Band of Others: Joey's business
Part four of a series.
Part One: Making of a street brawl
Part Three: Joey Gibson and the face of 'nativist bigotry'
Editor's Note: For much of last year, reporter Sergio Olmos was granted on-the-record access to Joey Gibson, founder of Patriot Prayer, one of the violence-prone, far-right groups that have turned Portland into a cage match with violent liberal groups.
Describing Patriot Prayer has been challenging to journalists, activists and public officials.
Is it a conservative advocacy organization? A right-wing America-First political movement? A white supremacist hate group?
Legally, things are a bit clearer. Until recently, Patriot Prayer was a company. And, one with loose ties to the Vancouver Police Department.
Patriot Prayer USA LLC was established in February 2019 as a limited liability corporation in the state of Washington.
The 2019 records on file with the Washington Secretary of State's office list Joey Gibson as the registered agent and two corporate officers: Jesse and Erin Murray from La Center, Washington.
The Murrays own Painting Perfection Inc., which offers commercial and residential painting in Washington and Oregon.
In 2017, Halbert Construction hired Painting Perfection as a subcontractor to clean and seal the brick of the Vancouver Police Department's East Precinct and evidence building.
The Painting Perfection Facebook page shows a Painting Perfection crew working on the East Precinct building on Sept. 5, 2017. The invoice, obtained through a public records request, shows the city paid the company $105,979.03 for its work.
Patriot Prayer USA wasn't registered until 2019, nearly a year and a half after the Murrays' private company worked on the exterior of the Vancouver police building. But Painting Perfection Inc. remains eligible for government contracts.
In a brief phone interview, Jesse Murray confirmed his connection to Patriot Prayer USA and affirmed his support of Gibson's activism. He agreed to meet for a longer interview but canceled.
Murray recently turned up on social media in a photo with Gibson and embattled Washington State. Rep. Matt Shea, who helped plan the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early 2016.
It turns out that while Murray's crew from Painting Perfection was working on Vancouver Police Department properties, officers for the department were monitoring the group the Murrays would help incorporate.
Internal emails from the Vancouver Police Department reveal that as early as March 29, 2017, officials were aware that "white supremacist groups" attended Patriot Prayer events.
Emails further reveal that as early as February 2018 the Vancouver Police Special Investigations Unit began "monitoring Joey and the activity his events have generated."
Lindsay Schubiner, program director at the Western States Center, questions the propriety of city funds going to members of groups like Patriot Prayer.
"Vancouver government should enact policies and procedures to ensure that public funds are not going to contractors involved with groups that promote political violence, undermine public safety, and attack vulnerable communities," says Schubiner, whose Portland-based nonprofit works to counter "movements that exploit bigotry and intolerance."
Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes declined to be interviewed for this article.
Asked whether awarding contracts, in the future, to groups the city is investigating presents a conflict of interest, the city issued a response through a spokesperson.
"The City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department conduct background checks on contractors and subcontractors who will be working on City buildings or property," the statement reads. "Background checks for contractors and subcontractors, who work for a private company, are not as in-depth as the background checks completed for employees or representatives of the City of Vancouver Police Department. The City and VPD do not discriminate based on political or religious affiliations and do not question prospective contractors or subcontractors regarding their political or religious affiliations."
Vancouver City Councilor Ty Stober said he doesn't think the city has the legal means to deny contracts to members of groups like Patriot Prayer.
"Our charter specifically says, as a council member, I am restricted to policy, and within the policy realm I am restricted by state law," Stober says.
"We're not benevolent dictators. We want to create an inclusive environment in our city, but we don't get to pick and choose. Just because you're a member of Patriot Prayer, that's not going to provide us justification. I doubt being a gang member would be justification."
Patriot Prayer USA LLC was voluntarily dissolved on Sept. 18, 2019. Today Gibson asks supporters to send donations written in his name directly to the private mailbox previously used by Patriot Prayer USA LLC.
By Sergio Ulmos
Follow Sergio at @MrOlmos
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