What It’s Like to Betray Antifa to the Cops—and Get Caught

Tan became an informant for the Portland police, then was completely ostracized by a community.

Tan, who informed police on Antifa. (Thomas Teal)

In 24 hours, Tan lost every friend made during 11 months of protesting on Portland's streets.

An exuberant 20-year-old with short, dyed-blue hair, Tan, whose legal name is June Davies and who identifies as gender non-binary, felt a magnetic pull to the left-wing protests in Portland that followed Donald Trump's election.

Two days after the 2016 election, Tan, a manager at Baja Fresh in Lake Oswego, marched in the head-to-toe black uniform of antifascist protesters, better known as Antifa. It was Tan's first protest.

"When I saw that Trump just got elected," Tan recalls, "I was saying this is going to be a police state, there's going to be violence against people of color, there are going to be mass deportations."

Tan soon started working in the medic tents at Portland protests, bandaging cuts, washing pepper spray from protesters' eyes and treating minor burns from fireworks thrown at police.

Tan also became a police informant.

In June, Tan met Portland police Sgt. Jeff Niiya at a small protest. Niiya frequently patrols protests. They started chatting, and Niiya gave Tan his business card.

It took only a day for Tan to become an informant. Tan texted Niiya—and began sharing details of Antifa's marching routes during protests. For Tan, it made sense to work with police, to make sure Antifa medics weren't arrested, swept up in kettles or moved by officers. At the same time, Tan never told other protesters about the conversations with Niiya.

On Oct. 18, Tan's double identity was exposed.

One of Tan's friends found four months of texts between Tan and the cops. The friend took screen shots—which were plastered across Facebook alongside warnings to stay away from the police informant.

It became, within the Antifa community in Portland, a scandal. And while the contents of the text messages didn't reveal any closely held secrets of Antifa, the act of reaching out to police was viewed by many as traitorous to the cause. Tan watched onetime leftist comrades close ranks. Rose City Antifa called Tan an "infiltrator." No one would return Tan's calls or texts. Tan received death threats on social media and was frightened enough to stay at home for weeks.

While Tan endured criticism, many Antifa organizers claimed Tan's mental health made Tan vulnerable to manipulation by the police, and implied Niiya had flirted with Tan to entice the would-be informant to share information.

Tan says those allegations are false—and insulting.

"I knew what I was doing," Tan says, expressing some bitterness at fellow protesters. "It was probably naive of me to think that I could change people's mindsets. I saw the Portland police actually try. I never saw Antifa try."

Tan broke the first rule of activism and street life: Don't snitch.

Tan talked with WW about what it's like to be completely ostracized by a community.

WW: Why did you join antifascist protesters?

Tan: Election night happened, and then that next night [protesters] started going out. They claimed the highway. I saw it on the news and thought, "That's pretty intense." I went out the second night, Nov. 9, by myself.

There were so many people there. I think they said 5,000 people were there, but it felt like so many more. I was exhilarated—and then the police showed up.

I realized that people were willing to get hurt because this was something they never wanted to happen and they were willing to risk their lives to have it end. I was there until [tear] gas was flowing. I knew the next day I was going to go back.

Why did you start talking with a police officer?

I saw what everybody else was doing, basically being enemies with the Portland police. And I thought, "This isn't working at all."

I admired [Sgt. Niiya] because he was another person like myself who was doing a job that isn't super-common—there's not a lot of Asian cops. I admired him for it.

But the thing is, [the cops] are so unapproachable. For whatever reason, [Portland Mayor] Ted Wheeler doesn't get that if you show up with a bunch of riot cops at these events that you're going to expect people to get violent. They look like soldiers or weird robots only meant to follow orders, because they don't really talk.

You knew Antifa was against talking to the cops. Why betray the rules?

I watched my friends do May Day, and I thought what they were doing wasn't 100 percent acceptable. They were just doing stuff to break stuff and wreck stuff.
It's only certain people, hardcore anarchists, who have totally negative opinions toward the police and government. I'm more willing to try to find a way that's not always so aggressive.

There's no peace between police and protesters. I don't think there's ever going to be a peace. But I was trying to make it just a little bit easier so that the police would ease up on their tactics and then also see Antifa ease up on their tactics as well.

If you thought you were doing a good thing, why keep it a secret from your fellow activists?

I knew they had their superstitions about the cops. I knew if they found out, it would end up exactly how it did.

What do you think about the reaction your talking to police evoked in Antifa?

Let's play devil's advocate: Maybe I did deserve not to be part of activism anymore because I did talk to police officers.

But I thought I was doing something that could benefit everybody. I never had any thought that I was doing this just because I want to be chummy with the police. I was naive, which is hard to admit because it's really hard to admit when you're wrong about something.

You say the allegations that Sgt. Niiya took advantage of you because of your youth and mental health are simply false.

This sounds like a fairy tale. They think I was taken advantage of for my disability. But he didn't even know!

I've had depression since I was a kid. I've had anxiety since I was in seventh grade. [But] I think those allegations victimize me. I'm not a victim.

It sounds exactly like the slander that they've done over and over and over again. An accusation comes out of nowhere and picks up steam and takes everybody on this whirlwind around town. It makes everybody more paranoid and more anxious. I mean, activists are anxious, paranoid people.

What was it like for you to be exposed?

It was awful. I woke up and half of my friends were just gone. Everybody was talking about me. I got threats, I got told that I had to leave the city. It wasn't exactly explicit, but it was implied that bad things would happen to me if I showed up at certain places.

I didn't leave my house for like a month. I was afraid. The night that everything happened and the next morning, I was suicidal. I've had mental problems for a while, but I haven't had suicidal thoughts that strong since I was 16.

How did your banishment change your views on Antifa?

I still have the same views as them. I hate the government. I hate how our society is run. It's not that I don't have the same views as them. It's just that I'm not as aggressive. I'm an anarcho-pacifist. I'm like a diplomat.

Is Antifa a force for good?

They like to think so. And honestly, I'm not sure.

I would say they're more leaning toward the interests of themselves rather than the interests of the whole Portland community. I only see in-fighting and negativity and trying to tear people down that they don't like.

What will you do now that you can't go back to the Portland protest scene?

If I ever do activism again, maybe I'll go to Berkeley. I have been thinking about trying to go down there and see what the activism is like there, because that's where all the activism started pretty much. Or even Seattle—and Seattle is not that far away from here.

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