1/ On July 18, 2020, @Jacob__Siegel of @tabletmag, @MattWelch of @reason and I were having drinks in Matt’s yard in Brooklyn.

“Nancy,” Jake said, in his signature gravel voice. “What the fuck is going on in Portland?”

Matt looked at me.
2/ “You have to go,” he said, meaning back to Portland, where I had until recently lived and which was currently under siege each night.

I texted @kmanguward at Reason the next morning and told her, I wanted to go to Portland. Go, she said. I was on the plane that day.
3/ Four days later, I filed my first story.

Twenty-seven more would follow, the anarchy and devolution in Portland a story that kept on giving and keeps giving still.
4/ There has been a lot of justifying when it comes to reporting what happened in Portland, starting with the George Floyd protests and the violence they set off, violence that flares to this day.
5/ Certainly, Trump sending federal forces to the city on July 4, 2020 exacerbated an already contentious relationship with the city, whose citizens had been marching against Trump since before he was elected in 2016.
6/ Why the violence was activated to such a degree can be traced to the state’s historical association with anarchists and, more recently, its brush with cosmopolitanism, which I saw both celebrated and denigrated during the fifteen years I lived in the city.
6/ Why the violence was activated to such a degree can be traced to the state’s historical association with anarchists and, more recently, its brush with cosmopolitanism, which I saw both celebrated and denigrated during the fifteen years I lived in the city.
7/ In 2019, Portland was just finishing a ten-year star turn on the national stage and in the cultural imagination. As I would write in a piece that year entitled, “Portlandization: It Can Happen to a Place Near You”:
8/ "While places like Las Vegas and San Diego were seeing their local economies run off the rails, Portland [in 2009] appeared to be hitting its stride. Popular Science magazine had named it America’s 'top green city.' The restaurant scene was nonpareil.
9/ "Portland was dubbed 'the new Brooklyn' and was attracting, according to The Wall Street Journal, 'college-educated, single people between the ages of 25 and 39 at a higher rate than most other cities in the country.'
10/ "Young people, bless them, have a way of circumventing even the best of times and, like the milk from the goat they kept in their front yard, things turned pretty sour pretty quick.
10/ "Young people, bless them, have a way of circumventing even the best of times and, like the milk from the goat they kept in their front yard, things turned pretty sour pretty quick.
11/ "Those who’d come to Portland expecting a plug-and-play lifestyle of cheap rent and a part-time barista gig while playing in a band found the model did not work, though whose fault this was remained unclear."
12/ By 2020, it was no longer unclear to the young people of Portland whose fault it was, it was the fault of the police, of the landlords, of Mayor Ted Wheeler, of Trump.
13/ And on top of this, Covid, when the jobs disappeared, and the schools were closed, and you couldn’t leave the house to drink or shop or fuck. And then George Floyd was killed.
14/ Here, now, was opportunity for blessed relief, to get out of the house and express one’s identity and make one’s political beliefs matter and known.
15/ Portland would, a year after "Portlandia" went off the air, again be back in the spotlight, activists would riot harder and stronger and longer than anyplace in the world, 100 nights in a row of breaking windows and setting fires and, at least once, sloshing a bucket of…
16/ …feces into the police station; a weeklong break during the worst forest fires in a century, when the air was the color of mustard and full of particles, and then right back at it again.
17/ The perpetrators – young, anarchistic, terrific at breaking stuff but possessing neither the will nor skill to build anything – would go nearly unchallenged for a very long time.
18/ Being on the ground in Portland made me understand why Jake and Matt, two of the sharpest minds in the news biz, could not figure out what was going on: The story was not being reported as it happened.
19/ I would live-stream activists bashing in the face of the federal building with a fire extinguisher and be told, variously, that they were defending themselves against “Trump’s goons,” that the police did worse, and that it was clear I’d staged the attack in a studio.
20/ Most media outlets seemed of the opinion that to distinguish protester from rioter risked shining a bad light on the entire protest movement, and they were unwilling or institutionally forbidden from reporting from more than one vantage point.
21/ (Reason, on the other hand, never asked that I report from any particular position; they wanted the story to go where it would go and so did their readers.) Those witnessing (or participating in) the destruction would make sure to capture and stream images of the activists…
22/ …on defense-only. When I filmed things that people thought might counter the narrative of activists/heroes, police/evil, they would cover my camera with their hands, shout “PHOTOGRAPHY EQUALS DEATH!” in my face and, one time, steal my phone.
23/ I should mention that some of these same people, or their ilk, washed the teargas out of my eyes in a park across from the federal building. So did a Proud Boy, at a different event.
24/ Local officials seemed to take an “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” position and, with no bigger foe than Trump, squinted hard enough to make the continued destruction look, first, like freedom fighting, then like free speech, then as a thing to be tolerated for the cause.
25/ This last became harder to bear up under, when the increasingly random violence seemed impelled by little more than activists seeing what they could get away with, what authorities would put up with.
26/ With the city showing little to no stomach for going hard those engaging in violence (92% of protest-arrests in 2020 would not be prosecuted), there was little reason to not, for instance, set fires in front of Ted Wheeler’s condo and demand he move out. He moved out.
27/ It was only once Trump was out of office that Portland’s mayor took a tougher stand, calling out antifa by name after a New Year’s Eve rampage that included throwing Molotov cocktails at law enforcement. “It’s the height of selfishness,” Wheeler said.
28/ “There are some people who just want to watch the world burn.”

They’d been watching it burn for months. They’re still watching it burn, if in fewer numbers, which is both heartening and is not.
29/ Who keeps breaking stuff after nearly two years, after COVID has waned and young people able to return to their jobs, go back to school, to go to a music venue and see friends?
30/ Extremists, people looking to make a spectacle, and those who for whatever reasons decide to make anarchy their identity and their destiny. Do I sometimes worry that those who remain will go full Weather Underground? I do.
31/ Do I equally worry about people enraged at the world deciding to shoot into a group of women directing traffic at a protest? With cause, I do; it happened this past Saturday. One woman is dead. She was the 18th person to be murdered in Portland in 2022.
32/ There are many shades of gray in Portland, shades much of the press either does not discern or chooses not to report on, for the sake of politics or progressivism or because they risk losing a paycheck. This is not to the public good. I also think it’s dangerous.
33/ There are fuller and more necessary stories here, ones that include the black business owner begging activists, in vain, to stop setting fire to his business district, and the antifa leader who condones setting those fires in the name of fighting racism...
34/ and the Palestinian jeweler suing the city for not doing enough to protect her business, and the cop who was locked in the basement of the police station as rioters set fire to the building above, and the teenagers yelling, “FUCK ANDY NGO,” and Andy Ngo...
35/ and the college-aged kid in black bloc who told me, “We’ve been trying for 20 years, nothing changes except with violence,” and the Trump-supporting trans woman who went undercover with antifa to learn their tactics, and who admitted to me that when she was, “out there with…
36/ …black bloc [and they] busted open a door to a police station, set it on fire and ran from the cops? It was fun.”

All these people are making Portland what it will become. I plan to keep writing.
37/ If you can, please consider supporting my work with a paid subscription at and And thank you for reading (END)

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An important thread by @NancyRomm which strikes huge Girardian undertones (“the enemy of my enemy is my friend”). This is fundamentally about the loss of distinctions in my view, which precedes a mimetic crisis.