So Marc Hokoana’s testimony flew in the face of what I had already told the jury. It also inherently undermined the cover story that he and Elizabeth had concocted to explain their behavior that night, and which they had first told to detectives two months after the event: Namely, that they had rushed out of the square and caught a bus, and that somewhere along the ride home while playing video games Elizabeth told him she thought she had shot the man in the black leather jacket (much later, she claimed that she had only done so because she saw him with a knife). So they went home, showered, and then drove down to the police station.
I had only entered their story much later, after everyone had seen the video footage, and Marc needed a reason to explain why he was using the pepper spray gun: me retrieving my phone. Like everything else in the Hokoanas’ explanation, it was reality inverted on its head.
“You know, I figured out that Marc actually had a knife in his hand,” Wong said. “He was the one who had a knife in his hand, not Josh, and you can actually see it on the video. They recovered a knife that Marc had on him. But what did they do? They turn it around, and they say, Oh no, it wasn't Marc, it was Josh who had the knife. Right? It was Josh who was instigating violence. I call it the ‘I know you are but what am I’ defense, where everything that they're accused of is projected onto their victims.
“And so watching this happen ‘was like seeing my father be beaten on the ground, and so I had no choice but to intervene’,” is how Wong describes the testimony. “Well, if that's really true, if it's really true that you see this older guy being beaten, and if it's really true that another guy comes up and tries to gut your husband in the middle of Red Square, aren't you going to go to the police immediately? Aren't you going to say something?”
Even worse for the Hokoanas’ case, as it happened, was Elizabeth’s testimony. Doe-eyed and high-strung, she told the jury point-blank that she had shot Josh Dukes.
“Why?” asked her attorney, Steven Wells.
“Because he was going to gut my husband,” she said, the tears flowing. “The moment I saw that knife there was no doubt in my mind.” She knew she had to act, “Or I’d never get to say good night to my husband again … my Marky.”
“Knowing everything you know now, would you pull the trigger again?” Wells asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “Because it was either him or my darling.”
Wong said he had a feeling that Elizabeth would self-immolate on the stand, dating back to when he first began examining the evidence and testimony closely. He said that during the run-up to the charges, she had given a proffer interview—which presents people involved in a crime a chance to come clean without having the interview form the basis for charges—in which she had lied through her teeth about several factual matters established by video evidence. So he hammered on it and similar factual contradictions during his own cross-examination, particularly her decision to claim that Dukes was wielding a knife some four months after the event.
“It's two years later,” Wong described his argument to me. “So were you not telling the police the truth back then when you knew you had a vested interest in being forthcoming with the police, or at least giving them your side of the story that would hopefully help you in not having charges filed against you, or are you not telling the truth now to the jury?”
It almost worked.
A verdict in purgatory
The defense attorneys made much of Josh Dukes’ absence in their closing arguments. And they continued in the sentimental vein: “No way is Elizabeth Hokoana a criminal,” Steven Wells told the jury. “She just wants to go home to her husband.”
Wong emphasized that both Hokoanas had acknowledged they had pulled the triggers on their respective weapons and had acted as charged—it was up to the jurors, he said, to decide whether those actions were reasonable or reckless. “Marc was the very definition of reckless,” he told the jury. As for Elizabeth, “Her actions are squarely on the side of unreasonable. To press the muzzle of a gun into the abdomen of an unarmed man who was being restrained, you have to say ‘No way.’”
“I think in talking to the jury members afterwards, the jurors, their testimony, the Hokoanas’ testimony and their lack of credibility actually served my case,” Wong said afterwards. “A couple of them said that, had they not testified, they probably would've gone for acquittal, but they were just so not credible and intentionally not telling the truth that the jurors saw through it.
“And then the question becomes, Well, why? Okay, if you're not telling us the truth, if you're not being candid with us, then why? Well, is it because you know you did something wrong, you know your use of force was not reasonable, it was extreme? And so you're telling these lies to the jury in order to cover it up.”
The jurors began deliberating on a Friday morning, and continued to wrestle with the case through the rest of the week. The following Wednesday, a juror was replaced for medical reasons, but they kept on talking. Neither side could guess what the extended deliberations meant.
Finally, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, five weeks after the trial began, a mistrial was declared when it became apparent that, despite the majority voting otherwise, three jurors would never be persuaded to find the Hokoanas guilty in the shooting of an antifascist. Nine of them voted to convict Elizabeth, and seven were convinced of Marc’s guilt, but the three holdouts—who apparently were all Trump-loving Republicans—could not be budged.
“The jury was biased,” its foreman, a man named Luke, told The Seattle Times. He said that, during deliberations, he had requested a repeat viewing for the entire jury of an informational video about bringing bias into the jury chambers, but “it didn’t do any good” for a small handful of jurors who “sympathized and held similar views” to those of the Hokoanas.
