After Major League Soccer issued new fan code of conduct this season banning political symbols on banners, disgruntled soccer fans at the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders continued using the three downwards arrow symbol, a sign based on a 1930s anti-fascist group called the Iron Front. The flags were sometimes confiscated by security at games, sometimes not.
On August 4 a dozen right wingers infiltrated the Sounders' family-friendly pre-match ritual, the march to the match against Sporting Kansas City. Some had visible, holstered guns (legal "open carry") and confronted Sounders fans in Iron Front shirts, at least one of whom was beat to the ground on camera. The video spread and the response was for soccer fans across MLS to redesign their logos to include some kind of three arrow or bar imagery, to refer to the Iron Front and every day antifascism.
Real Salt Lake has three swords, Philadelphia Union fans three keys, LAFC fans used three of their art deco wings. They were shared under the hashtags #Aunitedfront.
For the first time in most people's memories, Portland and Seattle fans were united. They clapped back at and retweeted each other on social media, expressing their opposition to fascism, and were determined to show the image at games.
Although it was still banned from flags, teams say the image may be worn on apparel. Before the August 10th Saturday night MLS game with the Vancouver Whitecaps in Portland, the Timbers Army set up a station next to its merch stand on southwest 17th Avenue, three hours before kick-off and two blocks from Providence park. The TA provided spray paint and stencils, and sold green and blue T-shirts for Timbers and Whitecaps fans to customize, or they could use their own.
On Saturday evening Huck Bales, a member of Portland's 107 Independent Supporters Trust ("the engine that fuels the Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters,") was helping people spray their shirts. He estimated that, with an hour and 20 minutes to go before the kick off, 200 people had come by to use the stencils. He said it was spurred by the MLS banning the flag and the escalation of events in Seattle.
"Supporters from across the MLS and other leagues are getting together around this idea that human rights is an important thing," Bales told the Portland Tribune. "MLS has chosen to ban this symbol and many supporters are protesting that position."
Bales added that no other sports leagues in the US ban political imagery from their stadia.
"We're asking the MLS to remove the word 'politics' from their code of conduct because we think it's a ridiculous thing and to rescind the ban. This thing is a symbol of peace and love and respect for all the people."
"With the recent rise in targeted attacks against so many groups — LGBTQ+, immigrants, women, religious groups, and more — and the presence of fascists in our stadiums, this symbol represents our firm stance of combating hatred in soccer, our communities, and our world," the 107IST board said in a statement.
Left versus right or fascist versus antifascist face offs have attracted national media attention in the last month. Portland is bracing for a repeat on August 17th as dueling rallies and protests are due to be held downtown. Self styled "everyday antifascists" have been looking for symbol that is not the preserve of the small number of militant Black Bloc street fighters who make the headlines.
Displayed next to the spray station was a pair of Timbers Army banners no longer welcome at games by the Front Office. One was a laurel wreath with the slogan FOOTBALL NOT FASICSM and the other was the image of the bronze statue of Portlandia on the local government building, with the three barbs of her trident pointing down and outlined in a white circle. Bales explained that the Timbers Front office approves large banner displays or tifos. In this case they OK'd it, but the circle was added later, turning the trident into an iron front symbol. Because of that it was yanked by security when Timbers fans displayed it in Vancouver B.C.
No three bars surfaced in the Timbers Army's giant tifo or banner display before Saturday's game against Vancouver. It showed a man who looked like star player Diego Valeri, shirtless, with a chainsaw, and referenced the third Evil Dead movie, Army of Darkness. Written on the chainsaw in blood was the old Woody Guthrie slogan that he kept on his guitar, "This machine kills fascists." Fans brought their own homemade cardboard axes and swords. There was also a banner reading Hail to the Kings of Cascadia, referring the competition between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland teams.
Meanwhile across the stadium Paul Sabourin-Hertzog, vice-president of the Whitecaps supporters' group the Southsiders, had his banner confiscated by Providence Park security on his way into the ground.
He said he had added two Iron Front logos to a regular blue Southsiders flag, thinking that made it an allowable "personal" item. A guard saw it slightly unrolled and confiscated it until after the match.
Sabourin-Hertzog had also sprayed the symbol on his soccer shirt using the 107IST provided logo. Although Vancouver fans were invited by social media to join in the paint party, many had been travelling and did not have the time.
He said there had been a lot of buzz in the last week about the Iron Front logo.
"The people that are paying attention to what's happening in Cascadia, we know what's going on. We're aware of what happened in Seattle last week. We're aware of the potential of something happening next week here in Portland."
He also had a black scarf that was made by a New York Red Bulls fan group, the Empire Supporters Club, reading AGAINST FASCISM on one side, AGAINST RACISM on the other.
Word travels fast amongst his soccer-loving colleagues here and in Canada in independent supporters councils.
"We have friends that are explicitly reaching out to us because they know that we're supportive of leadership asking for a space of solidarity. So I figured that we could organize at least a few shirts in the stands."
Sabourin-Hertzog added, "The funny part is if they (MLS) had just ignored it, I don't think 95% of the people in the stadium would know what it is or care. But they made it an issue of placing, anti-fascist and anti-racist activism on par with violent white supremacy. That's a bit of a problem."
Kings of Cascadia, for now
On Saturday night the image was not easy to spot. It was often obscured under rain jackets or painted in unobtrusive grey, black or silver. It had far less impact than a banner, which made it virtually invisible to the TV cameras.
In the Timbers Army section 107, behind the goal, was Patrick Treadway in an Iron Front stenciled shirt. He had just made it, but he has worn the symbol before.
"I just think that it's an important thing. I don't think that the league is right about banning the symbol. I don't think it's a political symbol. I think it's a human rights issue," said Treadway.
The game ended Portland Timbers 3, Vancouver Whitecaps 1, which vaulted Portland to the top of the three team Cascadia Cup standings.
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