On the Timbers and the Iron Front

Posted in Uncategorized at 4 pm

For those who haven’t heard, the symbol for the Iron Front (three SW pointing arrows in a circle) has been used to promote anti-fascist efforts for 80 years, starting in Nazi Germany. The Iron Front was a group of Germans who were opposed to three fascist forces: Monarchists, Nazis, and Bolsheviks. It was disbanded in 1933 (note the 33) when Hitler declared that anyone supporting the Iron Front would be shot on sight.

In light of recent political throes, the symbol has been used in banners, t-shirts and other public displays by sports supporter groups, which in World Football is very common, and is an iconic part of the Timbers Army identity and messaging.

MLS (which is a single-owner league and the teams are only franchises thereof) has declared that the Iron Front symbol falls under banned political speech (per https://www.mlssoccer.com/fan-code-of-conduct). As a result of this definition, individual teams have confiscated banners, given multi-game bans, and generally tried to squelch the use of the symbol in a heavy-handed manner. (Atlanta’s Front Office (FO) went even further and banned supporters who were displaying banners to promote ending gun violence.)

At the normally celebrated derby game of Seattle vs Portland in mid August, the TA (along with the visiting Seattle Supporters Group, the ECS) participated in the National Anthem and then stopped any group chants or songs. No drums, no capos… nothing organized until the 33rd minute of the game. At that point the TA, quite loudly and with great bravado broke into the TA’s version of Bella Ciao (https://timbersarmy.org/game-day/chants) which is based on an Italian left-wing anti-fascist resistance movement. (It was a breathtaking moment for those of in the TA section that day.)

The Timbers FO stated that they would have further talks with the TA regarding the situation, so the TA has not called for any further action until yesterday. The FO has continually pointed out that all decisions are made by the MLS leadership, not by the local team. However, at the last match, individuals with Iron Front symbols that were potentially visible on the TV broadcast were give multi-game bans. TA has written a response to the situation: https://timbersarmy.org/Blog/7865889




TA members (on Twitter under #rctid and elsewhere) have discussed other ways of making it clear to the FO that they are protesting individually. Some have declared they will not renew their season tickets, others that they will purchase no concessions, and some that they will simply not attend. Only the last one has a chance of being ‘visible’ to anyone outside of the Timber’s Accounting Department.

In the view of much of the TA, the Iron Front symbol is not political, but a statement of human rights, comparable to the rainbow flag that MLS was proudly supporting in June. The MLS and the Timbers FO have equated the IF symbol with the hate speech of racists and bigots, stating that the symbol has been co-opted by Antifa. (Their implied definition of Antifa is that of an actively violent, organized group, which _doesn’t actually exist_). To say that the symbol of an antifascist group has been co-opted by an antifascist group (which again, doesn’t exist in the form implied) is either ignorant or intentionally obtuse.

The general understanding is that MLS is running a business and wants to avoid taking a political stand unless it is shared by the television viewing audience. To the TA this stand is aligning the MLS with the status-quo, which Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel noted in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

For the TA, the opportunity is the reason for bringing politics into the Park. MLS and the Timbers FEATURE the Timbers Army in their marketing efforts, so they have already leaned on the TA to gain viewers and visitors.

But the TA is dedicated to being more than just a fan base, we want to be a force for good, with fundraisers, volunteering and CPR trainings. Most TA are interested in being more than just passive participants in the scripted event. With that engagement, the opportunity to spread a message on a national stage is given.

Global Football has been tied to politics and organization and identity on other continents. The TA have leveraged that history and understanding to support our Team and our Town. The TA (and the RCR) provide the atmosphere at Providence Park. It is utterly unique in North American sports. It collects the passion and energy of the fans and funnels it into action.

When the TA haven’t been confronted with protection of bigotry, they’ve had grand displays of humor, rivalry and chest pounding. Those are the fun times, and without politics. But now is not that time.

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