Ethan Knight for District Attorney
A Trusted Leader for Safer Communities

Ethan On Issues Blog

The issues we face are complex and cannot be discussed adequately in 140 characters. So, I’ll be discussing issues on this blog as they relate to Multnomah County and the DA’s role.

Fighting Right Wing Extremism

Since 2016, our community has become a magnet for right-wing extremists. Unfortunately, this is not a new chapter in our history. When Ethiopian student Mulugeta Seraw was murdered on our streets by skinheads, I was in high school. And all of us should be familiar with the shameful history of Klu Klux Klan activities in our state a century ago. 

I was the lead prosecutor of the right-wing extremists that occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in 2016. Although there were some setbacks, we convicted 19 people for their involvement in the takeover – the largest prosecution of domestic terrorism in American history.  And much of my work at the U.S. attorney’s office today involves prosecuting terrorism. 

Extremist violence has no place in our community. Our nation is founded on the freedom of political thought and expression, but this important right does not extend to expression that incites violence. The repeated violent confrontations on our streets damage the fabric of our community and our national reputation. And it is not lost on me that it is the intention of many of the extremists who have traveled to our community is to provoke violence for the right-wing media.

The challenge, of course, is what to do about it. Some have proposed laws to expand the powers of law enforcement or curtail the rights of protestors – such as restricting the right to wear masks at protests. I agree that this could be an important step, but I would see my role as District Attorney to make use of the laws and resources available.

Challenging extremist violence in our community requires a willingness to prosecute wrongdoing. And doing that requires the confidence and cooperation of the people of the community. Cases are built on evidence, and if witnesses do not have confidence in the system it makes it that much more difficult to hold wrongdoers accountable.

Some of the ideas I would pursue as our next District Attorney include:

Aggressively Prosecuting Violent Conduct

When protest and speech turn into harming another person, we must make clear that a line has been crossed. Other jurisdictions like New York, have done a good job of enforcing swift consequences on those who incite and commit violence. We should do the same here, particularly to deter people from coming to our community with the goal of sparking violent conflict. One way we may be able to achieve this is by creating a special hate crimes district attorney and providing the dedicated resources to ensure these investigations move through the system quickly and charges are brought in a timely manner.

Ensure the Right to Peacefully Assemble

We are a community that values the rights of our residents to engage in political protests and speak out against injustice. We must protect that tradition. When individuals engage in acts of violence it creates an unsafe situation for them, other protest participants, and bystanders. Perhaps equally important, the violence and resulting physical harm eclipse the political message protest participants intended to convey. When protests devolve into chaos and violence it sends the message that Portland has become a dangerous, fractured community. 

Support Clear, Consistent Crowd Control Policies 

Preventing violence and protecting constitutional rights requires clear crowd control tactics. Consistent application of policies by law enforcement is critical to maintain public confidence in how protests are managed. I am committed to using my experience with law enforcement to provide a transparent understanding for all of crowd control tactics.  

Restore Confidence in the Justice System

Many members of our community do not feel they can bring threats or activities of violence and intimidation to law enforcement. This is troubling.  When people take matters into their own hands our community is less safe and confidence in the rule of law is undermined. Our next District Attorney must be willing to explore how we can get back to a point where everyone feels they can come forward and expect justice for wrongdoing.

Meg Olson