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Antifa supporters plan to march in Iron Front shirts, testing Sounders front office

Go Sounders. (KTTH, Jason Rantz)

Antifa-supporting Sounders fans plan to test the front office at this Sunday’s home game, wearing homemade Iron Front t-shirts, just days after the front office told them flying the flag with that symbol would earn them stadium suspensions.

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While hoping tensions don’t escalate, sources tell me the Sounders will address the controversy head on later this morning, acknowledging problems with their original message to supporters, while not budging on their position on the symbol.

Earlier this week, I reported the Sounders front office sent a strongly worded letter to an independent club of Sounders fan, Emerald City Supporters (ECS), after fans brought an Iron Front flag to CenturyLink. That particular, political symbol was banned by the MLS.

“Messages, banners, flags or any other symbols that represent an association to a political group will not be allowed at CenturyLink Field,” the letter stated. “This includes, but not limited to, Antifa, Iron Front, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer. This new Fan Code of Conduct was clearly shared with all supporter groups prior to the start of the 2019 campaign.”

ECS members claim it’s a stance against fascism. No, it’s not.

They say if you stand in their way, you’re enabling or supporting white nationalists. No, you’re not.

They believe what they’re doing is heroic. It isn’t.

They can stand against fascism — imaginary or real — without displaying a political symbol co-opted by violent thugs.

Antifa members claim to fight fascism, but they consider all political opposition anathema to their cause. Antifa does not fight fascists; they act like them. After my initial report, some ECS members and their supporters flooded by Twitter stream with the kind of harassment you can expect if you push back at their delusion, including one gem calling me “Nazi scum.” I’m gay and Jewish.

Appearing to support this fringe political movement is a step too far for both the Sounders and MLS. I’m told the Sounders won’t back down from the decision to back the league’s ban on Iron Front, even if they acknowledge they could have handled the messaging to ECS better.

Consequently, some ECS members are pushing the boundaries on what the club and league find acceptable.

On a private, members-only message board, an ECS leader with the screen name SeattleCalcio detailed plans for this Sunday’s home game against Sporting KC. They believe clothing is not subject to the rule that bans the Iron Front flag, so they plan “to make shirts with the iron front 3 arrows symbol on them!”

ECS reached out to MyNorthwest Friday afternoon to have their event information removed.

“ECS has received threats to our security this week, escalating after the articles published on your site. Your article giving details of upcoming events from our private forum jeopardize the security of our members.”

Friday morning, supporter group GorillaFC (which consider themselves Antifa) and 107 Independent Supporters Trust, joined ECS in a joint-statement with demands:

The Emerald City Supporters joins with our fellow Sounders FC supporters Gorilla FC and our Portland rivals in the 107 Independent Supporters Trust in calling for the following outcomes:

-MLS rescinds its ban on flying the iron front flag.

-MLS removes the word “political” from its fan code of conduct as it is inherently arbitrary.

-MLS works with international experts on human rights to craft language in the fan code of conduct that reflects and supports radical inclusion and anti-discrimination.

Members on the message board offered words of support.

“There is no middle ground in the fight against fascism,” writes user hindenburgii. “You’re either anti-fascist or you’re fascist.”

Another user wrote, “I am so incredibly proud of this group for standing up for what’s right. I left a message with my rep to turn off my auto-renew of season tickets of 10 years unless they back down.”

A user named scranton1 was a bit more pointed with the consequences of the flag ban

“We need to call them on this threat,” he wrote. “If they really want games in Seattle without the supporters 3 of the next 4 home games are national broadcasts. If they are true to their word and we get suspended after the Sporting game they have to deal with no ECS in the Galaxy and Red Bulls games. They either fold or we force the conversation on a national level. We should continue to stand for what we believe in and let the chips fall where they may.”

But not all ECS members are supportive, a number of whom have contacted The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH to express disgust with the group.

