As the son of communist refugees, Andy Ngo is no stranger to the dangers of that political ideology. The Portland-based journalist, known for covering Antifa—the term used to describe anti-facists who generally wear masks and often are associated with violence and destruction—was hospitalized last month after being physically attacked by masked agitators. Read his interview, posted below:
Kate Trinko: Joining us today is Andy Ngo, he’s an editor at Quillette, host of the podcast “Things You Should Ngo.” And he went viral recently after he was physically attacked by Antifa in Portland and had to be hospitalized for brain hemorrhage. Andy, thanks for joining us.
Andy Ngo: It’s a pleasure to be with you.
Trinko: We’re going to get into Antifa and that attack, I know our listeners are very interested in that, but first I actually want to go a little bit further back and talk about your background.
So your parents came to Portland, Oregon, from Vietnam, and they were escaping communism as refugees, is my understanding, is that right?
Ngo: Yes, they were originally settled in different places but they made their home in Portland. So I’m going to borrow the language of my detractors and talk a little bit about my lived experience because it does inform how I cover Antifa.
For the listeners who may not be familiar with what Antifa is, it’s a militant movement, meet-up of extreme anarchists and communists.
So my coverage of Antifa has been critical, not just critical of the hooliganism and the street violence because violence of course is easy to condemn. I am critical of the underlying ideology as well.
My parents lived through a Marxists revolution, Antifa’s agitating for revolution in this country, and my mother was just a teenager when she and her entire family, including very young siblings, were sent to labor camp.
My father was sent to re-education camp, so that history and trauma that my parents continue to carry with them is part of my story and I don’t have the luxury of viewing radical Marxist ideologies with the same rose-colored glasses as my peers do in Portland.
And in Portland, as a political monoculture, you will see a more visible presence of open socialists and even communists than you would regular conservatives or Republicans.
Trinko: So when you were growing up, did your parents, did your mom ever talk about the labor camp experience or your dad about what the re-education camp was like?
Ngo: Much later. They gave me little vignettes as I was growing up, but I didn’t have any context for it. I didn’t understand the history. I think the most traumatic experience of her and of post-1975 it’s actually about … It sounds kind of silly saying this, but it’s related to food, actually.
So, she came from a middle-class family in the south and after when she and her family were sent to the labor camp, the food that they were provided was so terrible that my mother was traumatized by it.
And I chuckle a bit not because it was funny, but because, as somebody who has had the privilege of being raised and born in the West, I don’t know what it’s like to not have food to eat. And then the food that you do get to is … I mean my mother to this day doesn’t eat pumpkin anymore and pumpkin is a part of the Southeast Asian cuisine. But that’s just the type of food that she and her family were fed, boiled pumpkin with salt in the water.
And so with these little things growing up I was just like, “Mom, why don’t you like pumpkin pie or pumpkin curry?” Something like that.
I didn’t have the context for understanding the political and social cultural history of my parents’ experience. That came much, much later, unfortunately, and I’m glad I had that knowledge because there are a lot of my peers who are second-generation Vietnamese brought up in the West who are completely ignorant of how the diaspora ended up abroad.
Trinko: To switch gears a little bit, you are often described as a right-wing journalist or a conservative journalist, but how do you actually think of yourself? I didn’t really see you describing yourself that way anywhere.
Ngo: Yeah, I should have been prepared for these types of questions. That was what I was asked kind of over and over, “How do you label yourself?”
I don’t necessarily take issue with the label conservative journalist, but I never particularly use that to describe myself. But I guess the values and principles that I have may be aligned with issues that are either seen as center or center right.
Trinko: How did you get into journalism and when did you begin covering Antifa?
Ngo: I got into journalism actually when I started my graduate program at Portland State and ended up becoming the multimedia editor of the student paper and covered very uninteresting stories on campus, this culture event, dance night.
What would then change everything for me was after the election in 2016, we had very violent rioting in downtown Portland, Portland State campuses in downtown. And I went out to record footage for the student paper. This was the first time that I saw Antifa, didn’t know what a black bloc was, but it felt surreal to be in a major American city in downtown and seeing people dressed head to toe in these black uniforms, covering their faces and running around starting fires in the streets using bouts to destroy property.
One million dollars in damage was done in one night. And that to me was like, “Wow, this is something we need to pay attention to.”
Since then Portland has had recurring bouts of political violence on the street. Almost to the point now where I say that political violence in Portland is a banality.
On June 29 is when I was beaten and robbed by Antifa in the course of doing my work as a journalist, I record videos. I remember that day I was nervous because I had been targeted by Antifa in the months before and things had been escalating.
They’ve hated my writings, things changed a lot when I brought some attention to their extremism in very large publications like The Wall Street Journal and me working on these projects as a freelance journalist. I don’t have a team of professional security behind me. I’m just one individual. So I was an easy target.
I was walking toward the front of their demonstration and they were chanting, “No hate, no fear.” And it was a combination of Antifa black bloc and then the allies in the Democratic Socialists of America.
Trinko: Could you explain what is the Antifa black bloc?
Ngo: Black bloc is a tactic that Antifa and other militant movements use where they adopt, essentially, a uniform of wearing black clothing, long sleeve, and mask and sunglasses completely.
So they’re completely anonymized for a number of reasons. One, it’s so that they can easily melt into the crowd when some of them engage in criminal activities such as violence against individuals or property destruction. And Antifa is very hostile to media, particularly media that records because they don’t want any of this footage to potentially identify them.
Me just being there with the camera was seen as provocation, but more problematic was my ideas that were critical of what they believe in. Shall I continue?
Trinko: Yes. Go on. So what happened at the rally?
Ngo: On June 29, while listening to these demonstrators chant, “No hate, no fear,” I was bashed in the back of the head very hard, knocked me forward. And when it happened, it took me a few seconds to realize what had happened.
I’ve never been in a fight, don’t know how to fight, never been hit in the face or head. I thought maybe somebody had tripped and just fell into me really hard.
Before I could gather my balance, the punches kept coming from every direction, the front, the back, and they were going for my head and my eyes and my face.
Trinko: Were you on the ground at this point?
Ngo: No, I was still standing, but I was kicked as well in the groin and I was knocked down to one knee.
I was determined to like, I didn’t know which direction was out, but … it’s not a good idea to end up on the ground. Because at that point it was obvious this was a mob beating. And when I thought that they were done, they weren’t.
I had my hands up to show this crowd that I was surrendering, essentially. They beat me so hard. I lost control of my hands and they robbed me on my GoPro, which I was really trying to hold onto because it was my evidence of this attack. But that was taken.