Beneath the surface of liberal Eugene, there’s a war brewing. And both sides are recruiting.
The two sides say they consider it a war for the very soul of this nation. They both track their opponents and sometimes participate in violent protests. They’re both grassroots, and while the issue is national in scale, both sides are very, very local.
Propaganda is being plastered on telephone poles around town, marking territory — safe spaces for fascists or anti-fascists respectively. Some from the “alt-right” (a term coined by white nationalist Richard Spencer to disguise the movement’s racist and fascist intentions) have even dropped racist propaganda at the Eugene Weekly office, or replaced newspapers in our stands with hate-filled posters.
Antifa, or antifascism, is an ideology — or an action, depending on whom you ask — meant to organize against fascism.
Dante Douglas, a local antifascist activist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), says, “When we talk about modern fascism, what we’re usually talking about is a combination of reactionary thought, militant organization and far right ideology.”
“The modern fascist in America is overwhelmingly privileged,” he says, pointing to the alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August as a case study in the alt-right political spectrum — “a combination of things like the KKK, The American Nazi party, the national socialism movement — they’re the other American Nazi party.”
“A lot of those people call themselves proud fascists, but a lot of them don’t,” he says, adding that many call themselves fighters for “european identity.”
Those who organize against fascism call themselves antifascist or antifa. They do it, they say, to protect their communities and their families from harm. To antifa, fascism is a very real threat not only to their lives, but also to American democracy. And the best way to fight it is with an entire community behind them.
On the surface, there are many similarities between the two sides. Both participate in sometimes violent protests. Both attempt to silences voices that they oppose. Both track and monitor members of the opposing side. But antifascism is a reaction to fascism: a reaction to the very real threat to democracy that has historically led to wars, violence and even genocide around the world.
Antifa and the Media
Many of the sources EW talked to for this article were reluctant to use their full names. In some cases, they even used fake names or initials to protect their identities. These activists fear that if they’re identified, they and their families could be hurt or killed by local fascist actors.
“Black bloc” protest attire serves the same purpose: protecting identities. That’s the standard outfit associated with antifa — wearing black head to toe, including a bandana or facemask to hide faces.
Alice is a University of Oregon student and an antifascist activist. Her name has been changed to protect her identity. She’s worried that if her true identity is out there, she may face problems at work or have racists knocking on her front door, aiming to hurt her or her family.
“Masking up just helps protect your identity and helps protect you from getting doxed,” she says. “I do not want to get doxed, I want to stay safe and keep my family safe, and that’s just one way of doing that.”
Doxing, the act of searching out and publishing identifying information about an individual, typically with malicious intent, is a common tactic used by both antifascists and fascists.
The use of fake names or just first names in this article is a safety measure requested by those interviewed to prevent such attacks.
“I get confused by people who don’t support antifa,” Alice says. “It’s antifascist. I don’t understand how you can not support that unless you’re a fascist.”
Alice says that antifa has a reputation for being violent thanks to the media, but says that reputation is unfair. “They focus on the violence,” she says. “But you can put up a sticker that says Nazis aren’t welcome here, and that is the same act of fighting fascism that one can make more easily than finding a Nazi and punching them in the face.”
Antifascist organizers generally consider antifa and antifascism to be synonyms, but the media often frames antifa as a violent group and antifascism as a belief. This distinction primarily comes from outside viewers, and doesn’t extend to how most antifascists view themselves.
The media does not have a great reputation with most antifa organizers. Some groups outright refuse to speak to the media, including Eugene Antifa. Douglas says that’s because the media gets antifa wrong so much of the time. “They don’t know how to report on decentralized groups,” he says.
Standard media practice generally involves reaching out to the representative or leader of an organization to get a sense of that organization’s policies. With decentralized antifa, that’s not an option.
The anonymity that most antifascist activists seek can rub the media the wrong way. Journalists prefer that sources use real names unless absolutely necessary, but antifascist activists often refuse to share that information.
