As the son of communist refugees, Andy Ngo is no stranger to the dangers of that political ideology. The Portland-based journalist, known for covering Antifa—the term used to describe anti-facists who generally wear masks and often are associated with violence and destruction—was hospitalized last month after being physically attacked by masked agitators. Read his interview, posted below, or listen on the podcast, to learn what he thinks about Antifa:
We also cover these stories:
- The Justice Department is bringing back executions.
- The governor of Puerto Rico resigns.
- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg thinks the Supreme Court should stay at nine justices.
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Kate Trinko: Joining us today is Andy Ngo, he’s an editor at Quillette, host of the podcast “Things You Should Ngo.” And he went viral recently after he was physically attacked by Antifa in Portland and had to be hospitalized for brain hemorrhage. Andy, thanks for joining us.
Andy Ngo: It’s a pleasure to be with you.
Trinko: We’re going to get into Antifa and that attack, I know our listeners are very interested in that, but first I actually want to go a little bit further back and talk about your background.
So your parents came to Portland, Oregon, from Vietnam, and they were escaping communism as refugees, is my understanding, is that right?
Ngo: Yes, they were originally settled in different places but they made their home in Portland. So I’m going to borrow the language of my detractors and talk a little bit about my lived experience because it does inform how I cover Antifa.
For the listeners who may not be familiar with what Antifa is, it’s a militant movement, meet-up of extreme anarchists and communists.
So my coverage of Antifa has been critical, not just critical of the hooliganism and the street violence because violence of course is easy to condemn. I am critical of the underlying ideology as well.
My parents lived through a Marxists revolution, Antifa’s agitating for revolution in this country, and my mother was just a teenager when she and her entire family, including very young siblings, were sent to labor camp.
My father was sent to re-education camp, so that history and trauma that my parents continue to carry with them is part of my story and I don’t have the luxury of viewing radical Marxist ideologies with the same rose-colored glasses as my peers do in Portland.
And in Portland, as a political monoculture, you will see a more visible presence of open socialists and even communists than you would regular conservatives or Republicans.
Trinko: So when you were growing up, did your parents, did your mom ever talk about the labor camp experience or your dad about what the re-education camp was like?
Ngo: Much later. They gave me little vignettes as I was growing up, but I didn’t have any context for it. I didn’t understand the history. I think the most traumatic experience of her and of post-1975 it’s actually about … It sounds kind of silly saying this, but it’s related to food, actually.
So, she came from a middle-class family in the south and after when she and her family were sent to the labor camp, the food that they were provided was so terrible that my mother was traumatized by it.
And I chuckle a bit not because it was funny, but because, as somebody who has had the privilege of being raised and born in the West, I don’t know what it’s like to not have food to eat. And then the food that you do get to is … I mean my mother to this day doesn’t eat pumpkin anymore and pumpkin is a part of the Southeast Asian cuisine. But that’s just the type of food that she and her family were fed, boiled pumpkin with salt in the water.
And so with these little things growing up I was just like, “Mom, why don’t you like pumpkin pie or pumpkin curry?” Something like that.
I didn’t have the context for understanding the political and social cultural history of my parents’ experience. That came much, much later, unfortunately, and I’m glad I had that knowledge because there are a lot of my peers who are second-generation Vietnamese brought up in the West who are completely ignorant of how the diaspora ended up abroad.
Trinko: To switch gears a little bit, you are often described as a right-wing journalist or a conservative journalist, but how do you actually think of yourself? I didn’t really see you describing yourself that way anywhere.
Ngo: Yeah, I should have been prepared for these types of questions. That was what I was asked kind of over and over, “How do you label yourself?”
I don’t necessarily take issue with the label conservative journalist, but I never particularly use that to describe myself. But I guess the values and principles that I have may be aligned with issues that are either seen as center or center right.
Trinko: How did you get into journalism and when did you begin covering Antifa?
Ngo: I got into journalism actually when I started my graduate program at Portland State and ended up becoming the multimedia editor of the student paper and covered very uninteresting stories on campus, this culture event, dance night.
