PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Several Portland Timbers fans have been banned for three games for waving flags that included an anti-fascist symbol in violation of Major League Soccer’s policy that prohibits political displays at games.
Fans used the Iron Front flags during last weekend’s match against Real Salt Lake.
MLS teams have prohibited signs and flags with the Iron Front symbol, which the league says has been appropriated by some in the loosely structured antifa movement, at times in the context of violence. The symbol of three arrows pointing downward and to the left dates back to an anti-Nazi paramilitary organization formed in Germany in the 1930s.
Supporters’ groups for the teams maintain the symbol represents opposition to fascism and persecution — a human rights issue, not a political stance.
The league’s fan code of conduct implemented this season prohibits the use of “political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures, which includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior.” The ban extends to signs or other visible representation. MLS worked with its teams to devise the policy.
The pushback to the MLS policy was highlighted in late July when Seattle Sounders management included Iron Front with far-right groups Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys in a letter that explained the ban. The Sounders later apologized for equating the symbol with those groups.
At the rivalry match between the Sounders and Timbers in Portland last month, fans of both teams remained silent for the first 33 minutes of the game to protest the policy. Then last weekend the flags were flown by many in the Timbers Army supporters’ group section in the 33rd minute against Real Salt Lake.
The Timbers Army confirmed “multiple” supporters were suspended. Under MLS policy, the suspension is for three league matches.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Whitecaps supporters’ group, the Southsiders, said via Twitter that one of its members has been banned from BC Place because of the policy.
The suspensions come following talks between the Timbers front office and supporters groups for both the MLS side and the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League. MLS has indicated that it will discuss the supporters code of conduct with the Independent Supporters Council in the future.
“We continue to communicate with the league and our supporters on this issue. In the meantime, we and all clubs in MLS need to enforce league rules, but the Timbers are committed to embracing explicit and creative anti-fascist and anti-racist expression, as we always have,” the Timbers said in a statement Thursday.
The 107 Independent Supporters Trust, the nonprofit group behind the Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters, issued a statement that said it will meet with the Timbers’ front office next week. The group will continue to actively advocate for a change in the league policy.
“We want to make something very clear: Our fight is not a fight with the Portland Timbers. Our fight is against white nationalists, white supremacists, and others that seek to bring hate and violence to our stadium, city, state, and country,” the group said in its statement.
The issue is particularly heated in Portland, where there have been numerous clashes between far-right agitators like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys and antifascists.