SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A conservative writer from Portland, Oregon, filed a lawsuit Thursday against purported elements of the nebulous, far-left militant groups collectively known as antifa, days after President Donald Trump blamed those groups for inciting violence at protests over police killings of black people.
The suit was filed on behalf of Andy Ngo, a writer at the online publication Quillette who is known for aggressively covering and video-recording demonstrators.
“I am hoping that this marks a turning point, that militants belonging to a criminal movement can no longer depend on the anonymity … to get away with their crimes,” he said.
Ngo has drawn attention to antifa for years and said he was targeted and suffered brain injuries when he was assaulted while covering protests in Portland a year ago. Video of the attack was widely viewed online and led to national calls for investigations as well as a subsequent rally led by the Proud Boys, a right-wing organization that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Antifa — short for “anti-fascists”— is an umbrella term for leftist militant groups that confront or resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.
That makes it more difficult, but not impossible, to pursue a lawsuit, said California-based attorney Harmeet Dhillon, a Republican Party official who sued on Ngo’s behalf.
Dhillon said the timing of the antifa lawsuit was coincidental to recent protests over the death of George Floyd, who struggled to breathe as his neck was pinned down by a white Minneapolis police officer’s knee. She said she waited months to sue in the futile hope that authorities would bring criminal charges against Ngo’s attackers.
Spokesmen for Portland police and state and federal prosecutors did not respond to requests for comment on their investigations or criticism from Ngo and Dhillon that they failed to act.
While the suit is “particularly timely” given the recent protests and attention on antifa, Dhillon said she has represented journalists of all stripes in the past.
“What is not important is the journalist’s particular viewpoint, but the fact that his activities … are protected, and violence is never acceptable as a counterpoint to those First Amendment activities,” she said.
Ngo’s lawsuit names one of the few groups to publicly affiliate itself, Rose City Antifa, along with five named defendants and other unknown alleged attackers. Rose City Antifa did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.
Defense attorney Bill Portanova, a former state and federal prosecutor who is not affiliated with the case or the lawsuit, said it is possible to sue even purportedly anonymous groups, citing efforts against organized crime and the Ku Klux Klan among many others.
”You can follow the trail backward and find the people in the videos and you can trace the internet correspondence that promotes that activity,” Portanova said. “Those trails lead back to individuals and those individuals can be found to have engaged in a conspiracy whether or not antifa itself can be found and be liable.”
One of the named defendants punched Ngo in the abdomen at a May 1, 2019, demonstration, his suit says, and another threw an unknown liquid on Ngo’s head at his local gym on May 7, 2019. It says he was assaulted twice during a June 29, 2019, protest, once when he was beaten by a mob including two named defendants and again when another named defendant doused him with a “milkshake” that police said may have contained quick-drying cement.
The suit includes photos and video still-shots from several of the attacks.
It seeks $900,000 in damages, claiming assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and an injunction barring the group from further harassment. It accuses Rose City Antifa of a “pattern of racketeering activities” among other claims.
Aside from the physical injuries, the suit says antifa has tried to intimidate Ngo by publicizing the whereabouts of him and his family. At least six people wearing masks depicting Ngo’s face came to his home last Halloween, ringing the bell and trying the doorknob, it says.