When Is Action Anti-Fascist Action?

Pictured: Portland Police Bureau’s idea of “media liaison.” (photo credit: Dave Killen/The Oregonian)

One of the difficulties of running a defence fund for anti-fascists is deciding what does or does not constitute anti-fascist action or, when an anti-fascist runs into trouble, if it was their anti-fascism that put them in that trouble. This is something The International Anti-Fascist Defence Fund has wrestled with, on a case-by-case basis, over the last few years. Earlier this month, they were called again to do so when presented with a request to send some support to Cory Elia, a freelance journalist in Oregon.

Elia had gone to a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland last June to cover it as a journalist and livestream it. While livestreaming, Elia identified one of the riot cops by name and said riot cop appeared to not take kindly to that. Elia was soon tackled by the police and arrested but not before his equipment was either smashed or seized, never to be returned. Two other journalists were treated similarly that night and a few weeks later one of them teamed up with Elia to launch a lawsuit against the Portland Police Bureau.

Perhaps you see the dilemma here for the Defence Fund’s Decisions Crew – if a journalist is attending a protest that is in many ways anti-fascist in nature, are they acting as an anti-fascist, as a journalist, or as both? This question led to an extensive discussion, which did not lead to a consensus among Decisions Crew members on the answer. After a vote, a majority of Decisions Crew members decided that in Elia’s case he was not acting as an anti-fascist at the time of the incident and therefore the request to support him fell outside of the Defence Fund’s mandate, which is to support anti-fascists in times of trouble that arises from their work as anti-fascists.

The hundreds of Decisions Crew members would probably reach consensus very quickly on supporting all people harmed by fascism and bigotry if the Defence Fund had an infinite pool of money and resources to draw from. Unfortunately that just isn’t the case and so we are careful to ensure that our support matches up with our mandate; in this case that match was not as clear-cut as a majority of Decisions Crew members needed it to be.