Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic:
When I met with Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, at city hall, he recalled night after night of violence, and at times planning for the very worst, meaning mass casualties. Portlanders had taken to calling him “Tear Gas Ted” because of the police response in the city. One part of any mayor’s job is to absorb the community’s scorn. Few people have patience for unfilled potholes or the complexities of trash collection. Disdain for Wheeler may have been the one thing that just about every person I met in Portland shared, but his job has been difficult even by big-city standards. He confronted a breakdown of the social contract.
“Political violence, in my opinion, is the extreme manifestation of other trends that are prevalent in our society,” Wheeler told me. “A healthy democracy is one where you can sit on one side of the table and express an opinion, and I can sit on the other side of the table and express a very different opinion, and then we have the contest of ideas … We have it out verbally. Then we go drink a beer or whatever.”
When extremists began taunting Portlanders online, it was very quickly “game on” for violence in the streets, Wheeler said. In this way, Portland stands as a warning to cities that now seem calm: It takes very little provocation to inflame latent tensions between warring factions. Once order collapses, it is extraordinarily difficult to restore. And it can be dangerous to attempt to do so through the use of force, especially when one violent faction is lashing out, in part, against state authority.