Rantz: MLS caves to extremism, allows Antifa flag at CenturyLink and elsewhere

Sep 25, 2019, 6:08 AM | Updated: Sep 26, 2019, 1:48 pm
The Sounders taking on the Portland Timbers. (Jason Rantz, KTTH)
(Jason Rantz, KTTH)

After Antifa members and sympathizers threw several high profile fits, including a walkout at a recent Seattle Sounders match, Major League Soccer caved, allowing these fans to wave the Iron Front flag at games.

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Now, the MLS is so inclusive, they once again welcome fringe activists into stadiums, proudly proclaiming their support of groups that violently confront political opponents, all in the name of blind loyalty to their ideological cause. And they’ve just opened themselves up to some unintended consequences that’s being called out by a former US Men’s National Team member.

For the 2019 season, the MLS banned the display of the flag due to it’s political, controversial nature. This week, after consultation with the Independent Supporters’ Council, the ban was lifted for the remainder of the season. The league says they’ll form a working group to figure out a long-term solution to the issue for the 2020 season.

“This working group will include representatives from the league office and clubs and work collaboratively with leaders of club supporter groups and a cross-section of diversity and inclusion experts,” Mark Abbott, MLS president and deputy commissioner, said in a statement. It’s unclear if that cross-section of experts will represent conservative voices.

The Iron Front logo has been co-opted by Antifa. While they run rough shot on political opponents, calling cops “bastards” and “pigs,” they display the symbol. Fan groups were told of the ban before the season started, but they decided to fly the flag anyway.

The inevitable controversy came to a head for the Sounders in late July, when the front office warned the fans to stop bringing the banned flag, or they’d face suspension. The fans, pushed by Sounders independent fan groups Emerald City Supporters (ECS), knew the threats were toothless. They brought the flags anyway and suffered no consequences. The same couldn’t be said for current and former members of ECS.

ECS bullying

After my last three stories on the unfolding drama, many current and former members have reached out to complain about ECS political activism. Because of the alleged threats of retaliation, and they’re online bullying of anyone who disagrees with their politics, I’ve agreed not to use fan names, but have verified their membership in the group.

“ECS goes after anyone who disagrees with them like a pack of starving wolverines,” one fan told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. The fan was an ECS member until recently. His spouse is still a member, but will not continue after this season.

He continued:

On this issue, if you say that you agree with their stance but just don’t like protests or political signs in the stadium then they say that you are a racist. If it bothers you, you must be a racist. They don’t realize that they are pushing people away from the middle. I’m about to say ‘fine, I guess I’m racist. Deal with it.’ But I’m not.

Some will say that politics and sports have always been linked. Maybe so but that doesn’t mean it’s right. We’ve been Sounders fans since 2014 and season ticket holders since 2015. Every year, every year, ECS finds something to bring attention to itself. One year it was flipping off the camera. The next it’s about front office involvement. The next, it’s about Fox Sports using photos or video of their section. This isn’t about racism or fascism or politics. It’s about ECS wanting to do whatever they want. They’ve forgotten what they are really there for, to support the team.

A cursory view of Sounders Twitter, you see these activist fans pounce whenever they encounter an alternative view, calling anyone that opposes disturbing, fascistic violence “racists” or “Nazis.” Indeed, these primarily white, privileged Progressive fans feel that they’re only ones standing in the way of fascists overtaking this country and by-golly, they’ll fight those fascists by … waving a large flag.

Prior to the MLS decision, some fans directly communicated to the Sounders front office that they decidedly don’t stand with ECS. In one letter, a member wrote: “I am an ECS member, I was at the game, and I refused to take part in the sitting-down protest with other ECS, Gorilla FC, and TA members. My friend who was with me shared my concerns and also refused to sit down during the 33-minute protest.”

This ECS member very clearly opposes fascism and racism, but wrote, in part:

I, my friend, and my wife also dislike the methods and intimidatory tactics of Antifa and do not feel that fascism has a strong-enough hold on the Northwest to warrant having to go down the path chosen by our supporters groups and those of the Portland Timbers. I strongly disagree with ECS attempts to label anyone who doesn’t agree with their signs and slogans as somehow fascist or racist. This is not inclusionary at all and it is a myth propagated by the three above supporters’ groups to exclude those who have no wish to join Antifa in order to show their anti-fascism feelings.

A front office representative responded, saying “we want Sounders matches to be safe and accessible to everyone regardless of their background, race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, profession, socio-economic status … you name it. Our goal is to protect these values at all cost.”