Black bloc attire is also frequently conflated with antifa, but black bloc is actually a protest tactic, not affiliated with any political ideology. Katherine, creator of the Friendly Anarchism podcast, says, “The black bloc thing has to do with avoiding state repression and avoiding things like losing your job or trying to keep your family safe.”
“It also looks kind of scary, and that’s the point, because you’re facing down terrible people, and we are the last line between non-violent protesters and violence,” she says. “Antifa are taking punches; they’re taking flagpoles to their backs. They’re standing there in front of people who cannot do that, and they save lives.”
Katherine is referencing the violence during the Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, in which several of the alt-right demonstrators struck counter-protesters with flag poles and other improvised weaponry.
Alexandre Baretich, the creator of the Cascadia flag, says, “I don’t think it’s about the media at all; it’s about security culture.”
His flag — blue, white and green horizontal stripes with a Douglas fir — has been co-opted by a local racist organization, True Cascadia, the mission of which is to “promote a White ethnic consciousness in the Pacific Northwest and prevent, as well as reverse, the increasingly discriminatory policies enacted in opposition to Whites in our own homelands,” according to its website.
Baretich opposes this use of the Cascadia flag.
“It’s a lot of fear of being doxed and being tapped by the fascists themselves,” he says. “I think people are afraid that these hate groups are going to target individuals.”
While Baretich uses that name publicly, there aren’t any photos of him online. “I don’t want my picture on Facebook,” he says.
Joe Lowndes is a UO political science professor who studies right-wing politics in the United States. He says, “I think that the threats posed by fascists right now are quite real.” He cites increased violence towards immigrants, people of color, Muslims and Jews as proof of that threat.
“You have to have your head in the sand to say that there has not been quite an upsurge in white racist violence in the streets and white racist organizing with the central government institutions in the United States.”
Antifascist organizing has grown dramatically to meet that threat, Lowndes says. “People flocked to antifa organizations in the thousands.”
And he says antifa tactics are effective. “White nationalists will sometimes say that the places where they are able to grow their movements are the places where there is the least resistance.” Antifascist organizing on college campuses has made the work of racist groups more difficult, Lowndes adds.
The media often defines antifa as street militants, he says, but these groups also do education and community organizing. And he says antifa is one of the few clear responses to the frightening threat of fascist organizing. “Many liberals are turned off by it but a lot of people are drawn to it,” Lowndes says.
Antifa and Violence
Some antifascist organizers also resent that the media focuses on street protests and defines the ideology by that violence. The violent Berkeley protest in August garnered considerable media attention, but organizers say violence is not representative of antifa in general.
“Antifa is about defense,” Baretich says. “There are individuals who can be violent in society in general, but generally speaking antifa is a defense stance.”
“If someone walks in your house and is threatening to kill you, does knocking the gun out of that person’s hand count as violence? You take it out of context and it looks like violence,” Baretich says.
Others say antifa does plenty of work that doesn’t garner media attention, but still works against fascism. M, who uses an initial to protect his identity for safety reasons, is a member of Neighborhood Anarchist Collective. M says antifa is “trying to silence the voices of fascists in their community. They’re doing so in the name of promoting safer communities for groups of people that those fascists might be targeting.”
But violence isn’t the only way of going about that.
Lane Community Defense Network (LCDN) is a “community support group that can provide resources for the communities,” according to Ariel Powell-Córdova, who works with the network. LCDN provides support during protests and marches, and pulls down fascist propaganda in Eugene and Springfield.
“A lot of it has been around campus, but there’s also plenty of it in the Whiteaker, west Eugene, south Eugene; it’s everywhere,” she says.
Powell-Córdova says fascists put up propaganda to signal that they control an area and that people of color and other vulnerable communities are not welcome in those areas. “The intent there is to cultivate an area in which it is safe to be a fascist, safe to be a white supremacist, safe to be a neo-Nazi,” she says. “That cultivated environment always precedes an uptick in hate crimes, always precedes black and brown death.”
