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Portland: “Lord of the Flies” redux

The occupation of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office for five weeks in June and July, and a violent confrontation between anarchist groups and a Patriot Prayer/Proud Boys group on August 4, both occurring in Portland, Oregon, are reminiscent of the tribalism and descent into depravity depicted in William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies.”

Golding’s classic novel depicts the fate of British schoolboys marooned on a tropical island during an unnamed war. The boys organize into two groups, one led by Ralph, assisted by bespectacled, overweight Piggy, and another led by the malevolent Jack. The two groups have conflicts over work rules and power on their remote island.

The conflict intensifies until Jack’s mob brutally murders Piggy in the same barbaric manner as they hunt and kill feral swine on the island.

“Lord of the Flies” is an allegorical representation of how quickly humans devolve into irrational violence when conflicts over the exercise of power arise in a society —precisely what happened in the two Portland events.

On June 19, 2018, a mob of 200 protestors surrounded ICE’s office in southwest Portland, barricading and blocking exits and driveways, trapping ICE employees inside. In his Aug. 4 article for theWall Street Journal, reporter Andy Ngo describes how the occupiers sat in the streets and disrupted traffic not only to the ICE office but also to a nearby hospital.

Protestors demanded open borders and prosecution of ICE employees. Some held signs calling ICE employees nazis and white supremacists. ICE workers and neighborhood residents, some of whom were also threatened and assaulted, asked Portland police for help and protection, but Portland mayor Ted Wheeler ordered the police not to intervene, saying he was also “outraged by ICE.”

In the post-occupation cleanup, biohazard cleanup crews found used needles and buckets of human waste discarded by occupiers, fouling the air for blocks. Just like the Occupy Wall Street and Standing Rock pipeline occupations by extremists, the taxpayers will bear the high cost of cleaning up the mess left behind.

Ngo wrote that the ICE office occupiers have “gone now, but a community is left reeling. Thirty-eight days of government-sanctioned anarchy will do that.”

Portland anarchists rose to the occasion again this past Saturday, showing up on downtown streets to confront a Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys licensed gathering. Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson disclaims connection with any alt-right group and claims to be a conservative libertarian. Proud Boys is a“fraternal organization that is anti-political correctness and anti-white guilt,” according to its website.

This weekend’s battle was the third violent encounter this summer between the two groups. Anti-fascist counter-protestors called Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys nazis and alt-right hate groups. In an Aug. 4 story, AP reporters Manuel Valdes and Gillian Flaccus wrote that the group opposing the Patriot Prayer/Proud Boys gathering was “made up of a coalition of labor unions, immigrant rights advocates, democratic socialists and other groups.” The other groups no doubt included self-proclaimed anarchists.

Unlike their no-show at the ICE occupation, the Portland Police were in full force for the Aug. 4 faceoff, deploying bomb-sniffing dogs and weapons screening checkpoints. Videos posted on the internet showed helmeted participants for each team ready for battle. The police formed a human barricade between the combatant groups, holding arrests and injuries to a minimum.

Today’s nasty political rhetoric and threats of violence are by-products of identity politics, in which voters of the same race, religion, ethnicity, sexual identity and social class are expected to vote the same way, rather than voting their conscience.

Just as the British schoolboys on the remote island in “Lord of the Flies” degenerated into violent tribalism, so has politics in the United States.

The schoolboys in Golding’s novel were finally rescued by a passing ship. It’s not clear what type of ending is in store for the tribal morass our political system has become.

Michael Henry writes in Oxford and can be reached at mhenryauthor@gmail.com