Text exchanges revealed last week between the Portland police lieutenant in charge of protests and far-right Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson set off a chain reaction of political clashes in Portland.
The fallout has pitted police unions in open hostility against city leaders.
Within hours of reports in WW and the Portland Mercury, Mayor Ted Wheeler deemed the texts "disturbing" and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty called for an independent investigation of bias in how the police bureau approaches protesters. Commissioner Chloe Eudaly echoed Hardesty.
The police unions have fired back.
Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner issued a press release today, in which he demands Eudaly apologize to police and implies that he, at least, considers leftist protesters who damage property a bigger concern than far-right brawlers who send people to the hospital.
Turner reacted to a tweet Eudaly wrote on Feb. 19, that was itself reacting to complaints filed by the city's other police union, which represents commanding officers.
The Portland Police Commanding Officers Association had alleged Wheeler, Hardesty and Eudaly's comments expressing concern over the texts were discriminatory and retaliatory. That union alleged Wheeler had failed to understand "even basic police work" in his two years in office.
"Does "basic police work" include ignoring racist and right wing extremist thugs while they intimidate, harass, and menace people and arresting left wing activists for no reason?," Eudaly tweeted. "Just curious."
Turner's response reveals that he considers leftist protesters, who sometimes cause property damage, to be a bigger problem.
"Does she mean the activists who destroy the property of others?," Turner wrote. "Those who set fires and vandalized downtown Portland? Is she speaking of the activists who block transit, bridges, freeway access, and sidewalks restricting access for people who are trying to get safely to work, to appointments, or home? What about those who throw bricks, rocks, bottles, feces, and urine at police officers endangering not only our officers but also peaceful protesters who are exercising their right to free speech? Or maybe the protesters who hide behind masks so they cannot be identified for their criminal activities?"
Blocking traffic has been a common non-violent protest tactic of some left-wing groups. A small number of masked protesters, often embedded in a larger group of peaceful demonstrators, have thrown projectiles at both right-wing protesters and police.
It's unclear whether Turner includes right-wing groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys in his description of "peaceful protesters who are exercising their right to free speech." Patriot Prayer rallies have repeatedly degenerated into brawls with antifascists. The most prolific brawler, Tusitala "Tiny" Toese, has mostly avoided prosecution even after confessing to police and being caught multiple times beating people on video.
Turner ends by scolding the city commissioner.
"As an elected official, Ms. Eudaly would be wise to separate her biases against police from the truth, facts, and evidence," Turner said.
Eudaly declined to comment on Turner's remarks.
The other police union, the PPCOA, has mounted a defense by alleging that Wheeler knew about the texts Niiya had been sending and was either being willfully ignorant or lying in his statements expressing shock at the content of those texts.
Texts released to WW and first reported by the Oregonian, however, suggest Wheeler's staff received only vague and basic information about Patriot Prayer from Niiya.
The mayor's spokeswoman tells WW that Wheeler only learned about the extent of Niiya's communications with Gibson by reading WW.
"These [texts] show that our office didn't really know the extent of these text messages between Gibson and Niiya," says Sophia June, a spokeswoman for Wheeler's office. "Berk [Nelson] knew that they did text as a part of intelligence gathering, the same way he knew Niiya texts leftist groups as well. But he did not know the content or how far that went. He learned about that specifically in your story."
It's clear Wheeler's office knew Niiya communicated with the group's leader, Gibson, but Niiya did not divulge significant information, beyond telling the mayor's staff when he expected Gibson's group to show up at an event and sharing an apparent threat against the mayor.