The Portland Timbers soccer team announced this month that its fans can no longer fly banners showing an antifascist symbol.
The front office has banned displays of the Iron Front image: a circle encompassing three arrows that has become a widely recognizable symbol of a growing antifascist movement in Portland.
"The Iron Front symbol has been clearly appropriated and linked to the antifa movement, and sometimes in a context of violence," the team wrote in a letter clarifying the decision, which was published by the 107 Independent Supporters' Trust. 107IST supports the large, raucous coalition of devoted fans called the Timber's Army.
"Symbols of politics are exclusionary and antithetical to the inclusive [Timbers Army] and Timbers ethos," the letter continued. "There are some added security concerns waving antifa symbols pose to all fans. We have received many complaints about the Iron Front from fans who are clearly anti-fascist but feel uncomfortable with antifa imagery in their sporting experience for all the reasons stated above."
The Iron Front indeed shows up at antifascist rallies, sometimes displayed by individuals who clash violently with far-right extremists in Portland.
Around the globe, soccer stadiums have been hotbeds of political dissent. In the U.S., the sport has not attracted as much political friction, though antifascist fans have increasingly shown up in New York, Seattle and Portland in recent years.
Two fans were booted from a Seattle Sounders game in 2017 for holding a sign that read "Anti-fascist, anti-racist, always Seattle." Now, Timbers fans sporting the Iron Front will face the same fate.
The Timbers Army (and other fans) can still wave signs referring to antifascism as long as they don't use the Iron Front symbol.
"We have been working with the Timbers/Thorns Front Office for several months on the Iron Front symbol — what it stands for and how important its meaning is in these times," 107IST wrote in a blog post about the decision. "The [front office] stands by our beliefs, and they have agreed that we may use the words anti-racism and anti-fascist in our displays."
Fans reacted to the news with skepticism on social media.
The 107IST post explains why the Timbers Army supports fans who want to fly the Iron Front symbol.
"From the beginning, a core value of the Timbers Army, the Rose City Riveters, and the 107IST has been that we are unquestionably and vocally an anti-fascist and anti-racist organization," the post says. "As a vocal stance against fascism, we began displaying banners with the Iron Front logo in 2017… The Iron Front logo has stood as a symbol of the fight against persecution and fascism since World War II. Originally designed to symbolize the resistance against Nazi rise, it now stands primarily for the fight against all oppression."
The Timbers did not immediately return WW's request for comment on this story.