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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 21, 2020

2016 Portland arrests resurface, no connection to antifa

If Your Time is short

  • The anti-fascist group is a broad, loosely affiliated coalition whose members are not easily identified.

  • The nine were arrested in Portland in 2016 during a protest against Donald Trump’s election, not during recent demonstrations stemming from the death of George Floyd.

A grid of mugshots shared after federal agents cracked down on protesters in Portland, Ore., says the arrested bunch are affiliated with antifa.

A Facebook user posted the image on July 17 without comment. The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

There are a couple of issues with this context-free post.

The mug shots are from arrests in 2016 Portland protests over the election of Donald Trump, not recent demonstrations stemming from the death of George Floyd. 

And there’s no evidence for flatly stating that all nine people are members of antifa. Antifa stands for "anti-fascist." It’s a broad, loosely affiliated coalition of left-wing activists that’s been around for decades. Antifa activists include communists, socialists and anarchists who protest against white supremacy and other far-right causes. Sometimes they turn violent, although experts say the bulk of antifa organizing is nonviolent.

"There is no such thing as ‘antifa’ writ large," said historian and Rutgers University lecturer Mark Bray, author of "Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook," in an interview. "These groups and their members try to make themselves anonymous as much as possible."

The arrests from the image

Many protests, some violent, have been held in Portland since Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck on May 25. Fires and break-ins in Portland on July 19 led Portland police to call that gathering a riot.

The fact that many federal agents in Portland are not wearing identifiable law enforcement gear and not driving law enforcement vehicles has raised legal questions about the agents’ presence.

Featured Fact-check

The image shared on Facebook does not show arrests from these protests. 

Our TinEye reverse image search found that the image dates back to 2016.

News reports show 71 people were arrested in Portland on Nov. 12, 2016, on what was the fourth consecutive night of protests against Trump after his election. The Daily Mail published the Portland police mug shots, including those of the nine people shown in the Facebook post.

Some online posts claimed that some of the nine are members of antifa, but we found no credible evidence for any of them in our Google searches of the names, seeking any links to antifa.

Unless someone claimed to belong to an antifa organization, "which is unlikely, then one would have to have evidence of them perhaps attending meetings of an antifa organization or perhaps evidence that they ran the social media account of an antifa organization," Bray said.

The City of Portland paid James Mattox (at the top left in the image) nearly $23,000 to settle a lawsuit he filed over injuries he suffered in a 2018 "counter-fascist protest." He was seriously injured when a Portland police officer shot him in the arm with a rubber projectile. Mattox had admitted to yelling profanities at officers and flipping them off. 

Our ruling

An image shared in a Facebook post claimed nine "antifa members arrested" in Portland, Ore.

We found no evidence of antifa membership among the nine, who were arrested in an anti-Trump protest in Portland in 2016.

We rate the statement False.

Our Sources

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2016 Portland arrests resurface, no connection to antifa

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