Fighting the Good Fight
If you don’t live in Portland, Oregon, you may not know this man. His name is Abram Goldman-Armstrong, a longtime beer writer, visible member of the Portland Timbers Army, and founder of Cider Riot, one of the city’s best cideries:
If you do live in Portland and aren’t a close follower of beer or cider, chances are you know him as the most outspoken anti-fascist business owner in town. After far-right activists descended on his cidery and attacked pub-goers, he filed a lawsuit, putting at the center of a political firestorm. Becoming the face of the resistance wasn’t intentional, and it’s come with some substantial downsides. But if his new role as anti-fascist advocate wasn’t planned, it’s nevertheless something he’s embraced despite the costs.
For those outside Portland, it’s worth hearing a bit more about this issue and Abram’s role in it. I have long argued that politics divide, but beer (and cider) unites. Sometimes, though, political actors with malignant agendas intrude into the pub. This happened at Cider Riot, and Abram’s response to it has been inspiring. You should know about him and what he’s doing
The incident that brought Abram into the public happened on May Day 2019, but the roots of the issue go back years. Portland has become a target of menace by far-right provocateurs who use Oregon’s famously liberal free-speech protections to periodically flood the streets with ugly demonstrations. It’s hard to attribute any policy ideas to these groups beyond mass trolling—groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys exist mainly to support President Trump, spout racist and misogynist messages, and antagonize those who don’t agree with them. They come to Portland not to organize or convert, but “own the libs.”
Beginning in early 2017, these groups have staged events every few months in Portland (the Southern Poverty Law Center has called them “alt-right fight clubs”). Notably, they aren’t homebrewed groups; the main leader is Joey Gibson, a Washington-state white supremacist. These have been much-covered, but this Willamette Week article gives you a flavor of these groups:
Starting early in 2017, Gibson, of Vancouver, Wash., hosted Patriot Prayer rallies that attracted white nationalists from Identity Evropa, anti-government paramilitary groups like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, and misogynist pro-Trump bantams from the Proud Boys.
When they come, they are always met by counter-protesters, nearly all of whom have been peaceful. Periodically, however, some violence does erupt, and these incidents get recorded and broadcast across mainstream and right wing media. If you’ve paid attention to national news, you will have seen some of the stories.
This has been painful for Portlanders. The city police haven’t done a great job handling these provocations, and in the earlier events, the police targeted and arrested far more leftists than Patriot Prayer members. It even emerged that Gibson was coordinating with the police in targeting the anti-fascists. These events were in many ways staged for maximum theatricality—Gibson bragged that his intention was to provoke anti-fascists into violence that he could then exploit politically—and often were smaller than they appeared on TV. In any case, the city has been erupting in violence and vitriol every few months since Trump was elected—to everyone’s dismay.
That brings us to May first, a day on which lefties of all stripes—union members, community organizers, religious leaders, immigrant advocates, socialists, Democratic politicians, etc.—traditionally gather to march or celebrate progressive issues. It’s been going on for several decades (at least). There have been years where they have gotten rowdy—during the Iraq War, for example—but most years they go by in peaceful celebration.
This year, the early reports were all good once again: “Hundreds of people rallied in Southwest and Northeast Portland on Wednesday during May Day demonstrations advocating for the rights of immigrants, workers and other marginalized groups… Counter-protesters made appearances at both events, but the rallies remained peaceful.”
Well, not exactly.
Joey Gibson’s Patriot Prayer group also showed up, and while they did mostly stay quiet during the scheduled events, that wasn’t the end of their day.
The Cider Riot Attack
Cider Riot is located just east of downtown, in the center of lefty Portland. Since he opened the place, Abram has made it a safe space for anyone who wants a pint. He also rents event space to nonprofits, and Cider Riot hosted a “Rock Against Fascism” event in January. That provoked right-wingers to tag his business with a “fuck antifa” sign and deface a wall mural. One of the events in the city was one hosted at Cider Riot. Willamette Week picks up the story from there:
On May 1, Gibson led a group of agitated far-right supporters to a Portland pub, Cider Riot, where antifascists had gathered after a day of peaceful May Day protests. Along with former Proud Boy Russell Schultz, so-called "cop watcher" Christopher Ponte, and right-wing hangers-on Ian Kramer, Matthew "Deme" Cooper and Mackenzie Lewis, Gibson allegedly participated in a riot after attacking the antifascists.
Video of the altercation shows Kramer hit a woman in the back of the head with a baton, knocking her unconscious. A civil lawsuit filed by Cider Riot's owner alleges Cooper battered several people at the cidery. That lawsuit also alleges Lewis assaulted someone in order to remove the person's mask.
