Portland activists pledged to boycott local businesses that advertise in The Oregonian after the paper published a Sunday opinion column headlined "The misunderstood Joey Gibson," writing favorably about the Vancouver, Wash.-based leader of the right-wing extremist group Patriot Prayer.
The left-wing activist group Portland's Resistance is demanding columnist Elizabeth Hovde be fired, and the paper "issue a front-page apology to our community for their callousness and carelessness in publishing the 'The misunderstood Joey Gibson' opinion piece."
The backlash from activists is part of a larger outcry from Portlanders against the opinion column, which described Gibson—who has led right-wing protesters into Portland for two years to brawl with antifascists—as a peaceful, spiritual figure. Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury took to social media to denounce The Oregonian for running the column. Mayor Ted Wheeler also joined in, more carefully.
Among those endorsing the idea that Hovde should be fired: the mayor's political consultant Jake Weigler, who linked to a change.org petition that lists the local advertisers to boycott.
"I thought this was exceptionally poor judgment both in terms of the content and in terms of the timing," Weigler tells WW. "At a time when we need to be elevating the dialogue, I thought this failed in every way."
Oregonian Editorial page Editor Laura Gunderson admitted fault today in choosing the headline to Sunday's column—and also over its timing. (It was printed the morning after an anti-Semitic gunman killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue.)
"It would have benefited, in hindsight, with more context from Gibson's Portland protests," she wrote in a statement to local media. "We wrote the headline, not Hovde, and it missed the mark. We also regret the timing of the column, which was edited on the Friday before the shootings in Pittsburgh."
But Gunderson also argued that editorial pages need to be places to air unpopular viewpoints.
"Increasingly, I hear from readers who are angry when they read opinions that differ from their own, whether in a letter to the editor, op-ed or a local or nationally syndicated column," she said in the statement. "But our community prides itself on its civic involvement and a key element of that is civic discourse."
Hovde's column offered a sympathetic and selective look at a recent Patriot Prayer rally on the campus of Washington State University Vancouver. "Everyone I talked to…agreed that the rally itself was tame and respectful," Hovde wrote.
She described Gibson as sounding "like a modern-day prophet" in response to one question. At another point, she described him as not living up to the violent hype surrounding him.
"Gibson didn't look like the harasser and violent bully I've been reading about, even if he attracts white nationalists and violent counter-protesters," she wrote. "I'll keep watching, but I think he's far more unique in this region: Gibson has unpopular thoughts about freedom, guns, abortion and spirituality, and he voices them on a public stage."
Gibson has explicitly said that part of his objective in leading protests is to infuriate left-wing protesters in Portland so that they will show up to fight him and supporters. That tactic was disarmed last week whenWashington State University Vancouver allowed students to stay home and professors to cancel classes.
The column was not well received even by some of The Oregonian's own reporters, who have written on the violence that Patriot Prayer has brought to the streets of Portland. They included Oregonian reporter Shane Dixon Kavanaugh, who has covered Patriot Prayer protests and Tweeted: "Pretty surreal to see the publication you work for (unwittingly??) gaslight its readers in the Sunday paper."
Two former Oregonian columnists, one of whom still works for the paper, also weighed in saying they would not have written about Gibson or elevated his cause.
If the journalists' choice to openly criticize the column was unusual, so too was Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury's tweet criticizing the paper for being "complicit" in stoking "violence and hatred." Kafoury is known as a careful politician, and the denunciation was striking.
Kafoury went further when she was challenged that her initial criticism was too mild:
Mayor Ted Wheeler chimed in today. "There is no place for hate, extremism, and violence in Portland or anywhere," he wrote on Twitter. "Hard to find common ground with groups who embrace all three. There is no misunderstanding."
The column's timing, coming the day after the synagogue slayings in Pittsburgh, helped create the fury. Portland's Resistance referenced that poor timing in its call for a boycott.
“Today, in the aftermath of nationwide violence including pipe bombs mailed to political leaders, African Americans murdered while grocery shopping, and the slaughter of Jews in their place of worship, Oregon’s daily newspaper opted to publish an op-ed piece in defense of a white nationalist who has been inciting similar violence in our community, including the stabbing on a MAX train last year which resulted in two deaths,” Portland’s Resistance posted on their Facebook page just after 11 pm Sunday. “This is unconscionable, unethical, and dangerous behavior.”
The advertisers on the list range from corporate giant Fred Meyer, to local nonprofits including the Portland Opera, to smaller shops such as the fabric store The Whole 9 Yards. The public transportation agency Trimet is also on the list.