Last summer, Joey Nations was throwing haymakers at anti-fascists on the streets of Portland. Now he's trying to ride his nationalist message into the U.S. Congress.

Last year, Nations joined Vancouver, Wash., video blogger Joey Gibson in leading "free speech" protests in Portland that attracted white nationalists and other fringe characters—and often descended into open brawling with antifascists.

During one scuffle last August, video shows Nations punching a counterprotester along the Portland waterfront.

Now he is touring the Willamette Valley in a bid to take his message to Congress.

(Daniel Stindt)
(Daniel Stindt)

Nations, 30, of Salem, is vying for the Republican nomination in Oregon's 5th Congressional District, which covers parts of Portland as well as Clackamas, Marion and Polk counties and stretches out to the Oregon coast. The seat is currently held by U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.).

The link between Nations' congressional bid and his street violence escaped media scrutiny until last week, when WW mentioned it in our endorsements.

There's another twist to Nations' résumé: He works for the state of Oregon. He's a tax policy analyst for the Oregon Department of Revenue who makes $64,116 a year.

Nations' candidacy is an example of how the Trump presidency—and its most fervent supporters—have blurred the line between patriotism and nationalism. It's part of a coordinated effort by Nations and Gibson to build political support after a year of taunting and street fights that cast a pall on Portland civic life ("Streets of Rage," WW, May 24, 2017).

To be sure, Nations has the right to speak his mind. But his filmed assault of an antifascist protester in Tom McCall Waterfront Park crosses from speech into violence—and raises questions both for his campaign and the Department of Revenue.

A department spokeswoman declined to comment.

(Daniel Stindt)
(Daniel Stindt)

Randy Blazak, chairman of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crime, says Nations' candidacy is part of a trend: far-right nationalist figures aiming for respectability.

"The historical precedent is David Duke, who went through this metamorphosis in the '80s where he urged white separatists to hang up their robes and put on Brooks Brothers suits and run for office," Blazak says. "This is the latest version of that: 'Let's just take a shower and slip into a suit.'"

Nations says he left his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., to attend college in Utah. After graduating, he took a job working for a lobbying group—and quickly grew disillusioned by what he saw as the corrupting influence of money in politics.

In 2016, Nations started a group called the Western Patriots, a right-wing protest crew based in Salem that operated in the shadow of Gibson's more prominent organization, Patriot Prayer. Nations dissolved his group last fall because of "escalating violence" at his events. And he travels up and down the West Coast, stopping to antagonize "snowflake" college students.

He even followed in Gibson's footsteps when he decided to run for Congress. (Gibson announced that he was running for a seat representing Southwest Washington about a month before Nations registered as a candidate in Oregon.)

Nations has adopted the campaign slogan "Make Oregon Red Again." Sometimes he uses "Make Oregon Safe Again."

He's an avid fan of President Donald Trump, and calls for a 25-year freeze on immigration and a border wall.

Such rhetoric is unexceptional for a Republican primary candidate. But his online presence and his persona at rallies is often more incendiary.

Online and in recorded speeches, Nations has made jokes about rape, led nationalist chants as self-avowed white supremacists cheered along, and derided undocumented immigrants and LGBTQ people.

"We need Roy Moore," Nations tweeted last November after reports that the U.S. Senate candidate had sexually assaulted teenage girls in Alabama. "Allegations aren't true!"

In street protests, he comes dressed for battle, donning a black helmet with a strip of tape stuck across the front, where he scribbles the battle cry of his army in big block letters: "MAGA."

On July 15, he held a rally in Salem. His rhetoric recalled both Trump and the patter of a pro-wrestling match.

"We've been losing the culture war in this country big time," Nations said on the steps of the state Capitol, video shows. "If you haven't been paying attention, they own the TV, they own the colleges, they own the public schools. Culturally, the war has been over for a long time. And now we're starting it up again."

Some of the alarm surrounding Nations' rallies stems from the people they attract.

At an Aug. 6 "free speech" rally in Portland, Nations stood next to a group of self-identified white supremacists, including Jacob Von Ott, then a leader within the white nationalist group Identity Evropa.

Nations says he does not know Von Ott or the other white supremacists who frequented his rallies, and he condemns "all racial identity politics."

When WW first mentioned his role in street protests in our endorsement issue, Nations pushed back. "Mr. Nations has never donned a helmet at political events other than to protect himself from violent leftist and anarchist agitators," his campaign wrote on Facebook.

But on Aug. 6, in Portland's Tom McCall Waterfront Park, local freelance journalist Mike Bivins shot a video of Nations repeatedly striking a masked protester until a Patriot Prayer marcher pushed him away and yelled for him to "stop punching."

He was not arrested. (Portland police said at the time they could not make arrests unless victims came forward—and antifascist protesters don't like cooperating with cops.)

Nations blames the assault on antifascist protesters who rushed into the park looking for a fight. He says he does not regret defending himself.

"I don't ever want to get in a fight," he says, "but you realize no fighting would have ever happened if the fascist antifa people had been rational and stayed home."