I protested the Proud Boys' flag-waving event along McLoughlin last Friday to learn firsthand their message and to show clearly that the Proud Boys are not welcome in our community. As I had to explain many times to them: I am not from this group or that, I am not this person who did you wrong, and I don't run a "hate group on Twitter." I live in the neighborhood, I consider myself patriotic and I wanted to show people driving by that these events do not represent my community.
Standing with my "Make Racism Wrong Again" sign, it was apparent their message is more in support of the "Western Chauvinist movement" — Proud Boys — and less about being a proud American or simply waving our flag in celebration. From the moment I stepped in front of Walgreens, they sprang from their cars circling and yelling at me, hoping I would do something to escalate the situation so they could have their fight. And when that didn't work, they literally stood in the street to call down the Gladstone police who asked me to leave, as a favor, citing agreements they made with the Proud Boys earlier in the week.
The American flags that they waved were in the minority to the other flags printed with the usual far-right ideologies we've seen time and time again — All Lives Matter, Don't Tread on Me, Trump yada-yada. A few of these patriots even had their American flag completely upside down, supposedly "to show the state of our country right now." While others flashed the far-right, white supremacist symbol for "White Power" to people who honked in support. It was genuinely and honestly embarrassing.
People confuse patriotism with nationalism, and are more than happy to have a few "bad apples" attack and defend their rights over the rights of others. They conflate violent, provoking behavior as patriotism if they're somewhat, kinda, tangentially holding the flag of the United States.
I did meet three people at the event who were willing to have a dialogue. A Proud Boy called "Band Aid," an older man named Ken and a fence-straddling millennial who wasn't "with them," but also felt they were getting a bad reputation ... unfortunately, they're just in too deep. They showed up for the flag and got swept away in the chest-pounding, pro-violence, anti-everyone-else message the event encourages.
Don't get me wrong — the flag is not the symbol of hate, it's using it in a way that supports hate and division. It's the other symbols you all surround yourselves with, masqueraded as patriots. It's getting swept away in the current of nationalism simply because you don't have the knowledge and courage to stand up (flag aloft, sure) and say that behavior is wrong.
If the flag waves are about celebrating the United States of America, we would push out anyone who makes it about white power, gun rights, racism or violence. We should stand and wave our flag, politely, ignoring and deescalating any attempt for provocation. If a city asked you to move along, you would. And in doing so, some cities may even welcome you to their streets.
Gerry Blakney is a resident of Jennings Lodge, an unincorporated portion of Clackamas County located just north of the Gladstone city limits.
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