by James A. Bacon
A conservative media summit featuring journalist Andy Ngo was disrupted by threats of violence by left-wing militants, but the show did go on Saturday. The conference of roughly 50 attendees was scheduled originally to be held at the Commonwealth Club in downtown Richmond. Organizers lined up an alternate venue, but that was scuttled too. Fortunately, organizers found a third venue at the last minute, kept the location secret and got out the word to the roughly 50 attendees. At least one person traveling from out of town headed to the second venue only to find it had been canceled. (He managed to make it to the revised location.)
The main feature, of course, was Ngo, who has carved out a niche reporting about the activities, tactics and social composition of the decentralized, left-wing anarchist movement often labeled Antifa.
Ngo has angered the so-called anti-fascists by highlighting their proclivity for violence. Ironically, local militants proved his point by intimidating the club and hotel where the event was to be held. Fox News has part of the story here.
I was privileged to participate in the event as a panelist discussing the evolution of Bacon’s Rebellion and the economics of the blogosphere in Virginia. My understanding of what transpired comes from the organizers: The Virginia Council and the Common Sense Society. People objecting to Ngo’s appearance made phone calls to the club and hotel proprietors, implying that violence would occur. The most vivid quote I recall is that “there will be dead people” if the event went on.
The organizers were able to find a location the evening before the conference thanks in part to the intervention of Henrico County Supervisor Tommy Branin. When I arrived at the venue that morning, two Henrico policemen were stationed outside. Moving the locale from the City of Richmond — which shares with Charlottesville the distinction of being anarchist central in Virginia — was a wise move. Richmond authorities have a high level of tolerance for disruptive behavior. Henrico authorities do not.
I had heard of Ngo and knew he was an object of leftist hatred but had never followed him closely. I missed his speech Friday night, but I listened attentively to his Saturday appearance. I was surprised to find how mild, soft-spoken and carefully reasoned he was. He recounted his career trajectory as a reporter on a college newspaper in Portland, Oregon, in the mid-2010s covering the actions of Portland militants. Realizing that no one in America’s mainstream press corps was following the antifascist movement closely, he developed an expertise in the phenomenon and disseminated his reporting through social media. (He has 1.3 million followers on X, formerly known as Twitter). Ngo’s visibility soared as Antifa and allied groups resorted increasingly to violence after the election of Donald Trump and erupted into sustained anarchy during the George Floyd protests.
Ngo drew attention to a shamefully under-reported story in Virginia: the leading role of antifascist groups such as Antifa Seven Hills during the George Floyd riots in Richmond. (Local conservative activist Mike Dickenson has assembled extensive documentation about Richmond and Charlottesville antifascists by mining social media, but mainstream media have shown zero interest in his findings.)
It is worth noting that no actual violence occurred this weekend. Antifascists are trained in how to calibrate their tactics to keep them out of jail. Note how the caller cited above did not actually issue a threat. “There will be dead bodies” is not explicit — it could be construed as a warning that someone else appalled by Ngo’s awfulness might do something. But it succeeded in its purpose of getting the venue canceled.
As executive director of The Jefferson Council, I have had my own — less dramatic — encounters with those who would disrupt conservative events. When we advertise our own events and link to registration websites, unidentified bots have deluged our system with registration spam (phony registrations). The first time the tactic worked brilliantly. We thought we’d filled up the room with attendees, but only a third or so of the number showed up. We have since developed countermeasures, but the spam bots do cause considerable inconvenience.
I salute Richmond talk radio personality and Virginia Council president John Reid, the Virginia Council organizers, and their backers at the Common Sense Society for their resourcefulness and their refusal to be intimidated.