What would then change everything for me was after the election in 2016, we had very violent rioting in downtown Portland, Portland State campuses in downtown. And I went out to record footage for the student paper. This was the first time that I saw Antifa, didn’t know what a black bloc was, but it felt surreal to be in a major American city in downtown and seeing people dressed head to toe in these black uniforms, covering their faces and running around starting fires in the streets using bouts to destroy property.
One million dollars in damage was done in one night. And that to me was like, “Wow, this is something we need to pay attention to.”
Since then Portland has had recurring bouts of political violence on the street. Almost to the point now where I say that political violence in Portland is a banality.
On June 29 is when I was beaten and robbed by Antifa in the course of doing my work as a journalist, I record videos. I remember that day I was nervous because I had been targeted by Antifa in the months before and things had been escalating.
They’ve hated my writings, things changed a lot when I brought some attention to their extremism in very large publications like The Wall Street Journal and me working on these projects as a freelance journalist. I don’t have a team of professional security behind me. I’m just one individual. So I was an easy target.
I was walking toward the front of their demonstration and they were chanting, “No hate, no fear.” And it was a combination of Antifa black bloc and then the allies in the Democratic Socialists of America.
Trinko: Could you explain what is the Antifa black bloc?
Ngo: Black bloc is a tactic that Antifa and other militant movements use where they adopt, essentially, a uniform of wearing black clothing, long sleeve, and mask and sunglasses completely.
So they’re completely anonymized for a number of reasons. One, it’s so that they can easily melt into the crowd when some of them engage in criminal activities such as violence against individuals or property destruction. And Antifa is very hostile to media, particularly media that records because they don’t want any of this footage to potentially identify them.
Me just being there with the camera was seen as provocation, but more problematic was my ideas that were critical of what they believe in. Shall I continue?
Trinko: Yes. Go on. So what happened at the rally?
Ngo: On June 29, while listening to these demonstrators chant, “No hate, no fear,” I was bashed in the back of the head very hard, knocked me forward. And when it happened, it took me a few seconds to realize what had happened.
I’ve never been in a fight, don’t know how to fight, never been hit in the face or head. I thought maybe somebody had tripped and just fell into me really hard.
Before I could gather my balance, the punches kept coming from every direction, the front, the back, and they were going for my head and my eyes and my face.
Trinko: Were you on the ground at this point?
Ngo: No, I was still standing, but I was kicked as well in the groin and I was knocked down to one knee.
I was determined to like, I didn’t know which direction was out, but … it’s not a good idea to end up on the ground. Because at that point it was obvious this was a mob beating. And when I thought that they were done, they weren’t.
I had my hands up to show this crowd that I was surrendering, essentially. They beat me so hard. I lost control of my hands and they robbed me on my GoPro, which I was really trying to hold onto because it was my evidence of this attack. But that was taken.
Then the mob started throwing milkshakes, other liquids, eggs, and other hard objects at my face [and] my head. That literally blinded me for the moment.
This is my issue with those who work in mainstream media who think milkshaking is a cute form of political descend. It’s not, it literally marks you out for a mob to target at you, as what happened to me.
So the video that’s gone viral, that’s the second half of the attack, there were more punches. Even though we were steps away from the central police precinct and the sheriff’s office, at no point did I ever receive help from police.
Trinko: What were you thinking? Especially if you’d never been in a fight. I might be projecting here because I’m a total coward, but were you afraid for your life at all? What was going through your mind?
Ngo: I think by this fifth and sixth hit to my head and face, I was in fear of my life because I was kept thinking, “OK, the last punch was the last one,” but it kept coming and the people who beat me were not just punching me with their hands. I have to make sure your listeners know that they were wearing tactical gloves that have hardened fiberglass materials on the knuckles. So it’s almost like getting hit with bricks.
After that, an ambulance was called for me and I was taken to the ER. I had all these abrasions on my head and contusions all over. They did a CT scan, which confirmed … the diagnosis of the subarachnoid hemorrhage, also known as a brain bleed.
Since then, while the bruising and cuts have mostly healed, I’m going to continue to have some neurological challenges for the coming months.
Trinko: Are you comfortable discussing all of what those challenges are?
Ngo: Yeah. If you watch any one of my interviews at various times, depending on if it’s edited or not, you will see that I am unable to finish certain sentences.