Three weeks later, the King County prosecutor’s office announced that it had decided not to take the Hokoanas back to court. “Our office has carefully reviewed the evidence produced at trial and considered whether a retrial would be likely to produce a different outcome. We believe it unlikely that a retrial would produce a unanimous verdict,” prosecutor Doug Satterberg said in a statement. “In light of that, we have decided to dismiss this case.”
Raam Wong was professionally dismayed, but not surprised—and indeed felt mostly vindicated for having pursued the case in the first place. He acknowledges that the most desirable outcome—prison sentences and the messages they send, especially to people with hair triggers and guns holstered to their backs—didn’t happen. Yet the Hokoanas did not get off entirely scot-free: Most of all, they had to face the real prospect of going to prison for their recklessness for two-and-a-half years.
“It is a kind of justice,” Wong says. “I think they went into this trial really believing that they were going to be acquitted, and feeling a good deal of self-righteousness about their actions.
“They wanted their victory dance,” he said, noting that Washington requires full reimbursement for defendants acquitted for reasons of self-defense. “They made it known to us throughout this trial and leading up to the case that they were going to go for these expenses.
“And at the end of the day, we don't prosecute these cases to bankrupt people. We don't want that for people at all. But at the end of the day, they had to spend a lot of money on their own experts, on their own private attorneys, and the jury just did not buy their claims. The jury came back and said no.
“To me this was a pretty public repudiation of them, and their choices, and their violence. So I feel a certain degree of satisfaction in that outcome.”
So much for the ‘violent left’
If anyone got what they wanted out of all this, it was Josh Dukes. Through his attorney, he told the Times that he was relieved the trial was over and felt vindicated by the outcome, too.
“The Hokoanas didn’t get to be the heroes nor the martyrs they wanted to be… They will have to live with what they’ve done and the criminal legal system never had the power to change that anyway,” Dukes said.
One of the jurors approached Raam Wong afterward in an effort to set the record straight. She told him that the jury’s deliberations were tainted from the outset by the three Trumpites, led by one particularly bellicose male: “I guess from the very first moment he just kind of sunk his heels in, and said there's no way in hell I'm going to ruin this woman's life because of some antifa ringleader who he thought he was human trash and probably deserved to be shot.”
That’s it. If there is any single indelible impression that I have come away with from my experience through this trial—as well as my multiple experiences covering far-right street brawlers and their events, along with the opposition that comes out to meet them—it is how readily, almost automatically, the demonization and dehumanization of these leftist protesters rises to the surface as if utterly normalized.
Certainly a primary takeaway, both as a witness to that riot as well as many subsequent others, and as a witness to the Hokoanas’ trial, was that the standard media narrative about “antifa”—particularly the one you get from both the Fox Newses and Breitbarts of the world and the CNNs—is mostly a load of rubbish.
If anyone came out of the whole mess looking decent and honorable and principled, it was Josh Dukes. Regardless of what his Twitter account looked like, the man I saw in the plaza that night was doing exactly what a peacekeeper should. Taking away a pepper spray device from a man wielding it, regardless of the side, fits that description as well. The contrast between his character and that of the gaslighting Hokoanas could not have been more stark.
I couldn’t help remarking, as all this was beginning to happen in early July, on the contrast between the media interest in this case and in that of Andy Ngo, the right-wing provocateur/journalist who was attacked by antifascists on June 30 in Portland and banged up, purportedly with the help of “concrete milkshakes,” according to early reports. For weeks since, the public has been flooded with horrifying tales of the “violent antifa” that is assuredly coming for their children next, after they’ve dispensed with your free-speech rights.
Yeah, well. That’s a giant crock.
It should be obvious I am no fan of many antifascist tactics, particularly not the propensity for knocking cameras out of journalists’ hands. In this case, doing so meant that what could have been direct footage of the shooting—information that could have led to more immediate and trial-worthy evidence—didn’t happen.
I understand why Black Bloc folks in particular do this: to prevent being “doxed,” or having their personal identities and home, work, and family information leaked. But it renders even journalists who work their side of the street vulnerable to attack (I took to wearing SPLC ball caps after this, because it made people ease up). More than anything, it betrays a totalitarian impulse when you’re attempting to control the information in a public square where nearly every single person has a phone camera out and running. It means becoming what you started out opposing.
That said, there’s no excuse for the kinds of provocative trolling disguised as reporting that people like Ngo specialize in. With Ngo having been exposed by an undercover operative as a cohort in Proud Boys’ violent machinations—which included doxing antifascists—it’s not a mystery why they choose to exclude him from their organized gatherings, as they have every right to do. None of that, of course, is a license to assault anyone, journalist or otherwise.
I have other beefs with antifascists: I’m not as dogmatically anti-cop (I have worked with law enforcement officials for many years in the field of enforcing hate-crimes laws), nor as reflexively antipatriotic (sorry, burning flags turn me off, as do “America was never great” chants), though I can’t blame anyone for being antijingoistic. I think masking up invites all kinds of mischief, including transgressive behavior from young men juiced up on becoming judge, jury, and executioner.
