Joey Gibson speaking at a Patriot Prayer rally.
Joey Gibson speaking at a Patriot Prayer rally. Lester Black

"We have a large group of antifa trying to flank us an you. We are stopping them for now... but not sure how long."

This is one of hundreds of text messages sent between Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Lt. Jeff Niiya and Joey Gibson, leader of Vancouver alt-right group Patriot Prayer over the past two years. Like many messages discovered in a records request made in August by the Portland Mercury, it reflects many of the public's suspicions that the Portland police have been sympathetic—if not protective—of the right-wing extremist group.

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It's not unusual for PPB officers to contact activists who may be planning a protest. But usually, these conversations exist only so PPB can quickly get in touch with a protest group to get an idea of how many people will show up to participate or to ask about general schedule. While Niiya does ask Gibson about crowd sizes and planned future protests, he also chose to regularly give Gibson a heads up about counter-protesters and sympathize with Gibson's frustrations.

"Heads up just told 4-5 black Bloch [another nickname for antifa] heading your way. One carrying a flag," writes Niiya during a protest on December 23 2017. "We will have officers nearby but you may want to think about moving soon if more come."

Another message Niiya sent to Gibson, before Patriot Prayer's August 4, 2018 march: "As you march we move to keep you both separated. No patriots going to them no Antifa to you. If they get close we will be in between."

The messages show how Niiya worked to build a relationship of trust with Gibson that goes beyond basic event planning. In one, Niiya congratulates Gibson on his decision to run for Senate, in another, he asks about Gibson's recent visit to a hospital.

"I want you to know you can trust me. Don't want to burn that," writes Niiya in a September 2017 message.

Later, Gibson apologized to Niiya for making a public announcement that "Portland police has our back."

"It slipped," Gibson wrote.

Niiya also warns Gibson against bringing Tusitala “Tiny” Toese to a Portland rally, since there was an active warrant for his arrest. In short, Niiya was actively helping Toese avoid arrest. This appears to contradict PPB's "Dissemination of Information" directive, that states:

"Members shall not provide information directly or indirectly that may enable any person to avoid arrest, punishment, or to conceal or dispose of goods, money, or other valuable things stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained."

Portland officials have directly and indirectly chastised Patriot Prayer for the group's ties to the Proud Boys, a national alt-right extremist group that has been recorded attacking members of the public based on their race, religion, or sexual orientation—among others. (Just last week, Portland City Council passed a declaration denouncing white supremacists and alt-right groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer.)

This means Niiya's text relationship with Gibson may clash with yet another PPB directive that prohibits officers from regularly corresponding with members of the public who are "actively involved in an organized effort advocating criminal behavior against any individual, group or organization on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation or mental or physical disability."

The recorded text conversations show an unprecedented level of access between a member of the public and a police officer. Gibson regularly texts Niiya asking him to investigate people based on comments made on Patriot Prayer's Facebook page, or on a video a member of Patriot Prayer took of a member of antifa.

The most recent exchange between the men reflect Gibson's growing frustrations with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who he accuses of lying about a cache of weapons PPB officers found during the Aug. 4 rally.

Niiya's response:

"I know you and others may not believe me but the Mayor really does support us and works well with us. Our work is complicated like I tried to say the other week. We are always trying to improve."