Reeling from year of constant unrest, Portland mayor hopes to crack down on Antifa

Mayor Ted Wheeler called for the city to “unmask” and “arrest” Antifa members. Two members of Antifa anonymously tell “Nightline” that “most of us are in this work to make our communities safe.”
8:51 | 05/05/21

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Transcript for Reeling from year of constant unrest, Portland mayor hopes to crack down on Antifa
Meet milo and ace. I'm milo, and I'm a member of rose city antifa. I'm ace, member of rose city Reporter: They've asked us to frame their faces and shadow and alter their voices. The use of violence is a tactic of how we keep our community safe. Reporter: They say they're members of the nation's oldest active antifa group. They rarely give interviews but they've agreed to sit down with us as tensions in their city of Portland, Oregon, have reached a prolonged and destructive stalemate after roughly a year of protest. Much of the blame for the chaos, property damage, and violence now landing on the self-described anti-racist, anti-fascist, far-left organizers. A black-clad coterie entrenched in the protest movement here, wo now find themselves in a tense showdown with city We've always had protests here. But to see some of the violent acts like the molotov cocktails and some of the things thrown at officers has been really new to Self-described anarchists who engage in regular criminal destruction don't want things to open up, to recover. The city of Portland will not tolerate criminal destruction or violence. For those who are engaged in it, let's make it hurt them a little bit. When the mayor says that he wants protesters, quote-unquote, hurt a little, that is a pretty explicit threat. Reporter: Amidst the back and forth, a citizenry tired and increasingly turning on the I implore you to March, but please, stop the violence. I feel frustrated that this is still going on. I also feel frustrated that black people keep getting killed. I get frustrated small businesses aren't able to be successful during this time, especially in the state of Oregon. Reporter: Antifa claims they're defending their city, not only against heavy-handed police tactics, also from threats from far-right extremists. Groups like the proud boys and the oathkeepers, leading to fierce standoffs like what is seen in videos like this. The use of violence is there to maintain safety for us and make sure that when people like proud boys or Nazis or fascists come to our city and want to do that harm, then we are not allowing that. Reporter: Sustained attacks on property prompted a sharp rebuke from the mayor who is asking residents to help take back their city, be the eyes and the ears of the Portland police. People arrive at so-called direct actions in cars. They're dressed in all black. Our job is to unmask them, arrest them, and prosecute them. The mayor of this city is undeserving of his position. He has made it abundantly clear that windows to him are more important than human lives. Reporter: Individuals claiming to be antifa released this chilling video last week that contained a seemingly veiled threat against mayor wheeler in response. One that published his home address. Ted, we are asking for the last time that you resign. Blood is already on your hands, Ted. The next time, it may just be your own. Reporter: Neither milo nor ace claim to know anything about that video to the mayor, and they defend their role within the community. Most of us are in this work to make our community safe and to make our communities better. And so when we see that there are people that are coming to our home and to our city advocating violence against people of color, against queer people, then it is our responsibility as community members to confront that. We do not bring that fight, but we will meet it if it comes to us. Reporter: The group has become a lightning rod for controversy. America is plagued by the specter of fascist violence. In an ironic twist these Farris call themselves anti-fascist, antifa. This includes antifa. Members of antifa celebrated their fallen comrade -- Donald Trump wanted to make them a bogeyman for everything. Reporter: Mark bray is a history professor who studies Certainly the one example that comes to mind for many people is that well-documented moment where Richard Spencer was It's Pepe, it's become kind of a symbol -- Reporter: The sucker punch of an outspoken white nationalist that went viral in 2017. Yeah, I would start there as well. Certainly prior to Donald Trump being in the white house, antifa was not a household name in the United States. Reporter: Despite the notoriety, they see their fight as a moral and just one. Milo and ace say they practice community organizing and empowerment, which includes publicly outing alleged fascists and other dangerous elements. So a lot of our work is compiling evidence of what it race is in contemporary anti-fascist work, compiling evidence of people's online personalities and their online conversations and how a lot of times we see far-right folks really engaging in hate speech and misogynistic language and threats of violence online. Reporter: Many, including exhausted business owners, seem increasingly receptive to the mayor's tough talk. I'm thankful for everybody in Portland who feels the need to, you know, fight for justice, fight for rights, fight for safety and everything. But it has definitely affected our business. All the protesting and everything. In that, you know, people who are coming to visit town actually feel really unsafe. Reporter: Ian Williams is the owner of deadstock coffee, a sneaker-themed cafe downtown. A year of unrest at times forcing this barista to double as his own security. A guy was standing outside, somebody was like, hey, man, go ahead and get yours, bust the door. I was like, no, I'm protecting my business. I guess the message is just like, cut it out, why are you even doing this? Really, you should be pulling up I the nails and hammers and helping me board it up, instead of trying to bust it down. Reporter: Margaret Carter's legacy of public service runs deep in Portland. She served as the first black woman in the Portland state senate. She sympathizes with protesters but is pained by their destructive tactics. It bothers me greatly, because I marched. I marched to the days of trying to make a difference. My voice has always been out I don't feel good about it at all in this sense, that when you think in terms of small businesses that are being hit, who are working so people can feel comfortable to come in. Reporter: Milo and ace defend Ed destruction as a tactic to apply pressure on city leaders. There are a lot of reasons why people would engage in property destruction. I think one of the reasons people will break windows is a lot of times, like symbolic of the way that the city will protect things of material value. But not its people. Reporter: However, Carter raises the question of whether the protests are truly legitimate or just random acts of looting. I received the news wholeheartedly. First of all, some of the people that have been identified was not black. Reporter: Reporting on Portland's front lines over the past year, self-styled citizen journalist garrison Davis. There's been tear gas the majority of the nights here ever since may. Reporter: He's witnessed firsthand sympathies change between protesters and citizens. There's been a growing animosity towards some of the protests among the population of Portland. No justice, no peace! A lot of people are tired. A lot of people are exhausted. The police force is getting tired. We're unsure of what direction this will head. Our neighborhood is already struggling. Before covid. It has for years. So now with everybody thinking that the whole city is on fire, there really has been, you know, even more difficulty for us to be able to operate and do business. Anti-fascists are a part of your community and that is not a scary thing. Reporter: Antifa isn't the first radical group to don masks, cloak themselves in anonymity. History will be defendant to decide if their fight was just.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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