From Eric K. Ward, Executive Director, Western States Center:
If you had told me in my youth in the L.A. punk scene or even when I documented my first white nationalist rally in 1990, that someday I’d be executive director of one of the nation’s leading organizations working to combat white nationalism and authoritarianism, or that the Mayor of the 26th largest city in America would heed my advice on how to effectively respond to social movements that exploit bigotry and intolerance, I wouldn’t have believed you for a second.
But here we are after a week with nearly a dozen press mentions of Western States Center’s (WSC) organizing to test novel approaches to counter white nationalism and bring new voices and strategies into the anti-hate field. And while we’re engaged across the region, supporting local government and communities to address far right extremism in Spokane, Whidbey Island, and Boise to name a few, it’s our recent work with the City of Portland that has captured the headlines.We appreciate the ongoing dedication of investigative journalists at the Willamette Week, Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Guardian and Portland Mercury whose public records requests related to the growing political crisis of white nationalism uncovered disturbing information.
News broke last week that a Portland Police Bureau (PPB) lieutenant in charge of political rallies and rapid response had been exchanging friendly and cooperative texts for months with Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson—even sharing tactical and legal information. This continued collusion with alt-right groups seeking to sow violence and chaos in Portland places PPB directly at odds with the rule of law and values expressed by elected Portland city leaders.
Just one week earlier, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioners unanimously passed a historic resolution condemning white supremacy, white nationalism and alt-right hate groups.The resolution is one of the first and most proactive of its kind in the country and represented an important milestone in our work with the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC) and Council on American Islamic Relations Oregon (CAIR-OR) to support Mayor Wheeler and City leaders in developing more effective strategies to combat the increased targeting by alt-right paramilitary groups in Portland.
Within hours of learning of PPB’s inappropriate and disproportionate relationship with Patriot Prayer, we called on the Mayor to initiate training and an independent investigation.
His resulting statement centered WSC, OJRC and CAIR-OR as key advisors in an accountability process and education for City leaders and staff on the threat of white nationalism."First and foremost: Chief Outlaw and I are going to implement training for the Portland Police Bureau around how to identify white supremacy based on the recommendation of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, Council on American-Islamic Relations Oregon and the Western States Center." - Statement from Portland Mayor Ted WheelerWe’re up for the task and eager to keep you updated on our innovative work in Oregon and across the region! The work we’re leading in Portland now will surely yield lessons for other efforts across the country to shrink space in civil society for bigotry and political violence.
Thank you for making our work to build inclusive democracy in the West possible—if you’re inspired by our organizing, we hope you’ll give today.
Eric K. Ward