All Politics is Local

A public school was the scheduled host for a Patriot Prayer event. How did that happen?

Joey Gibson, leader of right-wing provocateur group, Patriot Prayer (James Rexroad for The Columbian)

Joey Gibson, leader of right-wing provocateur group, Patriot Prayer (James Rexroad for The Columbian)

It appeared for a few hours this week that a Battle Ground Public Schools campus would be the next location to play host to right-wing protest group, Patriot Prayer.

The Vancouver, Wash.-based organization announced this week that it was hosting an event called “The lies of Portland: Exposed.” The Facebook page promises a “safe indoor venue” for ringleader Joey Gibson to talk about the “culture of Portland.”

That safe indoor venue was 25 miles north of downtown Portland — at CAM Academy in Battle Ground.

“Homeless, crime, and the hateful/deceitful culture will continue to infect Clark County if we do not push to change the city,” the page reads.

Gibson’s rallies attract a group of far-right provocateurs, including white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other demonstrators in traditionally liberal cities; primarily Portland. Willamette Week reporter Katie Shepherd and Portland Mercury news editor Alex Zielinski last week released bombshell reporting suggesting a cozy relationship between Portland Police Lt. Jeff Niiya and Gibson.

So why would a public school play host to this organization?

District spokeswoman Rita Sanders told me by email this week that a parent filled out a facilities use request for the building on Feb. 11, saying a “prayer group” would be using CAM Academy. Administrative staff denied the request after learning the request was for an “outside group,” apparently from concerned parties. Sanders said she found out about the nature of the event after I called her.

But it seemed clear from the beginning that this facility use application was for Patriot Prayer, according to a document obtained under the Public Records Act. The parent who requested the space did in fact list Patriot Prayer as the organization, and the activity as a prayer group.

Things do get a bit confusing with CAM Academy. The property is not owned by the school district. The district rents the 32,500-square foot-facility from Gary Albers to the tune of $41,547 per month. Albers is also a teacher at the school.

As part of the lease conditions, a nearby church can use the facility after 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, and all day Sunday. But unlike other district buildings, CAM Academy isn’t supposed to provide facility use to other outside groups. Non-commercial groups like Boy Scout troops, teams and other organizations can generally use school facilities on weekends or after school if they request to use the space.

“CAM’s administrative staff made a mistake,” Sanders told me by email following the release of my public records request. “They initially agreed to let an outside group use CAM, and shouldn’t have. Several things contributed to the mistake, including that it was a parent who submitted the request for a ‘prayer group’ to use the facility, and the administrators had never heard of Patriot Prayer and didn’t know anything about the group beyond the ‘prayer group’ description provided to them.”

In any case, the event at CAM Academy is off, and while the Facebook page is still live, the location is now TBD.

Kaitlin Gillespie

I'm the education reporter at The Columbian. Get in touch at kaitlin.gillespie@columbian.com or 360-735-4517.

Comments