On Jan. 14, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler revealed that a meme associated with the far right had been included in a PowerPoint presentation used to train the Portland Police Bureau’s riot squad, the Rapid Response Team.
The meme’s black-and-white photo depicts an anonymous figure in military gear poised with gloved fist to strike a “dirty hippy”—a white, dreadlocked, wannabe Marxist who reeks of sweat and Patchouli oil, according to the image’s text. The mock-biblical verse promises to “christen your heads with hickory” and “anoint your faces with pepper spray” before concluding with an “Amen.”
It’s not clear when or where the meme originated. In 2017, a web account claiming to belong to far-right brawler Based Stickman, whose real name is Kyle Chapman, posted the image to the website knowyourmeme.com, alongside the title “Prayer of the Alt Knight.”
The meme proliferated online from roughly 2017 to 2019, Google search results show. It was within that time window, in about 2018, that the PowerPoint presentation was created, says Wheeler, although he cautions that the city doesn’t know for certain.
The city says the presentation was part of a training session for RRT members. A court deposition reviewed by WW indicates the training was likely conducted by four agencies, including the Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
Now, the piece of lowbrow internet fodder has become the latest lightning rod for perceptions among the public, City Hall and, perhaps, the courts about the RRT’s treatment of protesters in recent years. (The riot squad itself is now defunct after voting to disband in June.)
“The extremist imagery and vitriol portrayed by the Portland Police Bureau Rapid Response Team’s training presentation is reprehensible,” said City Commissioner Dan Ryan last week.
The U.S. Department of Justice also weighed in. On Tuesday, it addressed a scathing letter to the City Attorney’s Office and Police Chief Chuck Lovell that accused the city of giving the DOJ a heads-up about the presentation slides less than 24 hours before releasing the PowerPoint to the press.
“Some PPB and city employees knew or should have known about these materials for years,” wrote DOJ attorneys Jonas Geissler and Jared D. Hager. “The city should have reported these RRT training materials when they were developed, as required by [the 2014 settlement] agreement.…The existence of these RRT training materials might have materially impacted our assessments of the city’s compliance with the agreement.”
Wheeler and Lovell said they learned of the image’s existence about four months ago, in September, during the discovery process in an ongoing federal lawsuit between the city and the Black-led organization Don’t Shoot Portland. The group sued the city in June 2020, days after the murder of George Floyd spurred Black Lives Matter protests nationwide, including in Portland.
The lawsuit alleges that Police Bureau officers—specifically those on the RRT—used excessive force against protesters via tear gas and projectiles in an effort to stifle free speech.
Until last week, many of the documents dredged up during discovery in the lawsuit had been filed under seal. Then the protective order was lifted for some of the records, including sworn depositions of police officers, as well as the RRT PowerPoint presentation, says Juan Chavez, one of the attorneys representing Don’t Shoot Portland. He adds that the city provided the discovery documents in mid-September.
“We were pretty shocked at what we saw,” Chavez says. He and his colleagues had intended to include some of the materials in a Jan. 14 motion seeking to designate the lawsuit as a class action.
“The legal question is, in fact, a class question,” Chavez says. “Is there a pattern and practice of violating civil rights in the city of Portland?”
Here’s a timeline to help explain why a meme that peaked in popularity roughly five years ago has sparked an internal affairs investigation within the Police Bureau, swift condemnation from officials, and headlines in local and national news outlets.
Nov. 9, 2011: One of the earliest known references to the meme was posted on a now-archived forum on the website officer.com. The original poster, a Connecticut lawyer, wrote in the forum that it was intended “for those dealing with occupy movements and so forth.”
2017: An account that purports to be that of Based Stickman posts the “dirty hippy” meme online, dubbing it “Prayer of the Alt Knight.” Stickman is the alter ego of Kyle Chapman, a California man who briefly attained national fame for battling anti-fascists while wearing a gas mask and wielding a large stick. (In May 2017, he visited Portland for a “free speech rally” shortly after Jeremy Christian murdered two men who interrupted his racist rant on a MAX train.) It’s not clear whether the meme was posted at this time by Chapman or one of his acolytes.
