Ex-NYT columnist, potential Oregon gubernatorial candidate Nicholas Kristof once downplayed Portland violence

Portland businesses struggle as crime surges: ‘The city is at a breaking point’

Kristen Murray, a restaurant owner in Portland, says she doesn’t want to give up on the city but increasing crime rates have brought business owners to a breaking point.

The outgoing New York Times columnist who is mulling a gubernatorial run in Oregon once suggested that the violence that has plagued Portland does not exist. 

Nicholas Kristof announced on Thursday that he was parting from the Gray Lady after 37 years to explore a potential run for governor in his home state. 

“You all know how much I love Oregon, and how much I’ve been seared by the suffering of old friends there. So I’ve reluctantly concluded that I should try not only to expose problems but also see if I can fix them directly,” Kristof said in a statement. 

However, the problems that have tormented Oregon’s biggest city don’t appear to be of much concern for the state’s next potential governor. 

In July 2020, Kristof penned a column titled, “Help Me Find Trump’s ‘Anarchists’ in Portland,” claiming that President Trump’s rhetoric citing violence in Portland was a “politically driven narrative” and “then there’s reality.”

“I’ve been on the front lines of the protests here, searching for the “radical-left anarchists” who President Trump says are on Portland streets each evening,” Kristof began the piece. “I thought I’d found one: a man who for weeks leapt into the fray and has been shot four times with impact munitions yet keeps coming back. I figured he must be a crazed anarchist. But no, he turned out to be Dr. Bryan Wolf, a radiologist who wears his white doctor’s jacket and carries a sign with a red cross and the words ‘humanitarian aid.’ He pleads with federal forces not to shoot or gas protesters.”

“OK, I’ll fess up: Sure there are anarchists and antifa activists in the Portland protests, just as there are radiologists and electricians, lawyers and mechanics. Report on the ground here and any single narrative feels too simplistic. The protesters aren’t all peaceful, nor are they primarily violent. They’re a complicated weave, differing by time of day,” Kristof later wrote. 

The liberal columnist acknowledged “some protesters begin to shoot fireworks or set small trash fires” after 11 p.m. but insisted “they’re not trying to burn down the federal courthouse.”

He took a swipe at Trump’s threat of deploying federal forces to quell the violence, writing, “Provocateurs are found in both the streets and the White House.”

“We see dueling narratives. One is Trump’s, and it portrays Portland and other cities with protests against police brutality as teetering on the abyss and requiring his Lincolnesque hand to hold America together. The other is — well, shall we call it reality?” Kristof suggested. “Yes, there’s violence and vandalism, as well as opportunistic looting, and it’ll be a challenge to manage it, but local officials are much better placed to do so than the White House.”

Liberal columnist Nicholas Kristof called his time at The New York Times the "ride of a lifetime." (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
(Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

Kristof clarified that he’s “against violent attacks on officers” but accused Trump of “seeding violence” in cities like Seattle and Oakland. 

“That’s what this is about: politics. The big threat in Portland and across America is not anarchists but Covid-19, so Trump welcomes street clashes to change the subject. If he actually cared about the defacement of the federal courthouse in Portland, he would remove the graffiti; instead, he leaves it there for photo ops. It’s the protesters, not the federal authorities, who deploy teams each night in Portland to clean up the area around the courthouse,” Kristof wrote. “It also must be said that while there’s violence from both sides, what I’ve seen firsthand is that the most violent behavior overwhelmingly comes from the federal agents, and indeed the most serious injuries have been suffered by protesters. Your federal tax dollars paid to shoot a man in the face with a ‘less lethal’ munition — an unprovoked assault that left him with a fractured skull and possible brain damage.”

“If you want to call one side ‘rioters’ or ‘anarchists’ working to create tumult in Portland, it’s the uninvited feds who qualify,” Kristof added. 

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