Jasper had brought them together. Nine days earlier, the 21-year-old grocery-store cook had posted on Facebook, claiming to be the victim of sexual and emotional abuse by a man named Hart Noecker.
Noecker, 34, is one of the most recognizable figures in Portland's activist community, a newsmaking leader in marches that jammed city streets to protest police violence and support progressive causes.
Noecker was not in the room, but he was in effect on trial, in absentia. When Jasper spoke, men stared at the floor and women brought their hands to their mouths. Jasper told of being beaten, choked and raped by Noecker two weeks earlier.
Most in the room had never seen anything like it: public allegations so personal, so violent.
Jasper had not yet gone to police but had detailed the allegations in Multnomah County Circuit Court, seeking a restraining order against Noecker. In the filing, Jasper described the alleged rape and a fear that Noecker posed a threat to Jasper's safety. Noecker has not been charged with a crime and is fighting the restraining order.
What happened next—and what has happened to Noecker since then—became an improvised sort of justice that was as swift as it was subjective. Jasper's allegations set loose a series of unexpected events that have roiled the radical groups that have become as much a part of Portland's identity as food carts, beards and bicycles.
The drama played out on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr for anyone with an Internet connection to see. Noecker's onetime allies have publicly denounced him and erased him from their movements. He has been, in the words organizers use at meetings and on Facebook, "purged" from activist circles. Noecker had used the Internet as a weapon in his activism. Now he found it turned against him.
WW asked Noecker to comment for this story. Through his attorney, Noecker tells WW he is innocent.
"He denies wrongdoing," says lawyer Jay Bodzin of Portland firm Bodzin Donnelly Mockrin & Slavin. He says Noecker—given the allegations that circulated on the Internet—has been advised not to speak out. "Someone accused of criminal conduct can't get into details in a public forum, no matter how much they may want to," Bodzin says.
At the heart of these activist movements is not only the desire to rebel against authority, but a belief that society can be just. Portland's activists protest on behalf of the powerless, women, black men and sexual minorities.
Their idealism is sometimes messy and perhaps even naive, but their refusal to accept injustices silently speaks to a quality that sets this city apart from many others.
They also distrust police and the courts. How they dealt with Noecker has become an improvised justice system of their own making, one that condemned him without getting his side of events.
Portland's protest community is grappling with an awful realization of hypocrisy: A leader may have committed exactly the kind of behavior they protest against, and others might have quietly tolerated it.
"We're reeling," says Janice Leber, a 40-year veteran of protest movements who has known Noecker for years. "We're still trying to work out how in the world to prevent this type of behavior in the future without squelching every bit of spontaneity and joy out of local activism."
In the summer of 2012, about 20 cyclists set off from the east end of the Steel Bridge on a 6-mile evening ride through Portland. Along the way, the cyclists, members of an activist group called PDX Bike Swarm, handed out fliers and stickers, stopping at surprise locales chosen by the ride's leader, Hart Noecker.
PDX Bike Swarm had grown from the Occupy Portland camps that took over two Portland parks 10 months earlier. The group, loosely organized on Facebook, attracted people who believed polluting, city-clogging cars could be defeated one person at a time.
Leber recalls the trip ended around sunset at tiny Piccolo Park near Southeast Clinton Street. Noecker told the riders this green space would have been destroyed by the proposed Mount Hood Freeway had neighborhood leaders not stopped the project in the 1970s.
"He gave a little speech about how people power stopped the highway project," Leber tells WW. "It was a pretty wonderful evening."
Few people on the ride knew Noecker well. He'd appeared around activist groups only months before. No one was sure where he'd come from.
Yet Noecker seemed a natural fit. Five-foot-8 and wiry, he showed up with a bicycle messenger's cap and a camera—a perfect way to document the spontaneous gatherings. He was proud of the body he'd honed from riding: He wore cutoffs to show off his chiseled legs.
"He had lots of energy," says Nicholas Caleb, an original member of the PDX Bike Swarm. "We didn't share a lot of personal details. He didn't offer, and I never asked."
Noecker was raised near Lansing, Mich., and went to school in nearby St. Johns. His father was a schoolteacher, and Hart showed artistic talents at an early age.
"He would draw stories first, then write them out," recalls his mother, Jane Schneider. "Most people would do it the other way around."
