On November 10th, 2016 a series of peaceful protests took place across Portland which, over the course of a few days, turned into a riot (Ryan “Anti-Trump Protest” 2016). Donald Trump’s election sparked outrage across the United States and caused some individuals to take matters into their own hands (Hernandez 2016). In the days that followed the election, Portland became one of many epicenters of political unrest demonstrated across the nation. In the three days the protests had taken place, major highways were shut down, and several people were hurt and arrested (Ryan 2016).
Beyond the mass hysteria surrounding the eventual riots that would take place, the flag was flown in both peaceful and violent instances. OregonLive documented photos of the protest-turned-riot over those few days. While the flag was primarily used for peaceful protests, surrounded by signs like, “No Riot”, “#ImWithHer”, “Fuck Trump” and “Love Trumps Hate”, there were also associations with violence and property damage (Ryan “Anti-Trump Protest” 2016). The flag was visible in the background of a photo depicting disheartened protesters near a vehicle with a broken windshield (2016).
As the night continued, there was even a shooting on the Morrison Bridge, resulting in a protester getting shot in the leg (Ryan “Man Shot” 2016). While this protest-turned-riot displayed mixed emotions throughout Portland, protesters used the flag as a signifier for identity in addition to a call for a bioregional community. Even at this preliminary stage, individuals with progressive political views adopted the flag to represent Cascadia’s core values, coupled with the values of liberal ideologies (Baretich 2012). That sense of community was adopted by other groups as well, and metastasized into the antithesis of what they set out to promote.
It is vital to mention the Women’s March that took place on January 21st, 2017 in Portland and across the nation, demonstrating a truly peaceful and overwhelmingly positive protest to the election of Donald Trump (OregonLive “Can You Find Yourself” 2017). At the same time, there was a much smaller movement that was shaping the Cascadia movement on the other side of the country (Thompson et al. 2017). On April 11th, 2017 a militant protest took place in Charlottesville, Virginia (Thompson et al. 2017).
While this protest did not take place in Portland, key actors were present that day who would go on to influence Portland and the nation (Sylvester 2017). It is vital to note that these two gatherings are important instances where the Cascadia flag was used for two diametrically opposed views. With the resurgence of a White conservative male as president, many from the far and Alt-right saw this moment as an opportunity to gather openly together. The rally was called “Unite The Right”, and it drew White nationalist hate groups from all across the nation (Sylvester 2017).
Well-known groups like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi, and other prominent White supremist factions dominated the conversation, but there were plenty of niche groups present as well. One group in particular, comprised of a handful of individuals, represented Cascadia at the rally, simply known as “True Cascadia” (PNWAWC et al. 2018). While True Cascadia no longer exists, their presence at the rally sent shivers down the spines of those who had adopted the flag as a means of representing resistance. True Cascadia, at its core, was a neo-Nazi group aimed at turning the Cascadia bioregion into a White safe haven for White culture (Thompson et al. 2017). While the group was swallowed up by the rest of the media attention surrounding the deeply troubling events that took place in Charlottesville, True Cascadia gained momentum and followers that would show up in strong numbers in 2018 (PNWAWC et al. 2018).
Two extremely different groups of people adopted the flag as their own. On the far-left, Antifa (Pacific Northwest Anti-Fascist Workers Collective), and the Alt-right (True Cascadia) (PNWAWC et al. 2018). These groups are widely prevalent throughout the world in different capacities, but the Northwest chapters of these groups have adopted the flag as a means to demystify their local identity. Antifa has done a spectacular job at dismantling True Cascadia’s presence in the region, disbanding the hate group and their online presence as a result. Antifa has closely documented patterns of these groups and individuals in the article: Rebranding Fascism and Refinancing Mortgages: Andrew Murphy Harkins, Portland’s Nazi Banker, and calls for their presence to be expunged from society (PNWAWC “Rebranding Fascism” 2018).
These two groups finally faced off in Portland on June 3rd, 2018. The interaction itself was actually between Portland’s Antifa and a local Alt-right group known as Patriot Prayer. Patriot Prayer was born in 2016 as a direct result of President Donald Trump’s election (Oregonian/OregonLive “What We Know” 2018). Patriot Prayer stands in solidarity with White pride and Neo-Nazi groups alike, and as a result, Patriot Prayer welcomed True Cascadia with open arms (Kenoyer et al. 2018). For one of the first times, both Neo-Nazis and Antifa – in addition to non-militant liberal counter protesters – all utilized the same uniting symbol, the Cascadian flag (PNWAWC et al. 2018). Oregon finally had to wrestle with itself.
Two vastly different conflicting groups had come together to demonstrate that this symbol transcends politics, but embodies the tumultuous political, racial, and geographic resistance in the area. The Cascadian flag is the bridge that divides and unites Oregon. While it allows conversations to be had, it also creates friction, causing conflict to arise. Reports months after the protest noted that there was even a “Patriot Prayer Gun Cache” found on the rooftop of an office building (Oregonian/OregonLive “What We Know” 2018).
While the rally deteriorated into chaos, yet again, the Cascadian flag was used to further two opposing stances. While these two groups represent the far extremes the Cascadia movement and the Cascadia flag have created, it is also important to note how Cascadia is a spectrum of belief and usage. While the foundation of the movement was one for bioregionalism, the ultimate goal was preserving peace. A comprehensive restructuring of the Cascadian flag is needed now more than ever.