TARGETED: Tim Titrud poses in front of his camper, which reads “911 was an inside job.” On the right are materials he received by mail Sept. 15. PHOTO: Darryl James
On the afternoon of Sept. 15, Tim Titrud arrived home in Clackamas County after finishing his workday as a self-employed landscaper and checked his mailbox.
Along with the usual assortment of bills and junk mail was a pink envelope postmarked from Portland with no return address. Titrud opened it and found a greeting card covered with pink flowers. The card read, “Thinking of You.”
Also included was a color photo of Hitler, with runic symbols scrawled across his face and around his head. On the back of the photo were Germanic runes that spelled out the words “Destroy Yourself.”
Titrud, who is 50 years old and lives with his wife, was not surprised, nor did he call police. The letter included a calling card for Rose City Antifa, a Portland anti-racist group that recently tried to shut down an event Titrud helped organize featuring a speaker who’s been accused of anti-Semitism.
“They don’t really scare me,” Titrud says of the group. “These guys are idiots. It’s just kind of weird. Kind of creepy-weird.”
Little is known publicly about Rose City Antifa—a group that anonymously posts articles about its activities on the Portland Indymedia website. Its members, who wear bandannas over their faces when they protest in public, declined repeated requests from WW over the past five weeks to be interviewed for this story.
Despite its secrecy, Rose City Antifa has had an active summer of publicly exposing Titrud and others who members accuse of spreading racist ideas in Portland—including a call for longtime Portland activist Tim Calvert to be fired from his job on the board of CityBikes Workers’ Cooperative. They accuse Calvert of harboring anti-Semitic beliefs.
“We believe that those pushing organized Jew-hatred and pogrom politics should be collectively resisted,” they write on Indymedia. “No compromises and no half-measures!”
The resulting controversy has not only driven a wedge into Portland’s close-knit protest community. It also raises serious questions about the outer limits of free expression and civil protest in a city that puts great value in both.
Some have praised Rose City Antifa for rooting out alleged racists in our midst. Others criticize the group’s zero-tolerance approach as nothing more than ideological bullying.
“They’re worse than the early colonists with the heretics, where you were removed out into the wilderness to die,” says Grace Grant, a member of the left-wing Laughing Horse Book Collective in Northeast Portland. “I don’t want to be part of that kind of community. It’s pretty heartless. I don’t know who’s setting these standards and norms.”
Anti-fascism first arose in Europe in the 1920s to oppose violent far-right groups, and has since spread to the Americas and Australia. Rose City Antifa is part of the Anti-Racist Action Network, which boasts 20 chapters in cities across the U.S. and Canada.
Rose City Antifa was founded in 2007, when anti-racists organized to shut down a meeting of the neo-Nazi Hammerskin Nation set for the Sherwood Elks Lodge (see “Skin Cancer,” WW, Oct. 3, 2007). The group posts cards and fliers at the Red Black Cafe, the Black Rose Collective Bookstore and other places where anarchists and the far-left gather, but its total membership is unknown.
On Saturday, Sept. 19, the group set up a recruitment table at a punk concert in North Portland benefiting the volunteer group Portland Books to Prisoners. Stanislav Vysotsky, a Willamette University sociology professor who studies anti-racist groups, was at the table laying out anti-fascist literature next to a sign that said “Rose City Antifa.”
Vysotsky denied he’s a member of the group. But he defended its tactics in an interview with WW.
Vysotsky says publicly outing one’s enemies—including publishing their home addresses and pressuring their employers to fire them—is a widely accepted practice by progressive social movements.
“The strategy is to shut them down.” Vysotsky says. “Someone can’t be active if they are out looking for a job, and homes are their base of operation. If you put yourself in the shoes of a movement member, there is very much a logic to this.”
Not everyone agrees. Chip Berlet, a nationally renowned journalist and activist who’s devoted his career since 1967 to fighting hate groups, says wearing masks and relying on intimidation is counterproductive to the cause.
“What you learn early on is that these kinds of stunts are completely ineffective for social change work. It does really nothing to help the people who are being oppressed,” Berlet says. “This is immature, inexperienced organizing from people who haven’t figured out that macho is passe.”
Polite Portland may seem the last city in the U.S. in need of anti-fascist squads. But the city has gained a measure of infamy in anti-racist circles as the birthplace of Volksfront, a racist skinhead group founded in 1994 that is still active locally and now boasts chapters in seven countries.
The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations that track hate groups have reported a steep rise in extremist activity since Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president. The killing of a security guard at the National Holocaust Memorial in June, reports of right-wing extremists recruiting at conservative tea parties, and a rise in militia activity have all stoked worries that the extreme right is gaining a new foothold.
“We see a mainstreaming of white nationalism that we haven’t seen previously,” says Eric Ward, national field director for the Center for New Community, an anti-racism nonprofit in Chicago. He supports Rose City Antifa’s efforts, saying white nationalists may now be infiltrating the environmental movement and other progressive causes—in part because lefties haven’t taken the threat seriously enough.