In videos of the event you can see Patriot Prayer initiate the attack by spraying patrons with pepper spray. One video sort of captures the woman being clubbed, but the raw footage doesn’t convey the pandemonium people felt. Abram told me, “I felt pretty helpless. The cops didn’t show up until they had gone their merry way. I was trying to help people who were maced. We turned the cidery into a triage unit, using the hoses to wash the mace away.” This assault marred an otherwise drama-free May Day. It got a lot of attention, and eventually became the defining moment of the day. Abram, appalled at what he saw, filed a $1 million lawsuit against Patriot Prayer’s leaders.
It may well have been Abram’s lawsuit that provoked further police investigation, but whatever the cause, the investigations uncovered the planning that went into the attack. Videos surfaced showing the minutes before the attack where Patriot Prayer members were discussing the attack, including the strategy and a weapons inventory. “A little later, someone in the group tells a person on speakerphone, ‘There's going to be a huge fight,’'“ the Portland Mercury reported, “and gives them directions to Cider Riot.” The more investigators looked, the more premeditated violence they found.
Forced to Take Sides
When we sat down to talk about all this, I noticed that Abram used the phrase “anti-fascist” rather than the more common conjunction “antifa.” He mentioned that members of his family fought in WWII, and he was raised being anti-fascist. He told the story with a quizzical affect, as if he couldn’t quite understand any alternate view—wasn’t everyone anti-fascist? “You need to say anti-fascist because ‘antifa’ is a way of othering people,” he said. “Antifascist is a stance, a point of view, not a membership organization.” Anti-fascism, he stressed, was not the extreme position here—it should be the default.
After the May Day attack, Cider Riot endured a rough period. The incident spread through right-wing media, and Gibson encouraged people to post bad reviews of Cider Riot on Yelp, Facebook, and elsewhere. For two weeks, they couldn’t answer the phone because people were calling from all around the country to abuse them. (The national right wing media had picked up the story and whipped listeners and readers into a frenzy.) Abram has been doxed and threatened many times. Some folks even came to the cidery to stir up trouble—but “they never get out of their trucks,” he said, laughing.
All of this hasn’t been good for business—even in sapphire-blue Portland. In July, Abram posted a note on Facebook mentioning how to best support Cider Riot (edited for brevity):
Friends, Cider Riot really needs your support. I saw so many of you at OBF or related events and you said you support us, and are proud of us for standing up to the racist bigots that terrorize Portland. You voted us Willamette Week's Best Cider House in Portland. These words and awards are great. They do not however keep the lights on. You often ask how you can support us. The only way to support a small business is to spend money there.
Portland wasn’t always uniformly liberal. It has an ugly racist past that lasted until after I arrived, when skinheads still roamed the streets and openly harassed people of color. In 1988, three white supremacists killed an Ethiopian student on the streets of Portland. Abram, a lifelong Oregonian, has lived through this history. He’s also aware of the resistance they met, and sees his role akin to theirs. “That’s what people did; they fought this stuff because it was important.”
Abram didn’t intend to be the leader of the resistance, and paraphrased Joe Strummer. “People ask me if I’m political and I say I’m not. I’m anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-violence.” Nevertheless, here he is. After speaking about the troubles, we would go on to sample different ciders, including his newly-released single-variety Kingston Black. (It was spectacular, and I bought a couple bottles on the way out.) We are both huge English cider fans, and we told stories about Roger Wilkins and Mike Johnson. He pulled out some of his books on English apple varieties, the names of which are always amusing. When we were talking politics, it was awkward; when we were talking cider, it was completely natural. Abram would clearly rather be talking about cider.
And yet here he is, the subject of scores of articles and news stories about politics. His lawsuit has become the focal point for holding Patriot Prayer accountable. It’s hurting business, but there’s no backing out now. You probably all know that in terms of politics, I’m a typical Portlander—but I’ve also argued that business-owners should stay out of politics. In this case, I support Abram. He didn’t seek out Joey Gibson; Joey Gibson came to his cidery. It’s hard to make a safe space if you’re not protecting those who come. Sometimes circumstances remove the choice, and that’s exactly what happened when violent extremists came crashing through his doors. “I had to take a stand.”
For the time being, the lawsuit continues. Joey Gibson and four others face felony charges in the attack at Cider Riot, and three have been arrested At some point, all this will pass. Abram will be able to turn all his attention to crop reports and cidermaking. If you’re interested in supporting him, he’d love it if you come into the pub—it’s quieter since all this started—and buy a cider or two. I personally recommend the traditional English-style stuff, but he has a broad range and there’s something there for everyone. These are weird, unsettling times, and they have made leaders of those who have taken a stand. You might raise one of those pints to Abram while you’re at it.