But is that what the team is doing? Notably missing from that exhaustive list is political ideology, a protected class under Seattle law. A flag attached to a movement that calls all conservatives Nazis and all cops “pigs” shouldn’t be waved at a match if the Sounders want their events to be seen as inclusive or tolerant.

Sounders front office representatives met with fan group members to discuss a review of the MLS Fan Code of Conduct and while it appears the conversations have been productive, the team hasn’t suspended fans for purposely and knowingly breaking the rules to wave the flag. Other clubs suspended violators. And recently, Coach Brian Schmetzer told KJR-AM that “Yeah, I’m OK with them flying the flag.” Weeks ago the front office seemed to acknowledge the flag was tied to violent activists. Has that changed?

Unintended consequences: A USMNT player’s perspective

Many MLS fans — including the local ones — do not look to reclaim the Iron Front symbol from Antifa thugs; many actively support it as a symbol of violent resistance. They believe they’re fighting fascism and racism by supporting violent resistance towards President Trump and Republicans. They’re fueled by ideology, creating a delusion (they’re fighting “literal Nazis”) to justify the violence, much like actual fascists justified their violent acts to suppress opposition.

And with the MLS caving, the league may just have created a domino effect of unintended consequences. In Salt Lake, fans were told they couldn’t bring a Betsy Ross flag to the game. In Portland, a fan with a Trump 2020 flag was removed. Will that change or be challenged?

Rantz: Fringe Sounders fans stage walkout in support of Antifa thugs

Teams have local discretion on implementing Code of Conduct rules against fans and work closely with law enforcement in cases where fan conduct might lead to violence. But there’s little they can do if Proud Boys, for example, show up to march outside of CenturyLink. They did just that in early August, trying to provoke, at times, Sounders fans into a confrontation. One fan attacked a Proud Boy member who appeared to verbally instigate it. A Proud Boy member then retaliated by punching the fan. Violence will undoubtedly lead to police intervention; but simply marching cannot be prohibited. Will this lead to more of these marches?

Beyond that, does this mean games will feature more political messages? One former MLS player wants to see more conservatives show up and voice their viewpoints.

Progressive fans don’t seem to realize that players — current and former ones — represent a variety of political opinions, including ones they so foolishly write-off as fascist. One former MLS player, and a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team, spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, given the contentious nature of this controversy. Given my former connection to the Sounders broadcast team, as pre/post game host, I will note that the player has no ties to the Sounders.

“I hope that people will now wear their MAGA gear to MLS games,” he told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “I hope they fly Trump 2020 flags. The Antifa thugs have just fought, and won the freedom of political expression, without censorship or judgement. They must now honor that from all who wish to express this newly achieved freedom at MLS games. I will not be surprised when they show their true fascist agenda by pushing MLS to ban those they disagree with, from expressing their differing political beliefs.”

Is this your business plan?

As the MLS decides if they’ll continue to placate Antifa supporters, some fans claim they won’t attend any more games, with a number of season ticket holders telling me they plan to cancel. There’s no way to tell if some of these folks are serious and I generally dismiss claims, from either side, of that kind of proclamation.

But it does seem clear that, after mishandling the controversy this entire season, the MLS made things worse. They chose to suddenly ban Antifa flags, even though they were flown in previous seasons (though they were less ostentatious; the election of Trump changed that). Sports should unite, not divide, and the MLS seems comfortable dividing. And it’s a reminder that this league isn’t about inclusiveness. That’s just corporate virtue signaling to a crowd that seems more Progressive than not.

And if that’s the exclusive group they want in their stadiums, the MLS has every right to cater to that exclusive crowd. But, in a country that still doesn’t give the MLS the respect it gives to the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and even MMA, it seems like a bad business strategy. I’d certainly like to see the Sounders fill CenturyLink to capacity. I don’t think making the team and atmosphere more political, and less inclusive, will do that.

I will continue to go to games and root for the team and my favorite players. I care about the Sounders and politics too, yet, somehow, I’m able to separate the two for 90 minutes once a week during the season. It’s easier, I suppose, since I don’t pretend I’m fighting Nazis when I see people who disagree with me politically. What I won’t do is continue to spend time even attempting to pitch the league to people who I think would enjoy it. The MLS is saying they don’t welcome conservatives. So I’m not going to help promote their product. Antifa fans will say that’s a good thing; they don’t want this conservative figure promoting their team. Exactly. That’s my point here.

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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Rantz: MLS caves to extremism, allows Antifa flag at CenturyLink and elsewhere