The regular and friendly cooperation between the Portland Police Bureau and Patriot Prayer, a far-right group which has taken part in a year-and-half long confrontation with counter-protesters in the city, has been described as “collusion” by one city councilwoman.
Hundreds of text messages — first reported Thursday by Willamette Week after a public records request — show communication between Patriot Prayer’s leader Joey Gibson and Lt. Jeff Niiya, who heads the police bureau’s Rapid Response Team, a specialized riot control unit.
“I am not shocked, and I am not surprised at today’s reporting of Lt. Jeff Niiya’s collaboration with Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson,” Councilwoman Jo Ann Hardesty said in a statement on Thursday “This story, like many that have come before it, simply confirms what many in the community have already known – there are members of the Portland police force who work in collusion with right-wing extremists.”
In the released communications Niiya and Gibson regularly discussed the timing and location of counter-protests. One text appears to give Gibson a heads up about Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, one of Gibson’s lieutenants who has regularly advocated violence against political opponents.
“Just make sure he doesn’t do anything which may draw our attention,” Niiya said to Gibson on December 9. “If he still has the warrant in the system… the officers could arrest him. I don’t see a need to arrest on the warrant unless there is a reason.”
City officials were outraged by the revelations, especially bearing in mind how finely Patriot Prayer has towed the line between “peaceful” protests and violence. In August 2018, for instance, police officers discovered “individuals [affiliated with the group Patriot Prayer] who positioned themselves on a rooftop parking structure with a cache of firearms.” However, no one outside the police department, not even the mayor, was informed of the incident until October that year.
In a statement Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the messages were “disturbing” and vowed to further investigate. “In my opinion, these text messages appear to cross several boundaries,” Wheeler said. “They also raise questions about whether warrants are being enforced consistently and what information is being shared with individuals who may be subject to arrest.”
The Portland Police Bureau announced on Thursday night that it was conducting an internal investigation into the exchange.
The revelations come at a fraught time for Patriot Prayer, as interfactional squabbling among Patriot Prayer and their allies have caused their far-right rallies to lose steam. Last week “Tiny” Toese announced that he was quitting Patriot Prayer, and said he was now completely aligned with the Proud Boys, a far-right gang which has gained national notoriety and which has regularly backed Patriot Prayer up in their battles against counter-protesters.
“I said what I had to say and I did what I had to do. Me and my brothers are moving forward and we’re gonna be out there still,” Toese said in a follow-up Facebook video on Friday. “Sometimes when you want build a strong house you have to tear the old one down, the damaged one down, and then rebuild the foundation all the way up.”
The fracturing of a far-right group due to internal schisms, as opposed to outside pressure, is hardly surprising.
Perhaps the best example is that of Matthew Heimbach, who ThinkProgress previously described as the “Most Important White Supremacist of 2016”. In March last year his far-right aspirations collapsed after he was discovered by his father-in-law (who was a key advisor in creating Heimbach’s far-right Traditionalist Workers Party) having an affair with his mother-in-law. Heimbach then tried to move to the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, which he was then expelled from in December.