Doubtless I am a hopeless liberal small-d democrat who falls short in the political enlightenment category in their eyes. Indeed, one of their most aggravating traits is their frequently voiced disdain for alliances with anyone beneath their presumptive heights, including normies and anyone who might be a “cop.”
All that said, I’ll never be dumb enough to mistake them for my enemies. They certainly are not the source of the problem. Indeed, in the end, antifascists must be part of the solution.
When I think of antifascists, I don’t think just of the somewhat scary black-clad and masked-up people who engaged in slugfests with Proud Boys on the streets of Portland—the caricature that Fox News and Breitbart have seized upon in a ratings bonanza. In reality, the vast majority of people I have met among the ranks of antifascists are normal, peace-loving people, some of them grandmothers from local socialist organizations.
These are the people who are being directly threatened by street brawlers such as the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, who use the rubric of the conservative cause du jour—free speech, sanctuary cities, “Sharia law,” gun control, homelessness, immigrant detentions—as a front for threatening and intimidating both the vulnerable minorities being targeted, particularly immigrants and refugees, and the leftists, anarchists, and other community members who are attempting to defend them.
These latter folks, collectively embodied in antifa, are especially the target of the alt-righters’ viciousness. They are dismissed as “socialists” and “communists” and dehumanized accordingly, both on Fox News and among the alt-right haters: One of the more popular of the Proud Boys’ t-shirts declares starkly, “Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong”—referencing the late Chilean dictator renowned for murdering thousands of his countrymen as “communists” using horrifyingly brutal tactics—and depicts stick-figure people being thrown from helicopters on the back. There are multiple variations on this—“Free Commie Rides” is one—that are nearly as popular among their followers.
At the rallies they organize, ugly threats and rhetoric are similarly common. “What we should be doing to all the illegals that are jumping over our borders, we smash their heads into the concrete,” declared one Proud Boy speaker over a megaphone. “Handling business. Separating them from their kids. Making sure they’re not with pedophiles and child molesters, people like the left.”
Ask yourself this: Had you ever heard of antifa before 2017? Nope. It’s been around for quite a while, but only when it became involved in anti-Trump protests did it become an international bogeyman of the right-wing media set. Suddenly, in this short space of time, it has managed to somehow become this vast, menacing existential threat to the republic and democracy and probably American womanhood too.
Yet as far as we know, antifascists have never killed anyone. They do sometimes engage in violence at these far-right rallies, but in every instance of this, these rallies are deliberate attempts by organizers to provoke violent responses, and most videos that have emerged of that violence show right-wing brawlers attacking them and inflicting most of the harm.
Certainly, in my experience, alt-right brawlers have thrown the first and often last punches. I listen to them at their rallies, and they all stand around in eager anticipation of punching antifascists. It’s why they’re there. And it’s a simple fact that alt-righters shot an antifascist in Seattle, but no antifascist has yet shot anyone.
Compare all that to the far right’s track record. Between 2008 and 2016, radical right-wing extremists committed some 115 acts of domestic terrorism in which 79 people were killed. (The left-wing-extremist death toll in that same time frame was seven fatalities, six of them in a single incident.) In the past year alone, alt-right white nationalists have murdered dozens of people in mass slayings in Pittsburgh, Christchurch, Poway, Gilroy, and El Paso.
Antifascists are a grassroots response from within these threatened communities to the protofascist danger these thugs, who are all organized from outside of the urban centers where they choose to create brawls, present to their well-being. Police forces, particularly in Portland, have demonstrated not only that they are disinclined to prevent these threats to the communities they’re being paid to protect, but that they will even actively enable the groups making these threats, under the rubric of protecting their “free speech,” so long as the people they’re targeting are the leftists who loathe them.
When I think of antifascists, I think of Joshua Dukes, who behind his large and intimidating frame is in fact a kind, soft-spoken, and gentle person with tremendous courage and an even deeper well of character and strength. We’ll never agree on politics and strategies and tactics, but we’ll always agree on what matters.
And what matters more than anything right now is stopping American protofascism in its tracks. In the end, that can only happen if we all step up to the plate—in unison.
In my estimation, having covered about 16 of these events, my fellow normies, the liberal democrats, are the people missing in action out there. I’m not seeing the faith communities, or the small-business communities, or even the labor communities organizing to counter these thugs. They’ve all defaulted the job of defending our democracy to the antifascists—and then sit back and complain about the result.
The problem isn’t the presence of antifascists. It’s the absence of everyone else who should be out defending their democracy from people who enable fascism’s creep, from people who will shoot them and then lie about it in a courtroom. Normies have been slow to join the fight and quick to point fingers. In the end, they may have the most at stake.