The escalation of political conflict into physical violence — an alarming trend in America over the past few years — has happened again in Portland, Oregon. This time, the most visible victim is a journalist. And, most disturbingly, some journalists and other prominent public figures have responded with victim-blaming.
The journalist is Andy Ngo, an independent reporter, photojournalist and editor for the online magazine Quillette, a politically eclectic publication that its critics consider right-wing. (For the record, I know Ngo and am a Quillette contributor.)
Ngo, a Portland-based Vietnamese American, has covered the activities of the local left, including disruptions of politically incorrect campus events, the harassment of business owners over frivolous accusations of racism, and street violence and intimidation by far-left anti-fascist activists, or antifa. The latter, not surprisingly, see him as the enemy. On several occasions, Ngo was threatened; early last month, he was pepper-sprayed while covering a street protest.
On Saturday, Ngo was roughed up by a group of antifa activists while covering their protest against a rally held by the Proud Boys, a far-right group. Video footage shows him being shoved and punched while the mob around him laughs and jeers. Ngo said the attackers robbed him, taking his camera. Photos show him with cuts and bruises on his face and blood on his neck. He went to the emergency room and was hospitalized for two nights with possible head injuries.
When video of Ngo being assaulted went viral, you’d think outrage was the only appropriate reaction. You’d be surprised.
A number of media leftists on Twitter openly mocked Ngo and gloated over the attack. Cartoonist Eli Valley asserted that Ngo “went to Portland with the stated goal of provoking people who were rallying against Nazis.” (Ngo lives in Portland, but never mind.) Widely published freelance writer Noah Berlatsky wrote that while he did not know the details of what happened, “calling Andy Ngo a journalist is inaccurate” and “doing so gives fascists a propaganda victory.”
Others condemned the assault but echoed the same themes: that Ngo is not a real journalist and that he provoked the attack. Charlotte Clymer, a writer and communications staffer for the Human Rights Campaign, the premier LGBT rights group, conceded that “violence is completely wrong,” but referred to Ngo as a “sniveling little weasel” who was asking for it. “I’m also not going to pretend that this wasn’t Ngo’s goal from the start,” she wrote on Twitter Saturday.
Clearly, human rights aren’t what they used to be.
One can take issue with some of Ngo’s work, as I have. His coverage of the culture wars, while often excellent, tends to go too easy on the right. But if having biases disqualifies one from being a journalist, every one of Ngo’s detractors is far less of a journalist than he is.
Ngo’s provocation, apparently, was being an antifa-critical reporter and being present at an antifa protest. No decent person would take a “violence is wrong, but he provoked it” position if we were talking about an anti-Trump journalist beaten up at a Trump rally. It’s a position that effectively makes excuses for violence — something that progressives do at their own peril.
It is also worth noting that antifa activists have assaulted journalists who work for mainstream organizations and who incur their wrath while covering protests. Yet some mainstream media outlets still respectfully refer to them as “anti-fascists,” and dismiss claims that antifa is a violent group as a right-wing talking point.
It doesn’t matter whether you claim to be anti-fascist. If you attack journalists at work — or anyone else — because you don’t like their opinions, you’re the bad guys. It’s that simple.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.