So I have these, I call them cognitive hiccups, where I can’t finish the sentence or I don’t recall a very common word. So it’s memory issues and this was really scary to be confronted with.
I remember, when I was in the ER and I didn’t know the extent of my injuries, I was concealed, I was like, “Am I going to have scarring all over my face?” And that’s pills completely in comparison to a brain injury.
Trinko: Very scary. So what was the police responsible for during the attack and afterward?
Ngo: There was none during the attack. And you asked me what was I thinking. I was thinking at any point police are going to come in and take me out and help me. That never happened.
I could actually, in the beginning parts of the beatings, still see the Justice Center, which is the building that houses the central police precinct. And … there are a number of variables that have made Portland this hotbed of far-left militant violence in that the city is a political monoculture, a progressive monoculture and anti-police sentiment is a norm. So you have that as a variable.
Another is that the mayor, who is up for re-election, also doubles as a police commissioner. So you can see the potential for conflict of interest.
After my beating on June 29, and I wasn’t the only one injured, there were other very severe injuries because after I was beat—I believe I was the first person who was beaten—the rioting continued in another part of downtown where militants used weapons such as a crowbar.
So this happens, it’s my perception that there’s systemic issues in policing and governance and the head of the police union issued a statement after June 29 calling for the mayor to remove the handcuffs of police.
It does seem like there are stand-down orders in some form, maybe not and in the literal command, but limiting resources for that day even though Antifa projects and announces their plans for physical confrontation, also known as premeditated violence.
We’ve been dealing with this over and over and over for several years now in Portland and really nothing has changed.
Every few months, another citizen—this time it was myself, before it was an elderly driver, there’s been another person who happened to bring an American flag to a demonstration. It’s just like, “Does somebody have to die before something changes?”
I get asked sometimes by those who are on the left, they’ll bring up the point, “Well, Antifa hasn’t killed anybody.” Whereas in Charlottesville, somebody was murdered.
Do we have to wait for there to be parity before we start caring? Actually, that’s not even true anymore. Just a week and a half ago, an Antifa militant in Tacoma, Washington, which is not far from Portland, firebombed a government facility and attempted to ignite a 500-gallon propane tank and came with a rifle and got killed in the process.
He left a manifesto and the manifesto very clearly outlines his ideology calling for his comrades to take up arms. He borrows language seemingly taken from a person in Congress, and this wasn’t headline news, and I was shocked that there’s just so much ignorance about what Antifa is.
I think, from a distance, you can watch the videos of the street hooliganism and find it almost comical to be there, to have it directed at yourself and to be familiar with what they’re actually agitating for.
It is a scary and dangerous ideology movement. And I think the mainstream media base all the way in D.C. or in New York City are just unaware and they just think that these are noble antifascists who are fighting Nazis on the streets. That’s not what’s happening.
Trinko: It’s interesting you mentioned that because, of course, yes, there is this perception among mainstream media that, “Oh, conservative media is obsessed with Antifa, but it’s just a weird obsession and shouldn’t be covered.”
Similar to you, I wasn’t actually there when Antifa, or believed to be Antifa, took action in D.C. after Trump’s inauguration. But I remember seeing the photos rolling and I was like, “Oh my gosh, there’s people burning cars in downtown D.C. This is insane.” And I couldn’t believe how little coverage it got.
So you’ve spent years covering Antifa.Why do you think they’re newsworthy and what do you think their goal is?
Ngo: Their stated goal, they’re quite open about it. If you speak to the ideologues or read the writings of their ideologues, is revolution and it’s, in particular, their political ideology is anarcho-communism.
So some are more anarchist than others. Some are more communists than others.
They believe that the United States is an irredeemable country, literally irredeemable. And the targeting of police as well as border enforcement as well as even the concept of sovereignty is all strategic toward their goal.
The violence on the streets is meant to polarize citizens against each other as well as, in the case of Portland, to break down the law enforcement and that’s happened as well among those on the left and on the right.
Of course, the United States has such strong institutions that they’re not going to achieve an Antifa revolution. No, I’m not one of those people who are coming out and saying that this is a existential threat. However, where there are threats is that they’ve been able and are able to mainstream and normalize aspects of their ideology and tactics.
