God, Guns, Bats, and Patriotism

Photos: Mike Hastie.

I live in Portland, Oregon, where presently the state is suffering from the worst wildfires in its history. Eventually, these wildfires will be called what they really are: “Climate Fires.” 500,000 Oregonians are on alert to evacuate. Whole towns have been completely destroyed.

The city of  Portland was so polluted from dark brown smoke yesterday that I had to hurry home after delivering lunches to the homeless in Old Town.   The poverty stricken people I gave lunches to did not have that option.

The toxic smoke was starting to affect my breathing, and I was getting anxious. Other than breathing tear gas at many demonstrations, I have never been inthis kind of situation before, where I was conscious of being enveloped in highly polluted air.

I wanted to talk about something I experienced last week on Labor Day, when I drove to Salem, Oregon. I decided to observe a Trump rally at the Oregon State Capitol Building. There were about three hundred hard-core  Trump supporters who showed up. Many of them traveled there in pickup  trucks with multiple Trump and American flags flying from the back. One flag  had Trump’s head on Sylvester Stallone’s muscular body carrying a machine gun. On the flag was written in bold print: “No Man, No Woman, No Commie Can Stump Him.” This is quite an aggressive statement about Trump, who had five military draft deferments to keep him out of the Viet Nam War. But, of course, all of this is down the memory hole for people who love him. Shortly after  I got to the rally, at least 75 Trump supporters chased after a group of Black  Lives Matter people who were across the street from the capitol building.

Some of the BLM people were knocked to the ground, as Trump supporters  were hitting them with their fists. Luckily, the Salem Police were on the scene, and the fights were broken up. Two Trump supporters were arrested for assault.

Many of the Trump supporters are members of either the ” Proud Boys ” or the “Patriot Prayer” group. A couple of weeks before, these two groups descended into downtown Portland and got into major fights with anti-fascists members. All kinds of weapons were  used, except for guns with live ammunition, though one member of the “Proud Boys ” pulled out a pistol and pointed it at several people dressed in all black. For some miraculous reason, this “Proud Boy ” member did not pull the trigger. A picture of him pointing the pistol can be seen on the Internet. It is a very frightening image.

A week after this happened, the “Proud Boys ” and the ” Patriot Prayer ” group  were back in Portland with a long caravan of pickup trucks driving through an area where the fights had been the week before. There were people in the back of the pickup trucks, firing paintball guns at antifascist demonstrators. Some of the pickup trucks plowed into people who were wearing all black. That night a member

of the ” Proud Boys ” was shot and killed at 3rd and Alder St., an area I know well from previous demonstrations. The person who shot and killed Aaron “Jay” Danielson was a self-described member of Antifa, by the name of Michael Reinoehl from  Portland. Six days later Michael Reinoehl was killed by the police in Lacey, Washington, north of Olympia. 30-40 rounds were fired at him by the police. The police said Michael Reinoehl was armed with a pistol. Some people say he did not have a gun, and that it was a police killing. Like so many things, the truth will be swept under the carpet.

I mention all of this, because these events tie into my experience at the capitol building in Salem. I believe the “Proud Boys ” and the “Patriot Prayer ” groups are out for revenge. They are angry white men with God, Guns, Bats, and Patriotism on their side. That is what I saw when I mingled with the Trump  supporters. They were frightening to be around, because they were armed with assault rifles, pistols, knives, bats and plenty of rage against anyone who opposed them. They are all Trump clones who want to settle things with violence. They see Trump as their savior, a parental figure who would never betray them.

I walked around and overheard  conversations that were all about patriotism and the worship of the American flag. They  hate anyone who does not love this country, and they would commit violence against  those who would desecrate the American flag. They are all on edge, ready to strike anyone who would provoke them. They are a powder keg waiting to go off. And, standing amongst them was a man wearing a T-shirt with the words “Trust Jesus” in very large letters.

I spent a  lot of time sneaking pictures of men holding high powered AR-15 rifles. Like the people who are carrying them, they are loaded and ready for anything that threatens them, real or perceived. For the “Proud Boys” and the “Patriot Prayer ” group, what is also in those ammo magazines is ANGER.

Donald Trump has put them all on high alert, and that is what we are dealing with as we approach the Presidential Election in November–just around the corner. I did not plan on writing a long article, because  it’s just too much to read. But, it seems, so many things run together. When you are in the belly of the beast, and realize none of these people have a grasp of U.S. Imperial History, you realize you are surrounded by boy soldiers. These men are boys, and they will act like boys when they  pull the triggers on their AR-15 rifles, just like 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse did in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23, 2020, and killed two people. He was very angry, just like the raging Climate Fires that are currently destroying towns in Oregon and California.

Everything is happening so fast,  with over 100 days of constant protests against the Portland Police, COVID-19, and now the worst fire storms in state history. Like anyone, you survive by staying connected to people who you  can be honest with. If people don’t have community, they start talking to themselves. I see this  constantly with homeless people. You stay in the lifeboat, because that is where you get validated.

Mike Hastie served as an Army Medic in Vietnam.