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Portland mayor, police come under fire after writer attacked at protest

Sen. Ted Cruz weighed in, calling for a federal investigation into the actions of both the mayor and the police


After a confrontation between authorities and protestors, police use pepper spray as multiple groups, including Rose City Antifa, the Proud Boys and others protest in downtown Portland, Ore., on Saturday, June 29, 2019.

Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP

By Kale Williams
The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and the city’s police force have come under criticism after an attack on a conservative writer at dueling protests on Saturday.

Despite a large showing — left-wing protesters showed up in the hundreds while right-wing demonstrators numbered only a few dozen — Saturday featured only a few isolated flashpoints of violence. Still, one of them has garnered outsized attention with many in conservative circles condemning the mayor and police for perceived inaction in the face of violence.

Andy Ngo, a right-leaning provocateur with online news and opinion outlet Quillette, which identifies Ngo as an editor and photojournalist, went to the left-wing demonstration around noon on Saturday. Around 1:30 p.m., Ngo was attacked by a group of masked individuals who kicked, punched and threw milkshakes at him. He quickly left the scene and was admitted to a local hospital, he said on Twitter.

Pictures he posted after the attack show cuts and bruises to his face and neck as well as what appears to be the remnants of milkshake coating his hair and clothing. An Oregonian/OregonLive reporter caught the attack on video, though the video doesn’t show what precipitated the attack.

Police were lined up along the perimeter of the park before the attack, but no one intervened to break up the fight. Late Saturday, police reported that three people had been arrested, including one for assault, but it was unclear if that person had anything to do with the attack on Ngo.

Within hours, the footage of Ngo’s beating had spread far and wide on the internet, racking up more than a million views on Twitter alone. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas weighed in, calling for a federal investigation into the actions of both the mayor and the police.

Neither the Portland Police Bureau nor a spokeswoman for Mayor Ted Wheeler immediately responded to requests for comment on Sunday, but there was no evidence Wheeler ordered the police to “let citizens be attacked.”

Richard Grenell, the United States ambassador to Germany, said he contacted the Justice Department to look into the matter.

The attack was widely condemned by prominent national reporters as well, who viewed the incident as an affront to a free press.

Ngo’s writing, often labeled as opinion when published in mainstream outlets, has been controversial. An opinion piece he wrote for the Wall Street Journal last year about his experience visiting “London’s Muslim communities” was widely panned as racist and Islamophobic. In a response to the op-ed published by Business Insider, London resident Alex Lockie called the piece “cowardly,” “race-baiting” and said Ngo “engaged in a weak attempt to skew facts and promote fear of Muslims.” An article he published in the New York Post questioned the veracity of reports of hate crimes against gay and transgender people that spread in Portland earlier this year. Ngo called the alleged hate crimes “hoaxes,” a move his critics say put vulnerable people in danger. Ngo is a regular fixture at protests in Portland, where he often livestreams the events.

On his Sunday morning show, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter said the attack on Ngo should be called out as “unacceptable,” even for critics of the conservative writer’s work.

While the demonstrations on Saturday did feature a few isolated flashes of intense violence — aside from Ngo’s attack, a number of protesters engaged in a bloody street brawl later in the day and police declared a civil disturbance before protesters dispersed — the event was still more peaceful than the riots that plagued downtown Portland last summer.

On Aug. 9, police fired flash bang grenades, pepper balls and other riot-control devices at large crowds of left-wing protesters. One person was hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury and another with third-degree burns from crowd-control chemicals.

Saturday’s protest was declared a civil disturbance, but police stopped short of deeming it a riot.

Assistant Police Chief Chris Davis said in a statement Saturday that the protests were difficult to handle due to their size and geographically-disparate nature, but did not comment on any of the violent incidents specifically.

“Demonstration events are very fluid in nature and the management of these events is complex,” Davis said. “There are hundreds of peaceful free speech events in the City in a given year that do not result in violence. Unfortunately, today some community members and officers were injured. We are actively investigating these incidents to hold those responsible accountable.”

©2019 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)