Officials in Portland, Oregon are reportedly considering a law to ban masks while protesting in public after violent demonstrations by masked “Antifa” members last month.
Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw called for the ban on masks after the latest clash between masked Antifa members and right wing demonstrators on June 29 left a conservative journalist, Andy Ngo, assaulted and hospitalized, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
“A lot of people are emboldened because they know they can’t be identified,” Outlaw told reporters last month.
The mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, has held discussions with city officials about the mask ban.
Wheeler “wants to weigh his options thoroughly and hear concerns from community leaders before making a decision,” said spokeswoman Eileen Park.
In an op-ed for WSJ, Ngo described the assault inflicted upon him by the masked Antifa members.
“I was set upon by a mob, some wearing fiberglass-hardened gloves as well as masks. They pummeled me in the face and the back of the head until I let go of my camera, which somebody snatched. I raised my arms in surrender, but the mob took that as a signal to become more aggressive. Next rained a hail of milkshakes, eggs, rocks, silly string and possibly pepper spray. The mob hollered and laughed as I stumbled away,” he wrote.
Ngo was hospitalized for 30 hours with a brain hemorrhage and was told he could experience memory loss for up to six months.
No members of Antifa who engaged in the violence against him were apprehended.
Right wing Patriot Prayer Group leader Joey Gibson, who has been holding marches in Portland and other cities since 2016, is supportive of a mask ban after repeated encounters with masked Antifa members.
“The second the mask come off, they even act polite,” Gibson told WSJ. “If Ted Wheeler is tired of the national attention, all they have to do is enforce a no-mask law.”
However, some are concerned that it would impede First Amendment activities.
“A policy that prohibits wearing a mask to a protest not only risks chilling First Amendment-protected activities, particularly for those who wear ‘masks’ for political and religious reasons, it misses the issue entirely,” American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon spokeswoman Sarah Armstrong said in an email to WSJ. “Behavior is the issue, not the mask.”
Last year, Republican Rep. Dan Donovan brought forth a bill, HR6054 “Unmasking Antifa Act of 2018” to impose consequences on those who “injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates,” according to CNN at the time.
The bill included a potential for up to 15 years of jail time, but drew heavy criticism for singling out Antifa.
Former Antifa organizer and author Scott Crow called it “another draconian measure to actually criminalize dissent in the United States.”
“Because the law, even if it doesn’t explicitly state ‘leftists who mask up,’ that’s who the largest potential target of the law is,” he said, “far more than white nationalists.”
HR6054 was joined by three co-sponsors, Reps. Peter King, Ted Budd, and Paul Gosar. It was referred to a subcommittee but did not make it to the floor for a vote before the new congressional term began.