A Northeast Portland post of the American Legion that drew national fame for its progressive politics has elected a new commander: a conservative provocateur who has regularly attended far-right protests.
Gregory Isaacson, a Portland Parks and Recreation employee who has joined protests organized by the Vancouver, Wash.-based group Patriot Prayer, confirmed his election to commander of American Legion Post 134 on Northeast Alberta Street. In a text message to WW, he said he would keep the post free from ideology.
"We are looking to help connect veterans with community and want the Post to become a more positive presence on Alberta [Street]," Isaacson wrote to WW. "The American Legion is non-political, and serves to be a place of common ground."
His election was decried by former post commander Sean Davis in a Facebook post Thursday.
"It's a new Proud Boy Chapter in the middle of the Alberta Arts District," Davis wrote. "And they wonder why they are becoming obsolete as a veterans group."
A woman who answered the phone at Post 134's headquarters Thursday night and identified herself as a bartender at the adjoining bar said she was not at liberty to provide information, adding that "it's kind of an uncomfortable time right now" at the post.
The rancor over Isaacson's election suggests that Portland's polarized and sometimes violent street politics have entered a space designed for camaraderie between military veterans, often returning from overseas tours of duty.
Post 134 drew attention in 2017 when it embraced several liberal causes: It became a temporary emergency shelter for homeless people, installed gender-neutral bathrooms, and hosted LGBTQ trivia nights. (That same year, the American Legion threatened to shut the post down for having a bar open to non-members, the LA Times reported.)
"It was the public unveiling of a new-era American Legion," WW wrote about Post 134 in 2017.
In the three years since the election of President Donald Trump, Isaacson has become a regular figure at the Patriot Prayer protests in downtown Portland, which often devolve into brawls between political enemies. Isaacson usually attends these events clad in a bright green suit. At least twice, he has been physically confronted by antifascists.
He was arrested during a Patriot Prayer protest in 2018 and charged with failure to comply with a lawful order. His Twitter photo shows him sporting a MAGA hat.
The Portland Mercury reported last year that Isaacson's co-workers in the parks bureau complained to human resources that he made them feel unsafe.
Davis, a Purple Heart combat veteran who ran for Portland mayor in 2016, says he first learned of Isaacson's role as commander after the chapter sent out flyers announcing his election earlier this month. WW obtained a copy of one such flyer.
Davis said membership at Post 134 has been declining in recent years. When he raised concerns to current members about the election of Isaacson, he said their response was: "We need to get the membership back up" and implied that Isaacson's role as commander would attract like-minded members.
Davis said the news is especially startling considering the location of Post 134 in Alberta, which is a historically black neighborhood in Portland.
"I thought, how is this even possible?" Davis said.
UPDATE, 11:57 am: Sean Davis announced on Facebook this morning that Isaacson was removed from leadership of Post 134. But a spokesman for the Oregon office of the American Legion tells WW that nothing is decided, and Post 134 will have a meeting Sunday to discuss whether or not Isaacson should remain post commander.
"At this second, he's still commander," spokesman Stephen Phillips told WW. He said the office has received calls and hate mail after news of Isaacson's election spread across social media Thursday.
"Typical Portland," Phillips said. "You've got a bunch of people on the left trying to not allow a person to do his first amendment rights. Just because he's standing next to a certain group, they label him this and they label him that. It's a sad story."
Phillips pointed out that it was the members of Post 134 who elected Greg.
"That's the democratic way," he said.