DOES OCCUPY PORTLAND have a police infiltration problem?
In light of the Mercury's revelation last week that at least one occupier has been forwarding internal memos to the cops—and amid continued concern over how keenly the cops are stalking Twitter and Occupy's nightly governing meetings—occupiers are increasingly watching what they say in public, and to whom.
The shift points to a growing tension for Occupy Portland as it negotiates its new existence, post-eviction: Can the movement's stated preference for transparency—open governing meetings, publicly posted notes—coexist with the realities of planning marches and other acts of civil disobedience without drawing the cops' attention?
"There are individuals who like to talk to the cops... it's a very real issue," says Alaina Melville, a former city and police liaison for Occupy. "There's a lot of power in transparency—but there are certain things it's difficult to be fully transparent about."
That tension was put to the test on Monday, November 28 during an important vote on whether to officially "reoccupy" a new public space this coming Saturday, December 3. Organizers beseeching the crowd for its approval did something controversial: They held back several key details from the occupiers—including the new camp's purported location.
"How am I supposed to vote if I don't know where it is?" said one occupier, giving voice to a common concern at the meeting.
Mike, the organizer speaking for the proposal, offered this response: "An amazing amount of consideration has gone into the new location. Please believe and trust in those involved."
It was persuasive. The plan passed unanimously.
"They are watching us," Mike, the occupier pitching the reoccupy proposal told the Mercury afterward.
More and more, Occupy is turning to "autonomous" groups to plan its most ambitious actions, bypassing the movement's governing process by allowing members to craft details in relative secret and then seek approval either on the eve of an event, or retroactively, after it's in place. One such group planned the brief occupation of the PSU Park Blocks.
Police, for their part, freely admit they're keeping their eyes open. The cops have sent officers down to take notes at the movement's nightly meetings. They used to hold regular meetings with Occupy liaisons. And cops also pan for gold in what's been a never-ending flood of Occupy-related social media updates.
But sometimes, as the Mercury first reported last week ["Occupation Revived," Feature, Nov 24], the cops have even received some help from inside Occupy Portland. Emails obtained recently from Mayor Sam Adams' office show at least one occupier has repeatedly forwarded internal Occupy emails to top-ranking Portland police officials and also tried to meet with them.
The occupier, Viani Rivier, was a member of the group's former finance committee—and was associated with the occupiers who wound up briefly seizing control of the occupyportland.org domain name and financial accounts back in October. Some of those occupiers later formed a rival group that's also been friendly with police, the "Real Occupy Portland."
Hours before a November 15 press conference where Occupy liaisons would announce an end to their work with the city, Rivier had sent a not-for-release copy of their statement to police spokesman Lieutenant Robert King. She also sent internal discussions about the scheduling of marches, as well as information about a new website, unsettleportland.org, that hadn't yet been made public.
"I am sure you all are aware of the potential for a violent uprising, so I thought I'd forward this email along for the benefit of the agency and the community at large," she wrote to King and Captain Sara Westbrook in an email attached to a benign discussion about moderating Occupy chat forums.
Rivier did not return a message seeking comment. King acknowledged meeting with Rivier before the camps opened and then once more in October after the camps were in place. But he said there'd been no "formal meetings" since.
"There are a lot of cops who had people sending in information," says King. "I don't know the motive."
Meanwhile, some occupiers also worry that police are sending in undercover officers. In at least one other occupation city, Oakland, officers who'd been casually hanging out with protesters in plainclothes were later outed when video emerged of those same cops on patrol, in uniform.
Attorney Jason Kafoury, representing peace activist Joe Walsh in an ongoing case against the Portland police, said our police bureau, using its criminal intelligence unit, has admitted in court to sending undercover cops to protests.
"Why is the criminal intelligence unit going undercover at peaceful protests?" he asked. "What criminal activity are they investigating? It doesn't lead to a feeling that citizens really know what's going on behind the scenes."
The Mercury asked police spokesman Sergeant Pete Simpson last week if the bureau was sending in plainclothes cops. His reply? Because so much of what Occupy does is out in the open, "there was no need." That, however, appears to be changing.