Hundreds of texts between Portland police and right-wing organizer Joey Gibson reveal the extent to which law enforcement officers talked to and even coordinated with right-wing activists in order to police protests in 2017 and 2018.
The texts, obtained by WW through a public records request, show that Portland Police Lt. Jeff Niiya had a friendly rapport with Gibson, frequently discussing Gibson's plans to demonstrate in Portland and even joking at times.
Gibson's events, occurring regularly in the Pacific Northwest since President Donald Trump's election, have alarmed and enraged Portlanders—even prompting the mayor to propose new rules restricting protests. That's because the rallies have attracted white supremacists and other extremists, and are often thinly veiled pretexts for Gibson's group, the Vancouver-Wash-based Patriot Prayer, to wage violent street fights with masked antifascists.
Niiya is the commanding officer for the Portland Police Bureau rapid response team that patrols protests. That makes him one of the primary officers collecting intelligence about protest groups in Portland.
Niiya and the Portland Police Bureau have good reason to collect intelligence from right-wing organizers. Yet some of Niiya's texts raise questions about whether Portland Police help Patriot Prayer supporters to evade arrest during events.
Several texts involve Gibson's longtime adjunct, Tusitala "Tiny" Toese, who often brawls with antifascist protesters, has allegedly assaulted people who were not protesting, and has been arrested multiple times in Portland.
On Dec. 8, 2017, Niiya asks Gibson if Toese had "his court stuff taken care of," referring to an active warrant for Toese's arrest. Niiya goes on to say officers ignored the warrant at a past protest and tells Gibson that he doesn't see a need to arrest Toese even if he has a warrant, unless Toese commits a new crime.
"Just make sure he doesn't do anything which may draw our attention," Niiya texted on Dec. 9. "If he still has the warrant in the system (I don't run you guys so I don't personally know) the officers could arrest him. I don't see a need to arrest on the warrant unless there is a reason."
A spokeswoman for the Police Bureau says it is not unusual for officers to suggest people turn themselves in to avoid being arrested on a warrant.
"It is not uncommon for officers to provide guidance for someone to turn themselves in on a warrant if the subject is not present," says Lt. Tina Jones. "In crowd management situations, it may not be safe or prudent to arrest a person right at that time, so the arrest may be delayed or followed up on later. There is no way of knowing how often this happens, as it is not something we track."
WW asked Gibson for comment on his relationship with Niiya and the texts. His response was brief: "Sweet," he texted.
The texts also show that Niiya at times told Gibson where leftist protests were taking place, including unrelated protests as well as antifascist marches with people in black bloc intent on protesting Patriot Prayer. At least once, Niiya told Gibson that Portland police were not monitoring a protest hosted by the Queer Liberation Front in an attempt to dissuade Gibson's right-wing group from showing up.
Portland police officers attempt to reach out to all groups the bureau knows plan to demonstrate in Portland.
Portland Police have taken criticism from left-leaning activists for appearing to favor right-wing protesters in the past. Drafts of an Independent Police Review analysis of police actions at a June 4, 2017 protest noted that at least one officer viewed the right-wing protesters affiliated with Gibson's Vancouver, Wash. group, Patriot Prayer, as "much more mainstream" than left-wing antifascist groups.
Gibson and Niiya discussed those Antifa activists in their written exchanges.
In one exchange, it appears that Niiya and Gibson were discussing reporting by The Oregonian. They both mention organizer Luis Enrique Marquez, who has been a target of the far-right activists and has been arrested several times in Portland at protests.
"Wow, when will others realize Luis is […] involved in so much," Niiya texted on Jan. 2, 2018, in response to Gibson complaining about the activist.
"I am going to screen shot our conversations and send it to Oregonian now," Gibson replies.
Niiya texts back: "Wonder if they will pick it up. They didn't even mention Luis in the story about June (Gia) and I even though he again was the one putting it out on FB."
"He's a bad dude," Gibson texts. "He threw Gia under the bus while at the same time claiming PPD is taking advantage of minorities. Every single problem we run into it goes back to him."
(June Davies, who has also gone by the names Gia and Tan, is a former antifascist protester and street medic who was run out of leftist organizing groups after their texts with Niiya became public. Both The Oregonian and WW covered the fallout from the leaked messages.)
Gibson also told Niiya over text that he was planning to run for U.S. Congress in January 2018, before he formally announced his campaign. He said he would intentionally "use" protesters in Portland and Seattle to promote his run for office. From the outset, Gibson doubted his chances to win the election.
"The hate against me will multiply because I am running for office, so when I come into Portland and Seattle the energy will be high," Gibson wrote. "I know it's a pain in the ass for you guys, but I will do the best I can to work with you."
Niiya responded: "Your [sic] running for office?!! Good for you. County level?"
"Running for US senate," Gibson said. "Will take a miracle for me to win but people are backing me so we will see what happens. I will be using Portland and Seattle protesters as a part of the campaign so it will impact you guys unfortunately, so I appologize [sic] now ahead of time."