For example, I brought up the normalization and political violence earlier and that’s something I think they have had much success on. When “Punch a Nazi” became a cute meme, that had quite widespread support. … It’s understandable, who wants to be sympathetic for a literal neo-Nazi?
But then what happens next is Antifa applies to the label of far-right or a Nazi or a Fascist very carelessly. They’ve applied it to me in materials that they put out naming me, for example, and others who are categorically not far-right or Fascist or Nazis.
More recently is the milkshaking thing. Even in respectable publications, describing it as a nonviolent form of political dissent.
Trinko: Milkshaking, to be clear, is when people throw an actual milkshake. I know the Portland Police said they had seen cement, but you haven’t seen that. Right?
Ngo: That was a tweet that was put up by Portland Police. That was a lieutenant who observed material in a cup that he said the consistency and the smell was consistent with a caustic material similar to quick dry cement.
However, the Portland Police did not keep that cop as evidence to test it. So this has been to the date unconfirmed and it’s been used sort of as a red herring to throw off the conversation. Milkshakes, tainted or not, the point of it is to mock you for mobbing, essentially.
And when I look at, watch the videos over and over of what happened to me and see the pictures, it’s very humiliating. But at the same time, I’ve been forcing myself to continue to do all of these media engagements because I want the public to see the brutality of this movement and to recognize that they’ve been buying into a false narrative of this being a noble anti-fascist group of people.
It’s not, they can be very indiscriminate in their violence, they believe they’re part of a vanguard that will overthrow the government. This is a very extreme ideology and I’m not sure if people like Chris Cuomo or Don Lemon at CNN know this when they basically act as apologists for Antifa.
I would hope that with me continuing to speak out that the needle on this discourse can change.
I didn’t ask to be such a public figure. Three weeks ago, I was the person behind the camera and the person who’s doing the writing. Now, I’ve been doing all this public speaking and the next part for me now is I want justice, justice through the legal system.
I don’t want to fight anybody, but three and a half weeks after what happened to me, there’s been no arrests and I don’t want to be cynical about Portland Police, but there were four ongoing investigations of Antifa violence to me and doxing before June 29 and nothing was done.
So forgive me if I’m not entirely confident that they are going to do a thorough criminal investigation.
Of course, another issue that compounds all this is that the militants who beat me and robbed me were amassed.
Trinko: You mentioned you might be able to take legal action. Could you expand on that?
Ngo: I think my civil rights were violated, my First Amendment rights. I was a journalist documenting event and Antifa has continuously menaced and attacked not just myself, but others, other journalists in Portland as well.
The citizen journalists, the independent journalists are the easy targets, right? But they’ve also gone after reporters who work for the local broadcast, television news.
I, unfortunately, I’m not the right type of victim for the legacy civil rights organizations such as ACLU or the SPLC, neither of which, as far as I know, have said anything in supporting me or condemned what happened to me.
Actually, the Human Rights Campaign, which is America’s largest gay rights organization, their communication stuff in the immediate aftermath of my beating put out a number of tweets calling me a “weasel” and that I came looking for this and got exactly what I wanted.
So with that stated, fortunately, I’ve been taken on as the first client for Publius Lex. That’s a civil rights nonprofit started by attorney Harmeet Dhillon.
I have so much gratitude for that because I completely underestimated the amount of money and time it takes to get counsel and to potentially discover and find evidence and all that.
So there’s a legal fund. And even with the attorney working for free, there’s so much overhead cost, there’s so many costs related to going through the legal system.
Trinko: How can people donate to that fund if they’re interested?
Ngo: [Go to] publiuslex.com. Anything really helps.
The amazing thing about the age we’re in now is you can crowdfund a legal funding.
I feel so thankful that [so many people] see what happened to me as an injustice, and not just me as an individual, but rather emblematic of some other larger systemic issues that are in Portland. So that’s what the legal fund is for.
It’s amazing to me that those who are on the left seem to have all this endless money for law fare. And I would like to see conservatives start investing funds in causes for civil rights.
Trinko: OK. Well, Andy Ngo, thank you so much for joining us.
Ngo: My pleasure.