We didn’t start the ‘far right’ fire

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

In the week since we published a news article detailing an upcoming “Enforce the Second Amendment” rally at a Washougal gun shop, dozens of people — some local, some writing from places as remote as Kodiak, Alaska — have emailed, called, written letters to the editor and stopped by our office to voice everything from confusion to “disgust” to outright anger over the phrase “far right,” which was used to describe the Patriot Prayer and “Three Percenters” groups heading to Washougal to rally against the state’s new, voter-approved gun-control measures.

One man entered The Post-Record office demanding an immediate meeting with the editor and questioning staff members about the editor’s background.

Though most of our daily interactions with the public are positive, we all carry in our memories the events of June 28, 2018, when a man angry about a newspaper article entered the offices of The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, and shot five employees to death before being captured by police.

Our job is to help inform and educate the community. We often are required to leave our own families for 12 to 16 hours at a time to bring readers the news they need to better understand their community. In this post-Capital age, it is completely unacceptable for newspaper employees to be on the receiving end of vitriol directed at them for doing their jobs.

That said, because we have a duty to inform, we are again opening ourselves up to the people who want to intimidate us into silence by publishing an explanation for the two words, “far right,” that riled so many.

Why did we call Patriot Prayer and the “Three Percenters” far-right groups? Because that is the common term for groups that espouse far-right-of-center beliefs like forming militias to overthrow “tyrannical” governments and that attract white nationalists, actual neo-Nazis and other violent right-wing radicals.

We are by no means the creators of this “far right” label for these two groups.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a leading global anti-hate organization formed in 1913 in response to growing anti-Semitism, which keeps a database on extremist groups, has labeled Patriot Prayer “far right” and said the “Three Percenters” are extremists.

Media outlets, including the Associated Press and NBC News nationally, the Guardian and Al Jazeera internationally and the Oregonian, The Columbian and the Willamette Week locally, regularly refer to both groups as “far right.”

Although Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson says his mission is just about love and respect for the United States Constitution, his rallies regularly attract violent extremists from groups like Identity Evropa, a white supremacist group that believes the white race is being wiped out by a “rising tide of color” controlled by the Jewish people; the Traditionalist Worker Party, a neo-Nazi group that calls for “racially pure nations;” and the Proud Boys, a group labeled by the FBI as “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.”

In a Time magazine photojournalism essay documenting white supremacy in the year following the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the first photo featured is a Patriot Prayer rally held Aug. 4, 2018, in Portland, in which men wearing “Make America Great Again” hats stand alongside men in “Proud Boys” hats and paramilitary gear.

Two public media reports over the past two years — one by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the U.S. and one by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Canada — label the “Three Percenters” group as a violent, extreme far-right militia.

The CBC report, published in May 2018, is titled, “Three Percenters are Canada’s ‘most dangerous’ extremist group, say some experts: Far-right group says it welcomes everyone, but some who’ve studied it say it’s an anti-Muslim militia.”

Clearly, the label “far right” to describe both Patriot Prayer and the “Three Percenters” is not something unique to this newspaper.

We understand why the groups’ members might not want to be associated with a “far right” label, especially considering the ADL’s Center on Extremism notes that every extremist killing in the U.S. in 2018 was linked to far-right extremism. Blaming a small-circulation newspaper and its editorial staff of three for this label, however, is nothing more than the most basic form of bullying and most definitely not the answer.

If these groups’ most active members truly wanted to be seen in a different light, they would have long ago disengaged from their more extreme beliefs — actively preparing to overthrow a tyrannical government using a semiautomatic rifle-toting militia is not a “moderate” view — and absolutely refused to associate with the white nationalists and neo-Nazis.

That they haven’t done these things says far more about the groups than two words ever could.