On Feb. 14 Portland Or. newspaper the Willamette Weekly reported it had recovered text messages between Police Lieutenant Jeff Niiya of the Portland Police Bureau and Joey Gibson, leader of the far-right and white supremacist aligned hate group, Patriot Prayer. The texts showed a warm relationship between the two men, with exchanges ranging from sharing logistical details about upcoming events to sharing jokes. Niiya also advised Gibson that a PP member with outstanding warrants for his arrest for brawling in the street would not be arrested as long as he “doesn’t do anything which may draw our attention.” These texts are not the first evidence of Portland Police’s willingness to cooperate with fascists and fascist-supporting groups. Internal police documents show that the bureau considers PP and other far right groups to be “much more mainstream” than anti-fascist counterprotesters.
PPB has long been suspected of having a close operational relationship with fascist and far-right groups in the Portland area. In August of 2018, actions by the PPB garnered national attention when they were accused of excessive force and appeared to be targeting counterprotesters at a rally held by PP and their white supremacist allies the Proud Boys.
PP demonstrations in the Pacific Northwest are invariably protected by a large and heavily armed police presence. Police behavior at these actions make it clear that their goal is to protect the fascists and to make sure that their demonstration goes on despite being outnumbered by counterprotesters. At these rallies, the police protect the fascist rally with weapons pointed outward towards the counterprotesters.
Since the texts have been made public, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has said the communications between Niiya and Gibson “appear to cross several boundaries.” He called for an internal investigation by the Portland Police Bureau, which has been initiated by Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw. Civil rights activists as well as Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty have made calls for an independent investigation in addition to the internal one by PPB. Hardesty also spoke to the continued history of Portland Police’s relationship to right wing extremist groups in a statement. “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. The time for indignation and feigned outrage is past, and the time for meaningful accountability is here.” (Willamette Weekly)
Niiya has since been removed from his position as the commanding officer of Portland Police Rapid Response team and has been ordered to cease all contact with PP and other rightwing groups. Despite the police department’s protests of innocence, further video has emerged of PPB officers actively negotiating with PP, warning that PP members would be arrested if they did not leave the protest. PPB also informed Gibson that antifascist protesters had been arrested already to “show that they had been policing both sides.” However, no PP members were arrested at that protest.
These events speak to the historically prevalent trend in the United States of police forces working hand-in-hand with the ultra-right. This is evident from the history of policing as an institution in this country, including their origins as slave catchers and union busters, the coordinated attacks on the Black liberation movement, and the continued over-policing of peaceful protests at Standing Rock and of the Black Lives Matter movement. The police do not exist to protect the people. The police exist to protect the interests of the ruling class and the capitalist system that keeps the majority of people marginalized and oppressed. To that end, they will continue to join forces with violent reactionary groups like PP who uphold the status quo through force and intimidation. Only by overturning the capitalist system can we hope to effectively and permanently end the threat posed to our communities by groups like PP and the police forces that enable and support them.