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The Proud Boys’ Real Target

TheAtlantic 2019-08-23 15:30:00

That rally was largely peaceful, with counterprotesters tangling with marchers using only words. But we couldn’t have predicted that in advance. Saturday Market was out. Who would bring a child near this unknown threat, only days after the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio? Across the river, meanwhile, Eugene’s LGBTQ community was holding its Pride rally. That gathering went on as planned, but there was anxiety throughout the city.


What has this to do with Hans Linde? Hans was born in 1924 to a prosperous Jewish family in Berlin. He once told me that his first clear memory was of watching from the family apartment while Nazis in brown shirts brawled with Communists on the Kurfürstendamm below. When Jewish life in Germany became untenable, the Lindes relocated to Denmark, and then, by good fortune, obtained U.S. visas. The Lindes settled in Portland; Hans attended Oregon public schools, and then Reed College, in the city’s Eastmoreland neighborhood. He served in the Army, attended law school at UC Berkeley, and began a brilliant career as a U.S. Supreme Court clerk, a Senate aide, a law professor, and finally the greatest justice ever to serve on the Oregon Supreme Court. I came to know Linde because, many years ago, I wrote a profile of him.

Linde’s jurisprudence sparked a national movement to revive judges’ interest in the constitutions of American states. State courts, Linde said, should construe their state’s constitution first before diving into the Supreme Court’s federal case law; a state constitutional text might make a federal ruling unnecessary. Linde left the bench nearly two decades ago, but his “first things first” approach lives on. As recently as last year, Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the Sixth Circuit, in his book, 51 Imperfect Solutions: States and the Making of American Constitutional Law, called on state judges to “revive Linde’s idea—to make constitutional arguments the first line of defense in individual rights disputes.”


Perhaps the most important legacy of the Linde years were his opinions interpreting Oregon’s free-speech guarantee much more broadly than the federal First Amendment. That protection has helped preserve Oregon’s wide-open democratic culture, where ideas from the Neanderthal to the utopian can contend, and where human experience comes in many shades.

That very culture, I suspect, is what has drawn out-of-state fascist leaders to focus on Portland. From years of study—and personal experience—I know about Oregon’s dark racist past and the shadow it casts over the state today. Nonetheless, in recent years, leaders here have worked to create an inclusive culture—one that the fascists would like to discredit, stigmatize, and eventually destroy. Since the Saturday demonstration, the Proud Boys have announced that they will be back every month until the City suppresses the antifa movement, whom they call “domestic terrorists.”