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The Proud Boys’ Real Target, 2019
- I haven’t seen Justice Hans Linde in more than a decade, but I thought of him last Saturday, when I found myself locked in a science museum with frightened parents and children while neofascist thugs marched by. Hans was a child in Weimar Germany; I suspect he would have known how I was feeling. The museum was the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, in Portland. The occasion was a rally organized by the Proud Boys, an all-male group that exalts “Western values” and promotes Islamophobia. Other affiliated groups joined in—a loose conglomeration of racists, chauvinists, and just plain thugs. Some of them were connected to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, two years ago, at which a right-wing marcher drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman named Heather Heyer. The Proud Boys aren’t from Portland, but they have selected the Rose City as the site for their rallies, threats, and clashes with local “antifa,” or antifascist activists. The rally Saturday was nominally to demand that Portland suppress the antifa groups so that the Proud Boys can march unopposed whenever they choose. [...] What has this to do with Hans Linde? Hans was born in 1924 to a prosperous Jewish family in Berlin. He once told me that his first clear memory was of watching from the family apartment while Nazis in brown shirts brawled with Communists on the Kurfürstendamm below. When Jewish life in Germany became untenable, the Lindes relocated to Denmark, and then, by good fortune, obtained U.S. visas. The Lindes settled in Portland; Hans attended Oregon public schools, and then Reed College, in the city’s Eastmoreland neighborhood. He served in the Army, attended law school at UC Berkeley, and began a brilliant career as a U.S. Supreme Court clerk, a Senate aide, a law professor, and finally the greatest justice ever to serve on the Oregon Supreme Court. I came to know Linde because, many years ago, I wrote a profile of him.
- Linde’s jurisprudence sparked a national movement to revive judges’ interest in the constitutions of American states. State courts, Linde said, should construe their state’s constitution first before diving into the Supreme Court’s federal case law; a state constitutional text might make a federal ruling unnecessary. Linde left the bench nearly two decades ago, but his “first things first” approach lives on. Perhaps the most important legacy of the Linde years were his opinions interpreting Oregon’s free-speech guarantee much more broadly than the federal First Amendment. That protection has helped preserve Oregon’s wide-open democratic culture, where ideas from the Neanderthal to the utopian can contend, and where human experience comes in many shades. That very culture, I suspect, is what has drawn out-of-state fascist leaders to focus on Portland. From years of study—and personal experience—I know about Oregon’s dark racist past and the shadow it casts over the state today. Nonetheless, in recent years, leaders here have worked to create an inclusive culture—one that the fascists would like to discredit, stigmatize, and eventually destroy.
- Since the Saturday demonstration, the Proud Boys have announced that they will be back every month until the City suppresses the antifa movement, whom they call “domestic terrorists.” The impudence is striking. The Proud Boys are threatening violence to achieve political change. That is the textbook definition of terrorism. Moreover, even before Charlottesville, domestic terrorism had emerged as a danger from people motivated by the far-right ideology—that is, from the political forces (if not the actual individuals) now demanding that the government crush their enemies so that they can own the streets. Consider a very partial list of horrendous crimes motivated by right-wing racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism: a mass killing at an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina; pipe bombs sent to public figures who oppose Donald Trump; a massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue; and 20 people—mostly Latino—gunned down at an El Paso Walmart.