“Multiple members have explained their opposition through various channels and have been told to either get with the program, leave, or in some cases, have been kicked out,” one member told us. The member asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

Tom Biro of ECS didn’t respond to requests for comments, but on Twitter, disputes any claims that people have been kicked out for the reason described.

This issue has caused a rift, I’m told, with ECS members who have a particular disdain for Antifa’s vile anti-cop and anti-military rhetoric, often painting a broad picture of all cops as bigots and “fascist pigs.”

“I’m active duty, and am considering not renewing my season tickets if this behavior continues or if the team caves on this issue,” the supporter told me. “It’s definitely caused some outrage within the organization, but as you know, it’s filled with hardcore leftists and progressive ideology has taken over what was once just a supporters club.”

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For legendary former Sounders FC coach Alan Hinton, he was disappointed in the in-fighting since, he tells me, the “ECS and Sounders club has had a very special relationship, [and] partnership since 2002…” and cites that partnership for the record attendances and successful team. While he hopes the “relationship that gets stronger each year,” he explains his “hope is that politics should not be promoted on the Sounders Soccer field.”

Earlier this week, MLS Commissioner Don Garber even weighed in on the controversy to ESPN, saying in part:

Our stadiums are not environments where our fans should be expressing political views because you then are automatically opening yourself up to allowing counterviews. Then we’re getting into a situation which is unmanageable and really not why the vast, vast majority of fans go to games. We just saw some research that was done where the vast majority of fans do not see sports events as environments that should be driven by politics. They want to go to a game and experience it and participate in a game without having to be confronted by issues that might make them uncomfortable. Any time you have a political statement, whether I personally or the league agrees with it or not, you automatically are leaving yourself open to counterviews which might be very objectionable to a majority of people who are in the stadium.

Garber would not take a position on whether they’d take issue with Make America Great Again hats. Probably best he doesn’t.

This level of political activism ECS leadership hope to advance, especially on such a fringe issue, can cause significant problems for ECS. Soccer, like any great sport, is supposed to unite. But they’re being divisive.

And to what end? To force your political views on people who just want to support a team they love? They claim it’s important — after all, they’re fighting “literal Nazis” right? Right. Literal Nazis. Yet they have time to attend a 90-minute soccer match.

Update, 8:42 a.m.: A fan forwarded me this Sounders FC emailed response to those expressing concerns over the Antifa flag ban. It mirrors what I’m told will be the message today at a Sounders FC press availability.

Thank you for your email and taking the time to providing us feedback. Sounders FC remains committed to the values of inclusion and acceptance. From the founding of our organization, we believe that speaking up for equality is simply the right thing to do. This was most recently demonstrated in 2017 when an “Anti-fascist / Anti-racist / Always Seattle” flag was being denied at another MLS venue. Our Ownership Group proactively stood against the exclusion of that message, and due to those efforts and working alongside MLS on the matter, messages of anti-fascism and anti-racism are now permitted within all Cascadia venues. Tolerance and inclusiveness are pillars of our society, and ideals we take seriously as an organization. At a human level, we believe these values to be non-political.

These are shared values of our supporter groups, ECS and Gorilla FC, whose intentions are to use the Iron Front symbol as a means to further those views. However, there are other interpretations of that symbol that are linked to political organizations that use violence as a vehicle for their message, which goes against our shared values. Therefore, due to the overtly political nature of this symbol and the ambiguity surrounding its meaning and interpretation, it is not permitted at MLS events, including Sounders FC matches at CenturyLink Field. This decision is aligned with Major League Soccer’s Fan Code of Conduct that was shared with all supporter groups prior to the start of the 2019 season.

As an organization, we work tirelessly to further our organizational value of inclusion. As a result, we will not allow the Iron Front symbol that has been clearly linked to the antifa political movement and sometimes in the context of violence. We believe the game of soccer is what binds us together as a Sounders community, and that we can collectively celebrate the spirit and values of the City of Seattle. But we also believe that CenturyLink Field should be free of politics, especially leveraging a communal soccer experience to draw attention to specific political parties or groups.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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