Andy Ngo is not exactly popular in Portland.
An independent journalist who writes for Quillette and the Wall Street Journal, Ngo first made headlines for being fired from the Portland State University student newspaper, the Vanguard, for tweeting a video clip of a interfaith panel of students from his personal Twitter account. In the video, a Muslim student says that in some Muslim countries, the punishment for apostasy is death or banishment (this was said as a statement of fact, not an endorsement). Afterward, Breitbart picked up Ngo’s tweet, wrote an article about the event, and Ngo was fired from the paper four days later. (The editor-in-chief of the Vanguard told the Willamette Week that Ngo was fired for paraphrasing the student’s words out of context, although another student who was on the panel contested that claim.)
Since then, Ngo has, among other issues, written about eateries that have been maligned as racist and Portland’s response to appearances by Jordan Peterson and James Damore. Earlier this year, he also wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal that was widely decried as Islamophobic after he erroneously attributed "alcohol-free zones" in London's heavily-Muslim neighborhoods to Islam's prohibition on drinking. The piece was amended soon after, and while Ngo says he has no problem with Muslim people, as a gay man, he has been critical of some of Islam's more orthodox and homophobic teachings.
Mostly, however, Ngo covers Portland's vibrant protest scene.
The protests, which seem to occur nearly every other week, regularly devolve into confrontations between left wing and right wing activists who battle out their ideological differences, or just have a good brawl, on Portland’s streets. Property gets damaged, people get hurt, and sometimes the cops intervene and sometimes they don’t. People on the left dress like bank robbers; people on the right dress like they’re at a Monster truck rally. It’s all a lot of theatre, and yet, the protests do have consequences.
In August, for instance, a leftist protester made the mistake of bringing an American flag and was subsequently hit in the head with a metal bat by people on his own side. In October, local media reported that Portland police had found a gang of Patriot Prayer activists in a parking deck with a cache of firearms before a rally. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who told the media about the incident at a press conference, used this as justification to impose an emergency ordinance that allowed Portland police to separate protesters. The police department later clarified, however, that the gang consisted of four protesters with three unloaded rifles (one was disassembled), and that officers “inspected” the weapons and then gave them back.
Increasingly, Ngo has gotten pulled into the drama himself. When he shows up at protests, Antifa and other protesters on the left scream at him, corner him, spray silly string on him, and generally treat Ngo, a member of the media, as though he’s part of the group they are protesting. And it doesn’t just happen in Portland.
Last week, Ngo came up to Seattle to cover a rally being held by the Washington State Three Percent, a group of constitutional originalists. There were, Ngo says, about 150 conservative protesters and a roughly equal number of counter-protesters on the left. The protest took place outside City Hall, and he wasn’t there long before leftist activists serving as “marshalls,” some carrying rifles, spotted him, blocked him from accessing the protest, and started chanting and yelling in his face.
Ngo wrote about his experience for the Daily Wire:
"He writes for Breitbart," one masked individual told the wider crowd, who was initially puzzled why a person of color was being treated this way. Another man followed up by saying that I write for neo-Nazi site, The Daily Stormer. They said I was there to record and dox people. These lies were enough to turn an agitated crowd into an angry mob, who then encircled me.
The irony of a mob of mostly white "anti-racists" harassing a gay Asian-American journalist was lost on them. "Racist, sexist, anti-gay; far-right bigot go away!" they repeated like a mantra.
Ngo does not write for Breitbart or the Daily Stormer, but he posted video clips of the rally online. Some critics have alleged that Ngo doctored the video, but he provided me with the raw footage, and while there's no evidence that he was antagonizing protesters, they certainly appear to be antagonizing him.
“Do some motherfucking Wing Chun shit,” one counter-protester yelled at Ngo as he tried to get around the marshalls, presumably referring to Chinese kung fu. Ngo is the son of Vietnamese refugees, and while one might assume that anti-fascist activists would have a problem with racist slurs, none of the protestors, the vast majority of whom appeared to be white, said anything. Instead, they yelled, “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” at Ngo through a bullhorn.
“Some of us didn’t really come to talk,” the same counter-protester said to Ngo. “Some of us came to die, dude. Are you willing to die for YouTube shit? Death is going to come. Death is coming for you, dude. … You spying and doing this punk shit? It’s going to get you hurt.”
During this, SPD initially tried to get the protestors to allow Ngo through but later an officer told Ngo that his presence was “inciting conflict." Ngo left on his own after being threatened, and, later, filed a complaint with the Seattle PD.
I caught up with him this week to get a few facts on the record:
KH: Are you a fascist?
AN: No. Just because I'm not on-board with the socialist or leftist political agenda does not then mean that I support the extreme right. This is reductive and reactionary thinking.
Are you a racist?
No. I am critical of the so-called racial justice movement and its various offshoots because I generally find them divisive, authoritarian, and hypocritical.
Are you a Nazi?
I wish I could find this offensive but unfortunately this term has been appropriated from its historical context to become a meaningless slur.
So are you a Nazi?
Are you conservative?
I am described this way by others but my political identity is a bit more complicated. I certainly don't identify with any party.
Are you a Trump supporter?
I am neither a Trump hater or supporter. As an American citizen, I believe it is my duty to respect the office of the presidency and the electoral process.
Why do you cover the left behaving badly?
The problems with the right and far-right are well-known and documented extensively in mainstream media. However, the opposite cannot be said. Living in Portland, I witness what happens when the excesses of the far-left go unchallenged. It leads to people mobbing their neighbors and feeling righteous for doing it. I want accountability to happen on both sides. If the local media won't do it, I will.
He’s got a point. Those of us on the left tend to make a big deal when Trump and his supporters threaten the media, and we should condemn those attacks when they are coming from people we’re politically aligned with as well. Ngo says that not a single counter-protester stood up for him, although a former ACLU attorney and a member of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club (a far left group that often serves as security at protests) resigned from the group this week after seeing how Ngo was treated.
The reason for condemning threats against the media from the left as well as the right isn’t just because moral consistency is a virtue (although I still think it is); it’s also because when the left threatens the media or Trump supporters themselves, it benefits the right.
This happens over and over. Antifa turns a protest into a brawl, students deplatform conservative speakers, liberals harass people in MAGA hats, and Fox News starts to salivate. The majority of movements and protests (outside of Portland) are peaceful, but Fox News doesn’t show families and kids and old people singing protest songs and peacefully marching; they show white people dressed like militants screaming at a gay, Asian-American man that he’s homophobic and racist. It makes the left look violent, and it’s counter-productive.
We can’t stop Fox News from covering Antifa instead of, say, corporate welfare or climate change. Activists could, however, give them less material to work with. So instead of attacking journalists—even those whose politics you disagree with—perhaps the cause will be better served if protestors on the left turn around and focus on the people they’re actually there to counter.