Portland Protesters Say Their Lives Were Upended by the Posting of Their Mug Shots on a Conservative Twitter Account

What Andy Ngo is doing is legal. The mug shots are public records. And Ngo told WW that it is his “duty” to report on protesters who have been arrested.

REPORTED AND BLOCKED: Ragina Gray says she’s received a slew of digital harassment since her mug shot was posted. (Christine Dong)

On Aug. 7, Black activist Ragina Gray was tackled by Portland police at a protest and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and interfering with an officer.

That same day, conservative Portland activist Andy Ngo shared Gray's name and mug shot on Twitter.

"Gray, 30, is charged with interfering with an officer, resisting arrest and more," Ngo wrote on Twitter. "She was arrested at the violent antifa protest in Portland and quickly bailed out. Gray is frequently photographed with kids at protests and rants about white terrorism." The photo was retweeted by 475 people.

Twelve nights later, on Aug. 19, a man showed up on the doorstep of Gray's mother's eastside home. "He was sweaty and nervous looking, and he asked for Ragina by name," says Lucinda Fisher, Gray's mom. "He mentioned [Gray's] son, and I noticed he had a gun in his hand." Fisher slammed the door and called the police.

(Update: After this story was published, readers questioned whether Lucinda Fisher had called police. On Sept. 17, The Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications, which fields calls to 911, told WW it can find no record of a call from Fisher or an associated number and address on Aug. 19. Gray and Fisher stand by their account and maintain that Fisher called police. The other subjects in the story, Philip Wenzel and April Epperson, do not claim to have contacted police regarding harassment.) 

Gray's children, 9 and 4, whom she brought to protests with her prior to her arrest, fear for her life.

"They're scared that someone's going to kill me," Gray says. "My first instinct is to say, 'No, that's not going to happen.' But there's a huge risk."

Gray has no direct evidence that Ngo's robust social media presence is the reason an armed man arrived at her mom's house.

Ngo's prominence has been catapulted by Portland's protests. He is editor-at-large at a Canadian conservative website called The Post Millennial and is also a regular guest on Fox News. Last year, he was assaulted at a Portland anti-fascist march, where masked assailants punched and kicked him in the head.

Ngo has more than 700,000 followers on Twitter, many of whom share the belief that Portland protesters are a threat to national security.

But Gray believes Ngo and his followers are watching her. And she is not the only one. WW has spoken with two others who have been arrested at Portland protests and had their names and mug shots tweeted by Ngo, and claim their lives have since been disrupted.

"We've been lying low, and to be honest, we've been staying at home with the blinds closed," says Phillip Wenzel, whose mug shot was shared by Ngo on Aug. 15. "I can get over Twitter trolls, but what gives me the most pause is the 1% of them that have genuine threats."

Critics call Ngo's posts "doxxing," or posting personal information about people to make their lives unpleasant.

But what Ngo is doing is legal. The mug shots are public records. The arrests happened. And Ngo told WW that it is his "duty" to report on protesters who have been arrested, "given the risk that violence and riots present to the public."

Ngo wrote WW via email: "I believe my duty as a journalist includes informing the public about individuals who are believed by criminal authorities to be sufficiently dangerous to the public that they meet the standard for arrest."

Andy Ngo in 2017. (Thomas Teal)

Portland couple Erin and Phillip Wenzel started their evening Friday, Aug. 14, as they have more than 10 times before that.

They donned their protest outfits: full gas respirators, masks, bike helmets, and a bulletproof vest for Philip, who had been in the front of protests as part of the drum line. Erin, a medic toting a first aid kit, usually settled in a few rows behind the line of drummers.

That night, Phillip was arrested when the two of them were sandwiched between two lines of officers during a smoke-filled, chaotic confrontation captured on video that shows several protesters cowering under yellow shields as cops push them to the ground.

A video of Wenzel's interaction with police shows him shielding his face on the ground as a half-dozen cops tackle him. He was arrested, charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, interfering with police, and disorderly conduct, and released the next day.

The next morning, Ngo posted his mug shot on his Twitter account, writing that Wenzel was "arrested at the violent #antifa protest."

