I doubt anyone was less surprised that Andy Ngo was attacked than Andy Ngo.
Ngo, an independent reporter who has been published in the Wall Street Journal, the National Review, and the New York Post, among others, has been threatened repeatedly after getting on the wrong side of left-wing activists in Portland. He's something of a thorn in the far left's side: a man who reports on the left—but never the right—behaving badly. He's written about small businesses being tagged as racist by social media justice warriors, about hate crimes that were allegedly faked, and, more frequently, about Antifa, a loosely connected group of left-wing activists who enjoy street brawls in the name of social justice (and who seem to be mostly the adult children of doctors and lawyers). Ngo, who has no sympathy for these anonymous activists, regularly films Antifa at rallies (they do not like that), and he has been kicked out of rallies both in Portland and Seattle. He's also been targeted and harassed while going about his daily business, including recently, when someone doused him with water at his gym.
Ngo, a slight gay man who grew up in Multnomah County and whose parents were refugees from Vietnam, was covering the latest Antifa/Proud Boys cosplay convention in Portland last weekend when he was attacked by masked members of Antifa. He was, apparently, pretty fucked up. During the rally, Portland Police tweeted that milkshakes thrown by Antifa may have contained quick-drying cement. No reports of cement have been confirmed and Antifa says the milkshakes were vegan coconut milk, no cement included, but the fists were certainly real, and Ngo's lawyer tweeted that Ngo was admitted to the hospital Saturday night with a brain bleed. His camera equipment was also stolen.
Video of the incident quickly went viral. This, naturally, sparked endless conversations on social media, especially Twitter, about when political violence is acceptable, and an unexpectedly high number of media professionals condoned, excused, or minimized the assault of a reporter. The zeitgeist among this crowd was that Ngo deserved it, or, as Charlotte Clymer—a communications rep for the Human Rights Campaign who marked Pride by calling Ngo a "sniveling weasel"—tweeted, getting his ass beat was Andy Ngo's "goal from the start." Victim-blaming, it turns out, is totally fine if you don't like the victim.
The people who decided to beat Ngo down while he was doing his job at a public event may have enjoyed themselves for a hot second—as did, I assume, the armchair ghouls cheering his beating on Twitter—but in the long run, all they did was hurt their own cause. Violence has a tendency to do that, as authors Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan detailed in Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. Chenoweth and Stephan cataloged over 300 resistance movements, both violent and non-violent, that occurred between 1900 and 2006, and they found that violent movements were less than half as effective as nonviolent movements. This, in no small part, is because violence both turns potential allies off and it gives governments a reason to crackdown on all kinds of activism. There are plenty of people who agree with Antifa that fascism is bad, but the way to win their hearts and minds is not to beat journalists doing their jobs in the street (and then laugh about it later on Twitter).
If the members of Antifa actually wanted to effect political change and counter the aims of the Proud Boys, they could put down the milkshakes and, say, register people to vote. But that's not the goal. The goal is to fuck shit up, and in this case, they did a bang-up job of it. Ngo declined to comment, but this event has made headlines across the U.S., and I'm sure that he's gotten invitations to appear all over Fox News and other media outlets. And why not? A reporter getting beaten is certainly newsworthy, especially when, as in the case of Antifa, it's not an isolated incident. The problem is that when Fox News gets a hold of it, the talking heads will surely turn this into an indictment of the entire left, if not the Democratic establishment. They will not bother to mention that Antifa is a marginal non-organization with next to no political power or popular support. Instead, this group that only represents itself will come to symbolize the left and everything that is wrong with it—and when influential members of the media are actually cheering this violence, it's not a hard point to make.
Of course, many others in the media—including Jake Tapper and Brian Stetler at CNN—have condemned this violence and have said, unequivocally, that Ngo did not deserve to get assaulted. And they are correct. Andy Ngo is not a Nazi, despite what people who've never spoken to him (and I have) will tell you, and this was not the battle of Stalingrad, with Antifa playing the role of the hero. These anonymous freedom fighters attacked a man armed with only a camera, and by beating this reporter, Antifa gave both conservative media and politicians fuel for the myth that the left is made up of nitwits and thugs. It's not true—most of us on the left don't condone violence, and as a whole, liberals are probably more likely to eat vegan than throw a punch—but Antifa, once again, managed to give Fox News the perfect talking points. Rupert Murdoch should send them a fruit basket.
The good news is, the man who was beaten will likely be fine: He's out of the hospital, and as of the writing, a fundraiser in Ngo's name has already raised over $150,000, money he will presumably use to buy new camera equipment and keep covering Antifa in Portland. In the meantime, some people in positions of power will try to use this incident to crackdown on civil liberties, and it may work. Observers from across the political spectrum have called Portland to adopt anti-masking laws, and Ted Cruz has called for federal law enforcement to investigate what happened in Portland. If Trump doesn't tweet about sending troops into Portland soon, I'll be shocked. So good work, Antifa. Way to make the world—and Portland—just a little bit shittier for everyone else.