She points to a May incident in which a black student was stabbed on the University of Maryland campus shortly before graduation. “Around that time University of Maryland had been experiencing an uptick in white supremacist propaganda,” she says. “That follows the arc of history pretty well.”
Powell-Córdova says LCDN is a non-violent, antifascist organization. But, she says, “the reality is that antifascist organizing is inherently violent. The police are violent, the imperial military state is violent, white supremacists are violent. There is no way to escape violence in this work because that’s what you’re living with.”
Charlie Landeros, a military veteran and UO-based activist, considers the propaganda in town to be a direct threat to the safety of local people of color. “It’s not just a graffiti problem. It’s a declaration by neo-Nazis of taking spaces,” he says.
“I believe that there is going to be a high likelihood of a violent hate crime on this campus from the alt-right,” Landeros says.
Landeros says he doesn’t identify himself as antifa because of the connotation of “street brawls with Nazis.’” Instead, he says, “I am antifascist.”
Landeros considers Donald Trump a fascist, and points out that the federal government acts against antifa.
“Antifa is labeled a terrorist group [by the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama]. That’s a clear sign of the rise of fascism in this country,” he says. “The federal government is more aggressive and more harsh towards people who are against fascists than people who are Nazis.”
Jen McKinney, chair of Eugene DSA, says, “we’re fighting on two fronts anyway. We’re fighting white supremacist organizations, but our government has engaged in suppressing left behavior.”
McKinney says the DSA is antifascist, though it organizes on other issues as well. She says Trump fits “every single characteristic” of fascism.
Antifascist organizing should start at a small scale, McKinney says. She says everyone should speak up when they hear racism — that businesses should put up signs welcoming people of all races, ethnicities, gender identities and religions. “If you’re able to effect change on that small scale, you’d be able to drive them out,” she says.
Addressing white supremacy in society is key for stamping out fascism, McKinney says. “If you don’t feel comfortable being called a white supremacist, look at why you’re being called that,” she adds. “Don’t automatically get defensive about it. Really, really look and think about why the system is that way.”
Antifascist organizers span a wide range of political beliefs, including anarchists, socialists, self-identified revolutionaries and libertarians.
UO student Alice says she was radicalized after the election of Donald Trump. “I was a pretty active protester before Trump was elected, but I didn’t really consider myself antifa until Trump was elected. Like a lot of people.”
There has been a notable rise in alt-right organizing since the beginning of Donald Trump’s campaign, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The number of hate groups operating in 2016 rose to 917 – up from 892 in 2015,” according to the SPLC website. It also documented 867 bias-related incidents in the first 10 days after Trump’s election.
Though most see growth in the violent rallies that periodically appear on the nightly news, those same groups are gathering support and recruiting locally. LCDN’s Rheuben Bundy says the most common fascist groups that organize locally are Identity Evropa, Vanguard America, American Front, True Cascadia and North Western Front.
Each of these groups has its own specific blend of nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism. North Western Front calls itself a “political organization of Aryan men and women” seeking a white nation state in the Pacific Northwest. True Cascadia has similar goals, while American Front is a skinhead/neo-Nazi organization. Identity Evropa is a white supremacist organization, as is Vanguard America.
“Since it is here, it is our responsibility. It’s our problem,” Bundy says. “Specifically, it is the problem of white liberals in Eugene. People of color and LGBTQ people are the victims of this and they’re also the ones who have to stand up against it.”
Doxing the Right
Doxing is a online tactic utilized by angry people all over the internet to harm those they oppose. When a person is doxed, their real name is revealed to a group of people that disagrees with them and potentially wishes them harm, sometimes along with their contact information, address and family members’ information.
M says doxing is used by both sides, and that the efficacy of the tactic is up for debate.
Douglas says the goal of antifa’s doxing is to make vulnerable populations aware of who is organizing in their area.
“Doxing as a strategy originated in the sort-of shady online havens,” Douglas says.