Ngo also posted a biography of Wenzel from the law firm where he works as a paralegal. In Twitter responses on the thread, users added threatening comments and more personal information about the Wenzels, including the names and ages of members of his extended family.

One comment read, "I'm writing a letter to his employer right now." Another wrote, "Divorce and custody court paralegal scumbag who isn't even smart enough to be an attorney. Lol."

The Wenzels quickly deactivated all their social media accounts: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.

The next day, Phillip Wenzel received a voicemail threat on his cellphone from somebody named John in Michigan, who said, "I'll have you know I'm 7 foot and 280 pounds."

The Wenzels alerted their employers. On Aug. 18, three days after Ngo posted the mug shot, Phillip Wenzel's boss at Elizabeth Christy Law Firm sent him a letter that the firm had received 50 threatening or harassing communications since his arrest.

"Because you have chosen to engage in activism that has resulted in violence, physical injuries, and negative publicity for [the law firm], there is now a major distraction from the business we are doing, a threat to my ability to gain new business, and a threat to our employees' safety," Christy wrote in an email provided to WW.

Three employees, after learning of the firm's response to Wenzel's arrest, announced their resignation in support of him on Sept. 10, in a letter shared with WW. The firm told Wenzel in a Sept. 11 letter that he would be laid off effective Sept. 16, citing a loss of work leading to a reduction in staff. Elizabeth Christy, managing attorney at the firm, told WW in an email that the layoff had nothing to do with Wenzel's protesting.

Both Wenzels say they now suffer from anxiety. Wenzel shaved his beard to change his appearance and now wears a hat when he walks his dog.

April Epperson, who works at a Northeast Portland public school, is another protester who was arrested for disorderly conduct and interfering with a peace officer on Aug. 24 and was greeted that same day by a Ngo tweet sharing her mug shot and Facebook profile picture with part of the caption reading, "Like others recently arrest[ed], she works with children at an elementary school." Several commenters on the subsequent Twitter thread shared the name of the school.

On Aug. 29, an email arrived in her school inbox: Attached were her Facebook profile photo and a picture of a toad in a dress with a caption reading, "So fucking badass with your face covered? We can't wait to come to your employer and do the exact same fucking thing you do to cops!"

Epperson alerted the school about the email. That weekend, the school canceled a laptop distribution event scheduled the following Monday, Aug. 31. A school text blast sent to families read, "We are pausing [device distribution] for tomorrow. We will resume as soon as possible and alert you when that is. As a reminder, school grounds, including the playground, are closed."

Although the school did not explain its decision, Epperson believes the laptop distribution was postponed because of threats. (Portland Public Schools didn't respond to WW's request for comment.) Still, the messages continued. "The school started getting a bunch of phone calls and emails," Epperson says. "People emailed [some staff members] my mug shot and told them I was arrested."

One email, sent  Sept. 1 from a secure email address using the name "Jennifer Hartless" and shared with WW, includes a screenshot of Ngo's tweet of Epperson's mug shot. The photo is captioned, "This type of behavior seems a little unbecoming for a school teacher. Are standards any higher than this?"

Tim Gleason, professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, says Ngo's posts of mug shots are dangerous because of his targeted audience.

"There's some legitimacy to a claim of informing the public. But we have a pattern with this individual that his interest is in provoking violent reactions and doxxing," says Gleason. "It's a particular subset of conservative Twitter, and he knows that's who he's talking to."

In his response to questions from WW, Ngo contends he is taking on violent criminals that other journalists are afraid to confront.

"If you feel that transparency and public right to know should be outweighed by arrestee rights to privacy, this is a complaint for the Legislature, not for journalists reporting in compliance with state and federal law," he said. "A better question would be, 'Why do some journalists feel compelled to hide the identities of suspected criminals from the public?' Another would be, 'Whose interests does the suppression of criminal arrest data serve?'"

Ragina Gray continues to attend protests, despite threatening messages she receives on Instagram and Twitter. She says she deletes them as soon as she gets them, but says "people are calling me a terrorist, calling me a n—–." And the messengers, she says, are "Mostly white men. All white men."

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