After graduating from high school in 1998, Noecker attended a few community college classes. He worked as a restaurant cook but dreamed of becoming a filmmaker.
In 2005, he drove a used Honda to Portland to attend the Northwest Film Center's School of Film—a four-year program that would let him shoot movies on 35 mm celluloid. He released two short films. One was a video diary of his travels to mountains and deserts. The other, titled NYX, was a drama about a young woman who moonlights as a prostitute until she's blackmailed.
In Michigan, Noecker had shown little interest in activism. But his mother saw a change when Noecker told her he'd gotten rid of his Honda.
"He donated it to charity and rode a bike," Schneider says. She says Noecker now uses only bicycle and public transit—both for convenience and out of the principle of helping the environment. "When I visit him in Portland, I don't ride a car out there," she says, "I rent a bike."
Noecker had arrived at a quintessentially Portland intersection, where bicycles and social-justice campaigns meet. He plunged into bicycle culture, joining events like Pedalpalooza.
Groups such as PDX Bike Swarm rejected the notion of formal leaders, but Noecker emerged as a prominent player. He posted regularly on two blogs—Rebel Metropolis and Mismanaging Perception—where he raged against highway projects and water fluoridation. He wrote for more mainstream sites, like BikePortland and BlueOregon, taking strong stances against the Columbia River Crossing and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.
"He positioned himself as an important and vital part of the community," says an activist who dated Noecker last year and who asked WW to identify her only by her first and middle names, Katherine Rose. "Fantastic use of language. Massive amounts of photographs. I thought Hart was a doer, as opposed to people who talked the talk. He documented himself walking the walk."
Soon, Noecker surfaced as one of the city's highest-profile provocateurs on a range of issues. In March 2013, the establishment Oregon League of Conservation Voters held a forum to boost support for a state carbon tax, attended by then-Rep. Jules Bailey (D-Portland). Ironically, Bailey had been a backer of the Columbia River Crossing's massive freeway expansion, a project many activists believed only encouraged more driving and that the OLCV had not fought hard enough to stop.
Noecker interrupted the event, approaching the panel and handing Bailey a prank certificate called the "Cars Rejuvenating Carbon" award. The framed award cited Bailey for "courageously increasing the carbon and car capacity of the Columbia River Crossing freeway expansion mega-project." Noecker read it aloud, and asked the audience to join him in mock applause.
But other activists saw warning signs. As early as 2013, women posted on Web comment threads that Noecker allegedly was a "manarchist"—a man who takes part in activist movements but doesn't take seriously the views of women. Members of PDX Bike Swarm sent him packing—for a while.
"He was pushed out of the group after about six months of involvement for manipulative behavior and disrespecting individuals," says organizer Nathan Jones. "Then he came back."
"Three members of Bike Swarm told me they felt I was no longer welcome for personal reasons," Noecker said in an email in response to WW's questions. "This was not a group decision. In 2014 after becoming dormant, Bike Swarm held a meeting and decided it wanted to continue with my involvement. I chose to again be a part of this group."
Noecker made a point of outing people he believed might be undercover police trying to spy on protest movements. In October 2013, Noecker supported the public shaming and shunning of a local activist named Vahid Brown, a 36-year-old protester who that summer had joined protests against fossil-fuel exports.
Activists learned that Brown—a respected author on radical jihadi movements—had once taught counterterrorism courses to FBI agents at the Combating Terrorism Center in West Point, N.Y. Based on that information alone, an anonymous blogger accused Brown of being an FBI mole ("Whack-a-Mole," WW, Oct. 23, 2013).
Brown denied being a snitch. Noecker told WW he did not write the anonymous post outing Brown, but he defended it. "There's too much of a risk to have someone around who not only worked for the FBI but trained them," he said.
Brown says people emailed him in the week after the allegations, telling him Noecker was posting a flier detailing Brown's FBI links. "Hart was active in trying to get the word out," Brown tells WW now. "But I don't know what role he had in making that flier. No one's ever claimed responsibility for it."
Noecker played a public role in Portland protests over the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer, Darren Wilson.
In November, Noecker was the first activist to find and display screenshots of three Portland Police Bureau officers changing their Facebook profile pictures to a PPB badge wrapped in a bracelet reading "I am Darren Wilson." Noecker's reporting of the Facebook pages—which the news media picked up—led then-Police Chief Mike Reese to call the images "inflammatory" and order an internal investigation.
A week later, police arrested Noecker and nine other protesters during a Nov. 30 march through downtown streets. Police charged him with disorderly conduct. They later dropped the charge.
"They ran after people and were hitting people with their batons," Noecker told KGW-TV. "I was hit seven or eight times on the back myself, and I was on the sidewalk at that time."
Activists claimed that—because Noecker had become such a prominent critic of cops—police had targeted him.
On Dec. 9, Mayor Charlie Hales agreed to talk with leaders of the Don't Shoot Portland protests. Dozens of activists showed up, including Noecker and Byrd Jasper, a Zupan's Markets cook and caterer who had joined the demonstrations in August.
(WW does not disclose the names of victims of sexual violence. Jasper agreed to allow WW to print the name Jasper uses publicly; it's not Jasper's legal name. Born a woman, Jasper also asked WW not to use gender pronouns, because Jasper does not identify as male or female.)
Jasper, who graduated from Cleveland High School, attended a protest for the first time at age 14. At 18, Jasper got caught shoplifting clothes from Macy's, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft and had the charge dismissed after doing community service. Jasper took classes at Portland Community College and is now pursuing a cosmetology degree from Aveda Institute Portland.
Jasper had seen Noecker at previous protests, and was drawn to him.
"He spoke to me like there was so much about activism I could learn from him," Jasper says.
A day after meeting at City Hall, Jasper and Noecker met at downtown's Yamhill Pub, and Noecker invited Jasper to his apartment. They spent two nights there, watching documentaries about dam removal and graffiti, and having sex.
"I felt very comfortable," Jasper says. "He spoke a language I was very familiar with. His résumé was great."
Jasper says they agreed to some elements of dominant/submissive sexual play. But on Dec. 20, Jasper says, Noecker forced Jasper to have anal sex. Still, Jasper stayed in the relationship.
"I really believed him to be a good guy who didn't realize he was enacting violence," Jasper says. "I thought if I were to tell anyone what had happened to me, I would be the odd man out."
On Dec. 27, Jasper says, Noecker choked Jasper during sex and talked about having anal sex again. "I was face-down," Jasper alleges to WW, "being choked, and afraid."
Jasper didn't go to police, but would later describe the allegations in a petition for a restraining order against Noecker.
"He anally raped me, threatened to do it again, told me he could shove a rag down my throat and duct tape it there faster than I would be able to scream," Jasper wrote in the restraining order petition. "[He] threatened to beat me until I couldn't sit, continued to call and text me after I left his house [and] physically threatened me if I did choose to leave his house."
Noecker denies Jasper's allegations. WW repeatedly asked Noecker for comment on this story, and provided him a list of allegations. He responded primarily through his attorney.
"This is not intended as any sort of rape apologism," his attorney, Jay Bodzin, tells WW. "Sexual violence is abhorrent. He contends the allegation is false."
After that final night with Jasper, Noecker the next day helped organize "Cop-Free Christmas," a police-violence protest at the Peacock Lane holiday-light display in Southeast Portland. A YouTube video shows demonstrators—mostly white—singing parody carols, including one with the lyrics, "Deck the halls with rows of dead cops."
Angered by the stunt, Don't Shoot Portland organizers, most of whom are African-American, distanced themselves from Noecker.
But Noecker's downfall didn't really start until the next afternoon, when Jasper took a smoke break while working at Zupan's to post a Facebook update.
"This is going to be a call out," Jasper wrote Dec. 28, using the activist term for seeking to hold someone accountable.
"I have gone over the past three weeks in my head so many times trying to make sense of what happened but I know it wasn't safe[,] sane or consensual." Jasper named Noecker but wasn't specific in the allegations about his actions. "On several occasions he got me wasted and either did things I had said a hard 'no' to or told me of his intentions to do them in the future."
Four days later, Jasper repeated the charges on Tumblr, this time describing Noecker's alleged behavior as "rape, abuse, manipulation, coercion and threats."
Jasper sought the restraining order Dec. 30 but didn't pursue criminal charges. Jasper says going to the police conflicted with "my anarchist values" and says sending Noecker to jail was never Jasper's goal.
"My intention here is not to make him miserable," Jasper tells WW. "My intention is to bring to light what he's done so he can get help and be a better person."
Jasper's decision not to go to the police with the allegations set off what can be described as an improvised pursuit of justice.
Within hours, Jasper's Facebook post was shared on a PDX Bike Swarm page, and at least three women wrote about their uncomfortable experiences with him.
Some of the women agreed to meet, and they held something of a trial of Noecker at the Musicians Local 99 Union Hall on Jan. 6.
PDX Bike Swarm leaders invited anyone who had information about Noecker to attend. Jasper and eight women who had stories to tell faced each other in a small circle called the "survivors' fishbowl."
In front of 50 people gathered that night, six women told of sexual encounters with Noecker they acknowledged were consensual but talked about Noecker's alleged emotional abuse and pushy behavior regarding sex. Only Jasper described what, if true, would amount to sexual assault.
"As each person's testimony became known, the pattern became obvious and familiar," Leber, who was there that night, tells WW. "These people who did not know each other could finish each other's sentences. They pulled something really ugly out into the light and forced us all to look at it unflinchingly. It was pretty brutal, and we took our medicine."
PDX Bike Swarm members stayed late and decided that banning Noecker was necessary to make the group safe for women.
Noecker soon found himself the target of a public shaming not unlike those he had encouraged against others.
"Warn people near him, anyone you see associating with him either in person or online," Nathan Jones wrote on the PDX Bike Swarm Facebook page Jan. 7 announcing Noecker had been shunned. "Everyone needs to tell everyone that he has been purged, reinforce what has been done and why."
At a Jan. 10 meeting, leaders of Don't Shoot Portland also announced Noecker was "purged from Portland activist communities," according to a tweet. (Web update, Jan. 21: The author of the tweet, Crystal Contreras, has asked to be credited, and says the announcement at the police accountability meeting came from activists in the audience.)
next day, the Portland Right to the City Coalition—a group organizing a
slate of left-wing candidates to run for City Hall in 2016—met and
decided Noecker was barred there, too.
Some people wanted to go further.
On Jan. 12, PDX Bike Swarm organizer Tori Cole linked to Facebook two fliers that warned Noecker was a "sexual predator." The fliers used Noecker's mug shot from his arrest at the November police protest.
Cole asked the people making the fliers to stop.
"Absolutely continue to call Hart out, but this meme has the potential to mislead given the use of an unrelated mugshot," Cole wrote. "The truth is powerful enough without any hyperbole."
Today, members of PDX Bike Swarm say they are proud of how they dealt with Noecker, and do not regret acting outside the legal system. But many wonder why they didn't act sooner when women complained about Noecker making them uncomfortable.
"Even though I understand I didn't do anything wrong, it's hard not to feel guilt that I helped that happen in any way," Leber says. "My question remains, why did so many dudes tolerate his behavior toward women?"
Caleb—who took part in the expulsion of Noecker—says he's spoken to Noecker and says he hasn't reached any conclusions about what to believe.
"Bike Swarm and Right to the City are not courts of law," Caleb says. "We have different tools at our disposal. Creating a safe space is our primary agenda."
Katherine Rose, who accused Noecker online of inappropriate behavior, says she doesn't feel sorry for him.
"My mom's horrified," Katherine Rose says. "She's like, 'You're going to get sued for libel.' But he has a lot of people he's going to have to sue for libel. And it's more every day."
On Jan. 16, Jasper says, the attorney representing Jasper called Portland police and alleged that Noecker raped his client Dec. 20. Jasper was scheduled to meet with a domestic violence detective Jan 20.
Noecker continues to deny he assaulted Jasper, and is fighting the restraining order against him requested by Jasper. "Mr. Noecker disputes the allegations against him," says Bodzin, his attorney, "and will be contesting the restraining order."
Jasper has told the court the order is necessary because, as Jasper wrote, "I have outed him as a rapist, and he is being exiled from our social circles and he is very angry with me and our friends right now."
On Jan. 15, activists from at least six groups gathered for another meeting, this time in the basement of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Southeast Portland, to talk about what to do next.
The activist groups shouldered blame for not speaking out sooner against Noecker.
One young man in a stocking cap said activists should look inside themselves and evaluate their own worst impulses.
âYou need to be killing the Hart in your head,â he concluded. âNot killing. Killing is too far. Smashing the Hart in your head.â
WW interns Gabriella Dunn and Anna Walters contributed to the reporting of this story.