Though Douglas doesn’t spend time researching and doxing alt-right agitators, he says it’s a useful tool. If he had a racist Nazi neighbor, he says, “it would be a tool of security for my community to know that person is a fascist agitator.”
Several antifascist organizations publish articles and Facebook posts doxing right wing organizers, most notably the website ItsGoingDown.org and local groups like Eugene Antifa and Rose City Antifa. These organizations spend time and resources ferreting out the identities of fascist organizers and publishing that information online.
Steve Shallenberger, a veteran who lives in West Eugene, has had numerous articles about him published on these websites. He wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the American flag — he’s proud to say he bought it from a veteran-supportive company. He is quick to point out that he has friends of different races, but says he won’t correct anyone who calls him a racist.
Shallenberger admits to being a skinhead in the 1990s, and still attends rallies with numerous right-wing groups like Patriot Prayer, Overpasses For America and the 3 Percenters militia — much of which is documented in online articles published by rosecityantifa.org.
But Shallenberger says of the articles: “It’s a third truth, a third half-truth and a third lies -— like straight blatant lies.”
“All this stuff they’re talking about is in ’92 or ’93, it’s been a long time,” he says. “Back then they called us racists and stuff and sometimes we bought into that.”
Shallenberger mentions a few instances of violence by antifascist activists, adding that “they contacted me a couple times, and they said ‘if you renounce racism or if you renounce this person for racism, we’ll stop messing with you.’ Well, that’s nice and all, but under threat it’s not. Under threat I’m not doing it.”
At a recent rally, Shallenberger says, he hit a few antifa protesters. “The guy pulled a weapon out so I charged him. And then someone hit me with a bottle from the side, so then I peeled off to that side and just started punching anybody who was there, and then I kicked some guy after I pushed him on the ground.”
Doxing hasn’t stopped Shallenberger from attending these rallies, even though his actions are continually documented by antifa. He says his friends email him after each article comes out, telling him they know that what’s been written about him isn’t true. He does worry sometimes that antifa might come poison his animals. “I am biased. I am biased. I don’t like antifa,” he says. He says they’re communists.
“They’re supposedly antifascist, but with how they talk, I think they’re honestly like the definition of fascist because if you say something they don’t like they’re going to attack you for it,” he says.
Another local who has been doxed by antifa is 35-year-old Jake Laskey. Laskey works at Wolfclan Armory in Creswell, a gun store owned by his family. He went to prison in 2007 for throwing stones etched with swastikas through the window of Temple Beth Israel synagogue in a 2002 attack. He came out of prison covered to the chin in tattoos, including swastikas on his knuckles and an American Front tattoo on the back of his neck.
Antifascist articles claim that Laskey has organized for the racist organization American Front, and that he may continue to do so. Laskey, for his part, claims he’s out of the political game.
EW tried to interview Laskey, and he agreed to meet in TJ’s restaurant in Creswell. However, when the reporter arrived, Laskey wouldn’t get out of his truck (complete with a Confederate flag sticker) in the parking lot and left after about five minutes. He later published a YouTube video answering the questions that had been posed to him.
Laskey says in the video that antifa’s doxing has “brought in more business, especially others that they have doxed in articles in which we would never have met if it weren’t for antifa.” Laskey’s message to antifa in his video is: “You’re all a bunch of fucking bitches.”
Laskey says of his 2002 crime, “We were drunk on Jaegermeister, we were high on pot. We were punk-ass kids, we were angry. And when I got indicted, it was a huge mess.”
“Am I a white supremacist? I’ve never called myself a white supremacist, especially not in these videos,” Laskey continued. “We at Wolfclan Armory do not discriminate against anyone’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or anything of the like.”
Wolfclan Armory is known to fly Confederate flags and sells Islamaphobic “proud American infidel” caps that read “raised on bacon and bullets.”
“I am a family man; I am a businessman,” Laskey says. “Unlike antifa, I don’t discriminate against anyone.”
