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Anti-Fascist Protests Were Front and Center in Portland’s Soccer Scene This Weekend

At this weekend’s National Women’s Soccer League match between the Portland Thorns and the Chicago Red Stars, there were a number of banners hanging in the stadium, displaying messages like “Silence = Complicity” and “Human rights are not political.” One featured a quote from Elie Wiesel and another, designed to look like the children’s book cover, read “If You Give a Fascist a Cookie.”

If you’re like me, you might enjoy watching women’s soccer but don’t necessarily follow sports news (outside of the ongoing fight for pay equality, of course), in which case, you might have been a little confused as to why these banners were hanging.

The signs were made and hung by the Rose City Riveters, the Thorns’ official group of supporters. They were protesting a recently implemented ban on political signs and displays at games. One of the specifically banned images is the symbol for “Iron Front” (three arrows pointed down and leftward), an anti-Nazi group that was banned from Germany by Hitler in 1933.

Major League Soccer introduced the ban on political images at the start of this season, and since the Thorns are one of a few NWSL teams that are MLS-owned, the ban affects them as well as the city’s male soccer club, the Timbers, as well as other teams throughout the league.

Timbers fans have been holding similar protests.

For the first 33 minutes (because of the 1933 ban) of Friday’s game, fans protested with silence, a strange thing to hear during a soccer game.

And players from both teams have been showing their support as well.

The Timbers’ management offered an explanation of why this particular logo has been banned and it’s less than great. They claim the image is banned because “it has been co-opted by antifa.”

“Despite its origins dating back to fascism opposition in World War II-era Germany and elsewhere, today most of the broader public are unaware of the Iron Front and its historic meaning,” reads an open letter on the team’s website. “Instead it is widely associated with its frequent use by antifa, often in the context of violence at protests or counter protests.”

So protesters have revived an anti-Nazi symbol to use in the fight against white supremacy, fascism, and Nazis today. The Timbers, along with the Seattle Sounders, who they played this weekend, both insist that they’re dedicated to fighting fascism (the Timbers’ open letter comes across as indignantly defensive), but their insistence that human rights are too political for the stadium and that some anti-fascist images aren’t appropriate to display strikes a lot of fans as hollow.

(via Oregon Live, image: screencap)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.