Approximately 2018: The PowerPoint presentation is created for training of the Police Bureau’s Rapid Response Team. The meme appears in the last of 110 slides in the presentation. Chavez says the city’s estimated date is based on the PowerPoint file format.
The attorneys for Don’t Shoot Portland recently deposed Franz Schoening, the RRT commander during the summer 2020 protests. In excerpts of that deposition, reviewed by WW, Schoening said the training for RRT and the Mobile Response Team is typically provided jointly by instructors from four agencies: the Portland Police Bureau, Oregon State Police, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and the Salem Police Department.
Schoening added that the training is usually held at Camp Rilea in Warrenton and that the presentation “appears to be part of the material provided at the state basic RRT MRT course.”
June 27, 2018: A draft report obtained by WW shows Portland police viewed far-right protesters as less of a threat than leftist ones. “One lieutenant felt the right-wing protesters were ‘much more mainstream’ than the left-wing protesters, with a group that was diverse in their viewpoints and tactics,” the report says. The following year, text messages obtained by WW reveal close communications between a PPB sergeant and a right-wing protest organizer.
May 25, 2020: Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murders George Floyd.
June 2020: Black Lives Matter protests grow nationwide, including Portland. The RRT is deployed to police protests and riots near downtown courthouses.
June 5, 2020: Black-led Portland group Don’t Shoot PDX files a federal lawsuit against the city accusing Portland police officers of using excessive force against Black Lives Matter protesters and effectively stifling free speech. Four days later, U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez grants a temporary restraining order that restricts the Police Bureau from using tear gas except in situations “in which the lives or safety of the public or the police are at risk.”
July 6, 2020: Hernandez signs a protective order to place many documents in the federal lawsuit under seal.
March 16, 2021: After finding Portland police in contempt for violating the TRO, Hernandez orders five sanctions against the city, including removing Officer Brent Taylor from crowd management duties pending investigations by the Police Bureau’s internal affairs unit or the city’s Independent Police Review.
June 17, 2021: The Rapid Response Team announces its voluntary dissolution following the indictment of RRT member Corey Budworth, who faces one charge of assault for striking a photojournalist.
July 12, 2021: The Office of the Compliance Officer and Community Liaison, which oversees the city’s adherence to the 2012 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, issues a report that describes a “dismissive” attitude of RRT members during a training that Judge Hernandez had sanctioned in March: “We observed this training and found it to be overall disappointing.…RRT members did not seem to take the training seriously (e.g., none of the attendees turned on their video cameras and one freely admitted to ‘multitasking’)…the instructor failed to clarify the difference between physical resistance and active aggression.”
July 14, 2021: Judge Hernandez allows “limited discovery” in the case, meaning the city must hand over relevant documents to the plaintiff and submit to depositions.
Aug. 22, 2021: Portland police stay away as Proud Boys take over a Northeast Portland neighborhood during a demonstration. Brawls between Proud Boys and anti-fascist counterprotesters ensue. Toese headlines the event.
September 2021: The city discovers the “dirty hippy” slide while compiling documents pursuant to Judge Hernandez’s order for discovery. Don’t Shoot Portland attorneys begin deposing Police Bureau employees. The city provides the discovery documents to Don’t Shoot Portland’s attorneys.
Jan. 14, 2022: The filing deadline for Don’t Shoot Portland to submit its motion for certification of a class of people affected by police actions. On that day, Wheeler’s office releases the PowerPoint presentation to the media, along with statements by him and Chief Lovell condemning the final slide and announcing they had initiated an internal affairs investigation into the matter.
End of January: The city is expected to release a report detailing an outside contractor’s review of possible political and racial bias within the Portland Police Bureau. The review was commissioned after City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was falsely implicated in a March 3 hit-and-run when at least three Portland police officers, including then-Portland Police Association president Brian Hunzeker, leaked dispatch records to colleagues or the media.