Portland City Council will hear from police bureau representatives on Wednesday on the city’s 2021 involvement with the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force. Unlike previous years when the public was not given an opportunity to offer testimony, this year commissioners will take comments.
The annual report is required according to a 2019 resolution withdrawing the city from the task force and outlining the parameters of any future cooperation.
According to the latest report, the FBI referred only one case to the Portland Police Bureau in 2021, down from four in 2020. The one referral was a white, 14-year-old boy who allegedly made a bomb threat on social media. After interviewing the youth, police determined the threat was not credible and closed the case.
The Portland police referred seven cases to the FBI last year, including a bomb threat to a “religious facility,” targeted threats of violence to a police officer, targeted threats of violence to an elected official, a bomb threat to a bridge and a bomb threat against a federal facility. Two other cases referred to the FBI were related to 2020 racial justice protests: one for arson at the Portland Police Association union headquarters and another for someone firing a handgun into the federal courthouse.
“Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs), particularly anti-government, anarchist, and racially-motivated extremists remain a significant threat of violence and criminal behavior in Portland,” the 2022 JTTF report reads. “Grievances that might drive these individuals and groups include, but are not limited to: government action or inaction; racist or anti-religious ideology; conspiratorial beliefs; reproductive rights; political candidates and elections; and COVID-19 and related matters.”
Portland withdrew from routine participation in the task force in 2019 over concerns it had committed civil rights violations and could be used by the Trump administration to unjustly target Muslims and communities of color.
During a press conference on Tuesday, local activists said the FBI has a long history of using questionable or even outright illegal tactics against marginalized communities. They said the current arrangement with the city of Portland doesn’t preclude the police bureau from continuing to benefit from potential ongoing civil rights abuses.
Oregon state law prohibits law enforcement agencies from collecting information on people’s political, religious or social views and their associated activities unless it is pertinent to a criminal investigation. There is no comparable federal law, a loophole multiple activists called out on Tuesday as being ripe for abuse.
“The FBI is not bound by this statute,” Anais Tuepker of 350PDX said. “They could gather information which would be illegal for Oregon law enforcement to gather and then they can share it with the Portland Police Bureau.”
Activists pointed to the FBI’s long history of civil rights abuses, ranging from the agency’s involvement in Japanese internment during World War II and spying on Martin Luther King Jr. As more recent evidence of the FBI chilling free speech, the activists cited undercover federal law enforcement officers mixed in with protesters during the 2020 racial justice protests. As reported by OPB in April, testimony from plainclothes FBI agents mixed in with protesters was critical in identifying the man who allegedly threw a molotov cocktail at officers in September 2020.
Marlene Wallingford of the Portland Japanese American Citizens League said the only solution is to “divest our community from an agency that has such a clouded history of upholding our constitutionally protected rights.”
City Council is scheduled to hear public testimony on the report at its Wednesday morning session.