A Portland police lieutenant gave the leader of a far-right streetfighting group tips about leftist demonstrators’ movements, newly released text messages and emails reveal.
The messages, first reported by Willamette Week, show police Lt. Jeff Niiya keeping in regular contact with Joey Gibson, leader of the violent far-right group Patriot Prayer. Police sometimes communicate with groups like Patriot Prayer that host regular demonstrations, but Niiya’s messages with Gibson suggest a friendly relationship. The lieutenant is seen passing Gibson information about leftist protests, and counseling Gibson on how to prevent one notoriously violent fighter’s arrest.
Olivia Smith, co-chair of Portland’s Democratic Socialists of America, called the messages “evidence” of a relationship leftists have long suspected between the Portland Police Bureau and Patriot Prayer.
“American police forces were founded to protect white supremacy and the ruling class that enforces it,” Smith told The Daily Beast. “This was sort of a given for us, but now we have actual concrete evidence supporting what we already know.”
Niiya appears to be a police liaison with Patriot Prayer, helping law enforcement monitor the group. Niiya also appeared to do favors for the far-right leader, who travels from Vancouver, Washington to host frequent rallies in Portland.
“BTW, make sure Tiny has his court stuff taken care of,” Niiya texted Gibson in December 2017, according to messages released by Portland police. “I was told on the radio at the Jamison Sq event he had a warrant. I told them we would not be arresting Tiny right now. So please be sure he’s good to go before coming down.”
Tusitala “Tiny” Toese is a Patriot Prayer associate, with ties to the Proud Boys, a similar far-right group that glorifies violence. Although both groups officially claim no ties to white supremacy, their events have become mingling grounds for neo-fascists who rail against immigrants, LGBT people, and the left. One former Patriot Prayer attendee went on to fatally stab two people in a racist 2017 attack in a Portland train. Toese has been arrested multiple times for disorderly conduct and harassment, and is accused of assaulting multiple, including a black teenager who shouted at Toese after he drove through Vancouver, Washington with a Confederate flag.
In other messages, Niiya told gave Gibson a warning that anti-fascists were moving his way during a rally. “Heads up just told 4-5 black Bloch [anti-fascists] heading your way,” Niiya texted in January 2018. “One carrying a flag. We will have officers nearby but you may want to think about moving soon if more come.”
And in another message, Niiya told Gibson that a rally by the leftist Queer Liberation Front “is small and we aren’t paying any attention to it. If you and the others go down there it will cause us to be around. I’d rather not and let everyone do their thing today.”
But Portland’s leftist activists say the messages are just confirmation of a friendly relationship they already suspected. Rose City Antifa and Portland’s DSA told The Daily Beast they keep their distance from law enforcement, in part because they suspected a relationship between police and Patriot Prayer. Both groups have attended counter-protests against Patriot Prayer.
“It would be putting ourselves in danger by communicating with them and giving them a heads-up on what we’re going to do, because you saw those texts,” Smith, the Portland DSA co-chair said. “They were like ‘antifa’s coming this way.’”
Portland’s left has accused police of targeting them during rallies. At an August 4 rally in Portland, police stood between a right-wing coalition and left-wing counter-protesters, ostensibly to keep the two sides separated. But police stood with their backs to Patriot Prayer, and their weapons facing the counter-protesters, ultimately showering the latter group with stun grenades, rubber bullets, and pepper spray. Multiple counter-protesters were badly injured, with one narrowly escaping death when a stun grenade punctured his bicycle helmet. In the ensuing confusion, Patriot Prayer and other right-wingers patrolled the streets, attacking opponents.
“We've witnessed the PPB's collaboration with Patriot Prayer and other far-right groups over the last couple years,” a Rose City Antifa spokesperson told The Daily Beast, “starting with the PPB providing free transportation at the tax-payers expense on April 29, 2017, and continuing through the police attack on activists that occurred on August 4, 2018, which then allowed Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys the opportunity to hunt and attack activists throughout downtown.”
After the texts between Niiya and Gibson became public, Portland DSA issued a call for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to resign his post as police commissioner. The group is calling for Jo Ann Hardesty, the first African-American woman elected to Portland’s city council, to take his place overseeing police.
“She ran on a platform of comprehensive police reform,” Smith said. “That is something Portlanders clearly wanted because she won in a sweeping victory. I think Ted Wheeler is clearly either not willing or not capable to make the changes that are needed.”
Hardesty condemned the messages in a Thursday statement, calling Patriot Prayer’s events “hate marches.”
“This story, like many that have come before it, simply confirms what many in the community have already known,” she wrote, “there are members of the Portland police force who work in collusion with right-wing extremists.”Wheeler called the communications between Niiya and Gibson “disturbing,” adding that “Incidents like this contribute to the distrust that so many community members have about the Portland police bureau.”
Portland police say they are launching an internal investigation into the messages.
“The Portland Police Bureau has strong organizational values that encompass integrity and accountability. We have also pledged transparency to our community," Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said in a statement. “I have directed an internal investigation to review the context of these communications and determine if any Bureau directives were violated. If anything is identified that is deemed outside of our values and directives, it will be addressed.”
Niiya’s apparent relationship with Patriot Prayer wasn’t making the city safer, Rose City Antifa said.
“The direct result of the Portland Police collaborating with Patriot Prayer and other far-right groups is that more of Portland's citizens end up injured, assaulted, threatened, and arrested,” the group said. “Meanwhile, those bigots who travel from across the country to declare open war against Portland's citizens are encouraged, protected, and supported.”