The Iron Front of Intimidation

Leftist fans of two Major League Soccer teams demand to keep their ideological privilege.

During Major League Soccer's championship game, the MLS Cup between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC, the Sounders' fans displayed signs and flags with a unique emblem: three encircled arrows pointing down and toward the left.

That emblem has nothing to do with soccer but everything to do with neo-Marxists imposing their ideology in a heavy-handed manner.

The image represents the Iron Front (in German, Eiserne Front), a paramilitary group formed by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany's Weimar Republic. The three arrows represented opposition to Nazism, Marxism and monarchism. Antifa groups in the United States incorporate the symbol into their demonstrations against "racism" and "Fascism."

The three arrows came into MLS through the Timbers Army, the main fan organization for the Portland Timbers, the Sounders' biggest rivals. The two cities are among the most left-wing in the nation. The Sounders' counterpart, the Emerald City Supporters, followed suit to accompany the motto, "Anti-Racist. Anti-Fascist. Always Seattle."

After Antifa appropriated the symbol, MLS banned "political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures, which includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior," whether done by fans or displayed on signs or banners. Offenders would be banned from the stadium, and would have to apply in writing to be readmitted after 6-to-12 months.

"We basically have created a policy that takes any decision-making off the table," MLS Commissioner Don Garber told ESPN. "Our stadiums are not environments where our fans should be expressing political views because you then are automatically opening yourself up to allowing counter-views. Then we're getting into a situation which is unmanageable and really not why the vast, vast majority of fans go to games."

By "counter-views," Garber means the kind of racist and xenophobic behavior that roils European soccer.

"We just saw some research that was done where the vast majority of fans do not see sports events as environments that should be driven by politics," Garber continued. "They want to go to a game and experience it and participate in a game without having to be confronted by issues that might make them uncomfortable."  

In July, the Sounders' management formally warned the Emerald City Supporters about flying the Iron Front's flag in a home game against the Timbers. When the teams met again in Portland on Aug. 23, fans for both squads staged a poignant and powerful protest.

The Emerald City Supporters and the Timbers Army hold reputations for being among MLS's most passionate and enthusiastic. For the game's first 33 minutes, however, both sets of fans became eerily silent. The 33 minutes represented 1933, the year Adolf Hitler came to power and banned the original Iron Front. Once the 33 minutes elapsed, fans cheered and chanted with abandon. The Timbers Army then began singing "Bella Ciao," an anti-Fascist anthem sung by Italian partisans during World War II.

"Woke" fans elsewhere provided support through a hashtag campaign. Some designed their own variations of the Iron Front's symbol. The Main Street Greens, an LGBT group supporting Oklahoma City's Energy FC, proclaimed that it would display its version "until our sport in (the United States) stops supporting neo-nazis! (sic)"

In Los Angeles, members of the Los Angeles Football Club's largest fan group displayed the Iron Front's flag with banners expressing other left-wing views. One said, "Abolish ICE." Another featured a red-and-blue elephant underneath an  abbreviated obscenity.

On Aug. 31, MLS suspended members of the Timbers Army for flying the flag during a home game. On Sept. 15, the Emerald City Supporters staged a walkout during another match when team management ejected the group's leader for waving the flag. But on Sept. 24, MLS rescinded its policy for the playoffs and granted amnesty to the suspended fans.

Before temporarily abandoning its policy, MLS allowed fans to wear shirts and caps with the Iron Front's emblem. But that compromise failed to mollify the Timbers Army.

"What’s ultimately important to us is that we create a safe place for all people," Stephan Lewis, a co-chairman for the group's community outreach committee, told the Washington Post. "By using the term 'political' and applying that to the Iron Front image, it’s sending a dog whistle."

Messages to Garber and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson on the Timber Army's blog reflect the group's left-wing ideology.

"I deeply fear that by stifling Iron Front signage, our club are making a safe space for fascism," Rich Ybarra wrote. "Fascism is not congruent with our supporter’s culture or our city. At a time when our city and nation are being pressed by nationalism, racism, and fascism, it is not time to cede ground."