Against that backdrop came Rose City Antifa’s busy summer, starting with the episode that led to Titrud finding a snapshot of Hitler in his mailbox.
Titrud and Calvert belong to the Portland 9/11 Truth Alliance, a group that challenges the accepted explanation for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Some alternative theories assign Mossad a secret role in the attacks. Titrud recently removed signs on his camper, which used to read “End Wars for Oil or Israel” and “Israel, Stop Killing Peace.”
In June, his group organized a talk in Portland by Valdas Anelauskas, a scholar born in the former Soviet Union. Some of Anelauskas’ work has been labeled anti-Semitic, and he’s closely associated with the Pacifica Forum, a discussion group in Eugene that’s been accused of hosting other anti-Semitic speakers.
According to its account on Indymedia, Rose City Antifa learned Anelauskas was set to speak June 10 at Laughing Horse Books and pressured the collective to cancel the event. The fallout led Calvert and two others to leave the collective, and the 9/11 Truthers no longer meet at the bookstore—they’re meeting instead in a pizza parlor in Milwaukie.
Anelauskas’ talk was moved to the Old Wives’ Tales restaurant on East Burnside Street. About 12 people showed up to hear his talk on the Frankfurt School, a group of 20th-century Marxist scholars Anelauskas accuses of sabotaging Western culture. In a video of the lecture available online, Anelauskas makes no overtly anti-Semitic remarks.
Nonetheless, Rose City Antifa posted a statement June 25 on Indymedia identifying Titrud and Calvert as organizers of what the group identified as an “anti-Semitic” event. They called on CityBikes to fire Calvert, saying his “conspiracy theories about Jewish power and his denial of the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people have been an open secret in Portland for years.”
Calvert refuses even to defend himself against that charge, saying he’s being accused of a thought crime.
“Free speech means hearing people you don’t agree with,” he says. “This totally hearkens back to the days of heresy and the Inquisition, the idea that people are somehow infected and need to be purged. It’s Stalinist. It’s Catholic Church. It’s intellectually embarrassing.”
Some commenters on the Indymedia site were supportive of Rose City Antifa. Other said the group had gone too far.
“You can bash a fellow’s politics all day long but trying to run him out of a living is going too far,” one commenter wrote. “Or was it OK to do to queers back in the day?”
Few Portlanders can boast Calvert’s lefty credentials. Besides demonstrating against every U.S. invasion from Grenada to Iraq, he volunteered for the sister-city organization linking Portland to the Nicaraguan town of Corinto, helped start Laughing Horse Books in 1985, and built up the Red Rose School for activists in the late 1980s. He made CityBikes a workers’ co-op in 1990 after being hired there in 1989.
Calvert says it’s the first time he’s been attacked in more than 25 years as an activist. He’s kept his $13.50-an-hour job at CityBikes, despite graffiti calling him a Nazi that’s sprung up on the co-op’s Southwest Ankeny Street shop. Staff has cleaned up the graffiti without calling police.
CityBikes’ board posted a letter on Indymedia supporting Calvert, then retracted it 12 days later, saying not all its members had been consulted.
“They’re scared, and I still feel threatened,” Calvert says.
Meanwhile, Rose City Antifa’s campaign continues.
On July 7, the group put up 200 fliers along Northwest 21st and 23rd avenues with the name, photo and address of Nob Hill resident Julian Lee. The fliers accuse Lee of plastering the neighborhood with racist stickers, call him “Nazi trash,” and urge residents to “make it clear” that his “racist propaganda is unwelcome” (see WW, July 15, 2009).
The decision to out Lee makes even the head of one of Oregon’s largest Jewish congregations uncomfortable.
“I would caution people to be exceedingly careful about identifying people and where they live for fear of crazies out there who will take the law into their own hands and do something violent,” says Rabbi Daniel Isaak, who leads more than 1,000 member households at Congregation Neveh Shalom in Southwest Portland. “On some level, they have responsibility for any serious harm that would come as a result.”
The tactic can also prove clumsy. In May, Rose City Antifa published the addresses of two Volksfront members living in Southeast Portland, including a telephone number for the skinheads’ landlord. Trouble was, the landlord had died more than two months before of diabetes and heart disease. Callers instead reached his grieving widow.
“I wish they wouldn’t have done that,” she told WW, declining to give her name. “I’m a Christian, and I don’t support anything like [Nazism].”
Rose City Antifa’s biggest summer coup came July 19, when the group learned the time and location of a Portland talk by David Irving, the notorious British historian who once spent 10 months in an Austrian prison for denying the Holocaust.
About 50 people showed up to protest Irving’s talk at the Embassy Suites Airport Hotel. They failed to shut down Irving’s event, but Rose City Antifa members congratulated themselves on Indymedia anyway, saying they were “successful in sending a clear message that fascist organizing is not welcome in our community.”
See a video of Rose City Antifa protesting Irving’s appearance July 19 below: