PORTLAND — The city of Portland, often in the spotlight for its liberal leanings, has been roiled by the revelation that a police lieutenant in charge of containing protests texted repeatedly with the leader of a far-right group involved in those demonstrations.
The mayor asked the police chief Friday to investigate “disturbing” texts between Lt. Jeff Niiya, who is the head of the Police Bureau’s rapid response team, and the leader of a Washington-based group called Patriot Prayer that has repeatedly crossed into Oregon to stage right-wing rallies and marches.
The events in Portland and other cities routinely draw crowds of self-described anti-fascists, who show up in force to try to shut down leader Joey Gibson and his followers.
Police have struggled to contain the violent clashes, and residents have grown used to events that shut down streets for hours and end in open brawls, fires and arrests.
The text messages, obtained by the Willamette Week newspaper through a public records request, show Niiya communicating with Gibson before, during and after those clashes.
In texts spread over months, Niiya at times details the movement of a rival anti-fascist protest group, warns Gibson by text that a friend of Gibson who is a member of a documented hate group could risk arrest by showing up in Oregon and congratulates Gibson on his decision to run for an open U.S. Senate seat in Washington state.
“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. I know it’s a pain in the ass for you guys, but I will do the best I can to work with you,” Gibson texted Niiya on Jan. 22, 2018.
After learning Gibson was a candidate, Niiya responded: “I won’t say anything. Thank you for trusting me and letting me know. I appreciate it.”
It’s not unusual for police to talk with those organizing protests in advance to work on planning, which makes it harder to say if these texts were out of line without hearing Niiya’s account, said Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups and extremist activity.
The texts did seem “odd for their chattiness,” she said, and warrant an investigation.