A city employee with a history of intimidating people of color in Portland is under investigation by the city and police bureau for joining fellow right-wing agitators in harassing City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty on Saturday.
Gregory Isaacson, a Portland Parks and Recreation employee, was in Chapman Square Saturday afternoon for a small rally organized by Portland's Liberation—a spin-off of Vancouver, Washington's alt-right protest group Patriot Prayer. The organization is mostly made up of ardent Trump supporters who spend time filming confrontations with elected officials and anti-fascist activists to spark debate (and gain followers) on social media. Several men who had joined Patriot Prayer in instigating a street brawl on May 1, 2019 outside of Cider Riot were in attendance on Saturday.
According to a flurry of videos taken that afternoon, the dozen or so rally-goers said they were there to protest "attacks on independent journalists"—a title they give to anyone publishing videos online. Several people unaffiliated with the group—including the mother of slain anti-fascist activist Sean Kealiher—attended the rally to counter the group's right-wing messaging. Unlike the majority of the attendees, Isaacson was not filming or recording the day's gathering. He arrived riding a bike and dressed in his usual protest getup: a purple blazer and matching hat.
It's not an unusual environment for Isaacson. The city employee is a regular at Patriot Prayer protests and anti-fascist counter-protests, and has been linked to creating stickers and signs that espouse anti-immigrant and nationalist ideals. In April, the Mercury obtained public records from the City of Portland's human resources department documenting complaints made by Isaacson's coworkers of color about feeling uncomfortable around him. Earlier this month, Isaacson resigned as commander of an American Legion post in Northeast Portland, after his brief leadership stint caused an outcry by local veterans and community members.
While the small right-wing rally was taking place Saturday, Hardesty was across the street at Portland City Hall—making a quick stop to retrieve a cell phone charger she'd left in her office. When she noticed the cluster of protesters and surrounding police at Chapman Square, Hardesty approached the group.
In videos from the rally, Hardesty's seen surrounded by people filming her with cell phones and yelling various accusations about violence, racism, and corruption. Isaacson is seen sitting on his bike in the middle of the crowd, watching the confrontation play out.
One man accusatorially calls Hardesty, a Black woman, the "head of Black Lives Matter." One woman asks Hardesty if she knows about the "racist terms" people are using against white people in Portland.
"What's this rally about? I am willing to talk to anyone who want to talk," Hardesty says, after quietly observing the melee. A woman interrupts Hardesty to shout at another woman, and Hardesty raises her hand.
"You don't want to talk?" Hardesty asks the crowd. "Fine, I'm out of here."
Hardesty then turns away and walks back to her parked car, as men shout out "fuck you, Jo Ann!" and "resign, bitch!" She passes Isaacson, who is leaning against his bike.
"I'm sorry if you didn't want to have a conversation, Jo Ann," Isaacson shouts at her as she walks past and gets into her car.
Several people have filed complaints against Isaacson with the city's human resources department for participating in the Saturday event. One of those people, a Portland woman who asked the Mercury not to use her name to protect her from retribution, said that Isaacson's language towards women was deeply sexist and offensive when the cameras weren't on. She showed up at the rally to support Kealiher's mother, but said she wasn't familiar with Portland's Liberation. Isaacson's actions, however, made it seem to her like he was a leader in the group.
"They were looking to him for guidance," she told the Mercury. "I think it's his station in the city that emboldens this group to act out."
Mayor Ted Wheeler called the incident "disturbing" in a statement sent to the Mercury.
"We do not tolerate threatening behavior," Wheeler said.
According to Wheeler, the city's human resources department is investigating "whether city policies were violated by any city employee" and the Portland Police Bureau is investigating several reports of assault and harassment stemming from the Saturday rally.
"It is important for these processes to run their course without interference or additional comment," said Hardesty in a statement emailed to the Mercury. But, she added, "I want to thank the community for their support and concern after this weekend’s incident. This support reminds me Portland is still full of love."
Isaacson did not respond to the Mercury's request for comment.
City commissioners (particularly women) have become a growing target of right-wing activists. In March 2019, after Commissioner Chloe Eudaly was persistently followed and filmed in public by a regular city critic, City Council passed an ordinance allowing city attorneys to represent city employees—police officers, elected officials, and bureau staff—who are seeking stalking or restraining orders after having been threatened or harassed because of their job.
“We are increasingly seeing situations in which [people] are experiencing hostile, harassing, and even threatening behavior directed at them because of their role as city officials and employees,” City Attorney Tracy Reeve told commissioners at the time.