Jeremy Wright added, "When you ban a symbol that stands for resistance to oppression, you are siding with the oppressors."

Comments included propaganda. 

"Antifa is an idea. It means anti-fascist," Ben Pollack wrote. "Do you oppose fascism? Then you are antifa. Those who insist antifa are a violent group are lying to you. They have an agenda, and they know what they are doing when they demonize the people who oppose them as violent thugs. By censoring this symbol, MLS is doing the bidding of those who want to see children in cages. Let’s mean it when we say NEVER AGAIN."

Then there is the neo-Marxist anger of Sunday White:

The 'American Dream' has never been real. It has always been a propaganda machine ... Wealthy America is walking on our necks to amass more wealth. They are happy to divide us. They are happy to allow white supremacy take hold. It allows them the ability to control the narrative. This cannot be ignored, condoned, or allowed. I speak up for the marginalized. I speak up for minority groups. I speak up for the future of the people.

I wield the Iron Front symbol as a badge and a shield. To support those that need a voice, a shoulder, a place to sleep, a quiet space, a place to scream, food in their bellies, and a sense of belonging and love. I support the need to stand for human rights. This means that the Iron Front banner needs to fly high — not just in the Pacific Northwest, or Flint, of Ferguson, or at protests — but everywhere that white supremacists think they may have a safe space or a toe-hold. (Hint: That is everywhere.) (emphases in original)

Yet Tom Biro, co-president of the Emerald City Supporters, insisted that the controversy, "still isn't a political discussion," he told the Seattle Times. "Our stance is that this is a human rights, people rights issue, and that we are standing with this in the same vein that we are standing with the "anti-Fascist, anti-racist, always Seattle," imagery messaging, which is allowed in the stadium."

One member of the Emerald City Supporters expressed disgust with the posturing.

"I never thought they would put their politics in front of the team itself," Mike McDonnell told the Times. "You’re a supporters group. You’re not supposed to be a political group."

Another told the Times' Matt Calkins he would not renew his membership.

" 'It’s just not constructive,' said Tim, who still has many friends in the ECS," Calkins wrote, "but thinks 'groupthink' has overcome its leaders. 'That doesn’t belong in a stadium.' "

Tim asked that his last name be omitted "because he fears potential backlash," Calkins wrote. "He has seen what can happen to critics of self-described anti-fascists, and he’d rather not take the risk."

Calkins experienced his own backlash on Twitter, where Matthew Johnson accused him of "crying tears for racists," Stephen Sanchez called him "the times (sic) most racist columnist" and somebody named "Laurie" described him as "Mr. I love Nazis."

But two ironies undercut the groups' narratives. First, the German Communist Party formed its own paramilitary group to oppose the Socialists' Iron Front. The Communists named their group Antifaschistische Aktion, or Antifa. The American version's insignia duplicates the original emblem.

Second, the fan groups and the activists they support behave just like the side they claim to oppose. They use "racist" and "Fascist" in the way the Nazis used "Bolshevik" and "Jew," as epithets designed to intimidate, silence and justify violence.

Troy Storfjell, another member of the Emerald City Brigade, embodies that attitude. A professor at Pacific Lutheran University, Storfjell defended what he called "violence against Fascists," including Andy Ngo, a gay Asian reporter. On June 29, Ngo was documenting Antifa's counter-protest in Portland when he was assaulted.

Antifa's members punched Ngo, kicked him in the head and threw so-called milkshakes laced with quick-drying cement at him. Ngo was treated at a hospital for a brain hemorrhage. Legal action is pending.

"If one Fascist gets a milkshake thrown at him … and beaten up, I don't have a problem with it," Storfjell told the Times.

Members of the Timbers Army share that belief. At the Aug. 23 match against the Sounders, a banner appeared that proclaimed, "Portland Punches Nazis."

The rhetoric from the Timbers Army and the Emerald City Supporters hides an inconvenient fact: Members demand that their neo-Marxist self-righteousness be implemented throughout society -- by force if necessary. That includes sports.

That is real Fascism. 

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