Laskey claims he supports true antifascists and true anti-communists. “But antifa today are the fascists, not me.” Laskey demands that antifa “take off their masks. They renounce violence, worldwide, and they dissolve into society like I was trying to do.”
The effectiveness of doxing is murky. As Laskey points out, doxed individuals can easily find each other and meet up thanks to social media. But antifa also knows who they are and what they represent, and their communities can do that research as well.
Recruitment & Tactics
M, with Neighborhood Anarchist Collective, wants to push back against fascist creep — the slow rise of groups that aren’t blatantly fascist but have those tendencies. He says, “Fascist creep is something that affects a community slowly. It is oftentimes characterized by groups that don’t outwardly identify as fascist but have many fascistic tendencies, and it’s meant to sort of normalize fascism in the community.”
But M says fighting against fascist creep is more than punching Nazis in the streets. “One aspect of antifascism that is not talked about as much,” he says, “is community support and community enrichment.”
M points to support for diversity in our communities, education and counter-recruitment of white communities as options to prevent the spread of fascism.
Counter-recruiting is something Lee Douglas of Springfield Roughnecks is intimately familiar with. Springfield Roughnecks is a “grassroots community defense project that focuses on community building while combatting racism and hate,” Douglas says.
Douglas, a retired chief petty officer with the Coast Guard, started the chapter over the summer.
Douglas says that Springfield Roughnecks recruits at country music concerts and bars where they’re likely to find fellow white working class members of the community. White supremacist organizations recruit from the same pool.
“I genuinely believe and I have to believe that most working class white people are decent people,”Douglas says. He says it’s his job, as a white person, to push back against that and educate his fellow whites.
“We are working class and poor,” Douglas says. “Our core principle is that we stand against white supremacy and discrimination. And we believe in freedom and liberty for everybody. All of us working class people whether we’re black or white or Muslim or Christian.”
White supremacists recruit by saying they’re in favor of “white pride,”Douglas says, not by leading with hatred. “They target people whose lives are hard, who are struggling to get by, who work two or three jobs.” He adds, “They say ‘No you should take pride in your heritage. It’s these people that are responsible for it. It’s the immigrants; it’s the fault of immigrants coming and taking your jobs.’”
LCDN’s Natalie Adonis, who prefers they/them pronouns and is using a fake name to avoid identification, says, “I think a big thing that fascists exploit to recruit is alienation, especially among men, almost exceedingly white. And then after they’ve exploited that to recruit them they use the additional alienation from the rest of the community to isolate people and pick people off.”
Springfield Roughnecks, on the other hand, tells their potential recruits that it’s the politicians and corporations that are taking their jobs, not immigrants. Douglas says fascism is defined by corporate control of the government.
“The problem is not black people. It’s not Latinos coming and taking our jobs. Our problem is corrupt politicians who have sold us out to the corporations and the super wealthy elites in the world. Eight people in the world have the same wealth as half the people on the planet.”
So Springfield Roughnecks works to stop fascist creep by recruiting those who may become fascist to their anti-racist organization. LCDN fights fascism by tearing down recruitment materials and threatening propaganda, but they also “bring communities together,” Adonis says.
“The community needs to be strong together,” they say, “because it’s much harder to use a divide and conquer method to forward fascism if you can’t divide and conquer the people you’re trying [target].”
Powell-Córdova of LCDN says, “If you want to get involved with a group that does this work, there’s a ton of groups that do this work in Eugene.” She says anyone can make time for this if she can.
Katherine with the Friendly Anarchism podcast says, “Anarchists and antifascists do a lot of food stability work, like neighborhood food systems and local food systems so that we are self-sufficient and self-reliant.”
She also advocates for shaming people for their fascist beliefs. “We want this not to be socially acceptable,” she says.
While Katherine is willing to take a few punches to protect peaceful protesters, “the way we keep people out of those situations is by having a lot of community support.”
“I feel like the more exposure people have to antifascism, the support grows really quickly. Which is important, because it keeps everyone safer.”