Posted on April 1, 2019

Inside the Suspicious Rise of Gay Hate Crimes in Portland

Andy Ngo, New York Post, March 30, 2019

Last month, Sophia Gabrielle Stanford was at the center of a fundraising campaign. The GoFundMe page described the trans activist as a victim of a “brutal and aggressively blatant hate crime” in which assailants had beaten her unconscious with a bat in southeast Portland.

The campaign and shocking story went viral. However, the police reports raise questions about what happened that night.


Stanford either could not or would not state her name to the police. The responding officer was unable to discover Stanford’s name and claims that she made a threat: “If you don’t treat me right, my people will get you,” she said, according to the report.


The GoFundMe page stated that Stanford had suffered a “serious concussion” and would need intensive physical therapy, CT scans and counseling.

The case was investigated by the bias-crimes unit but was suspended due to the lack of tangible leads. Although it is impossible to know what exactly happened, nothing in the police reports indicate that Stanford told police she was attacked with a bat by multiple assailants in a hate crime.

The next day, however, the sensational and detailed story emerged in the fundraising appeal. Over $10,000 was raised.

Sophia Stanford blocked me across several social media accounts after I sent a request for comment.

In progressive Portland where the “#Resistance” is mainstream, stories like Stanford’s feed into a whisper campaign of violent homophobes, transphobes and racists lurking on every corner. A moral panic had now been ignited.

Within days, the number of alleged hate attacks ballooned through uncorroborated and vague online rumors. These stories were then amplified by progressive media, nonprofit groups, businesses and politicians. Activists, driven by their own personal grievances, then launched a crusade to find the phantom suspects, doxing and targeting innocent people in the process.

On Feb. 17, Jenny Bruso, a self-described fat-queer activist, posted a claim on Facebook and Twitter that echoed Stanford’s harrowing story. She said that her partner, Brie Jones, was attacked by “two young white men” in a maroon SUV who pulled up beside her at a busy intersection, called her a homophobic slur and threw a full can of beer at her face. {snip}

{snip} When Bruso’s post went viral on Facebook and commenters raised questions about the incident, she deleted the post.

“I, WE, owe you NOTHING,” Bruso wrote on Facebook. “The intention was to warn our communities and that’s precisely what I did.”

Bruso originally said the attack was “reported,” but Portland police stated in a report that there was no case number associated with the incident as of Feb. 27, 2019. {snip}

When I sent her a text seeking comment, she responded: “Don’t contact me. Don’t text me.”

{snip} The larger narrative of bigoted white men patrolling Portland to attack LGBT people then began to take on a life of its own. Activists sent out “attack alerts” warning the queer public to carry Mace and to travel in groups. Other activists circulated photos and addresses of the alleged attackers in flyers around town and on social media posts.

The city was in a panic, and it focused its energy on one main antagonist: the Proud Boys, a right-wing, pro-Trump fraternity and drinking club. They were blamed for the indiscriminate violence.


“These are the faces of the attackers that have been terrorizing the queer/trans community lately. If you see any of these faces in public, hit them with a brick, because the police don’t do anything to stop it,” read one widely shared post on Instagram. It included a group photo of the men and names.

As the number of shares and retweets increased on this post and similar posts, so too did the number of alleged attacks. What started off as two stories of hate crimes grew to 15. The claims grew wilder. The Proud Boys were accused of now using hammers and wooden planks as weapons. Also alleged: an attempted kidnapping.


The user told me the alleged robbery and kidnapping was reported to cops, but Portland police said it did not receive any report matching this description. When I followed up with “Siggitrue,” the user said that they were unwilling to reveal the woman’s identity out of fear for her safety and wrote: “I’m also not obligated to provide you with any information, so the trail ends here.”

Most social media users who shared stories refused to comment. Others admitted to repeating uncorroborated rumors. Andrew Lucht, a Portland resident who wrote a viral Facebook post releasing names and photos of accused attackers, told me he was not a witness to any attacks and did not know any of the victims. His post had accused the Proud Boys of being involved in murders.

“I’m surprised the post took off the way it did,” Lucht told me. “I heard all of this initially from a friend who was very upset.” That friend is neither a witness or victim, he said. “I believe I heard [about a] murder in one of their messages, but in hindsight, I could be wrong.” Lucht took down his viral post after one of the accused men threatened legal action for libel.

Rumors of attacks did not circulate only among radical-activist networks. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler amplified the rumors on Twitter. So too did the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which blamed “right-wing agitators” for the attacks. Car-ride company Lyft shared an advertisement aimed at Portland’s LGBT community. It repeated the rumors and offered a ride credit to encourage business. Activists organized a “safety day” training event featuring a workshop called “Local Fash 101” where attendees were taught how to spot fascists.

The Portland Mercury published multiple stories and printed a claim from a woman who alleged via email that she was the victim of a brutal gay bashing in downtown Portland. {snip}

When I asked reporter Blair Stenvick what steps she took to independently verify that allegation, she said: “I’m not interested in discussing this with you.” Portland Mercury’s news editor, Alex Zielinski, also declined to comment on my inquiry. The paper’s reports were widely shared and used to legitimize the panic.

Those who spread the rumors were cheered for bringing “awareness” to LGBT issues. Lost in all this was any concern for the people victimized in the process.

One of the men who says he was falsely accused in the panic is Robert Zerfing, a 35-year-old Battle Ground, Wash., resident. He used to attend conservative rallies in the Portland area but has since renounced the Proud Boys for their involvement in brawls.

Jenny Bruso claimed that her partner’s attackers drove a maroon Bronco or Suburban. Doxers identified that Zerfing owned a maroon SUV and used that as evidence he was involved in the attack even though that car was repossessed three months ago. He showed me one of the many death threats he now receives.

“I guess we will find out when we pay that address a visit,” the text reads. “4 hate crimes in the last week you were involved in. Paybacks a bitch mother f–ker.”

All the men I contacted who were blamed for the attacks categorically deny having any involvement. Some are current Proud Boys members in various chapters across the West Coast, some are ex-members and others were random rally attendees who were photographed at events between 2017 and 2018.


As in the case of Jussie Smollett, who is suspected of orchestrating a racist homophobic attack on himself, making wild allegations of bias-motivated assault creates hysteria, mistrust and a breakdown of law and order.

Which is a fair description of what happened on Feb. 24 at an emergency “town hall” organized by the Q Center, an LGBT organization in Portland. Executive director Cameron Whitten explained that the severity of what the community was experiencing called for extrajudicial measures.

“We have not reached out to the Portland Police Bureau,” he told the crowd of 500 people who whooped and clapped. Alleged victims were encouraged to report anonymously online to activist organizations, according to fliers handed out at the door. Portland United Against Hate is one such organization. The group did not respond when I asked what mechanisms it has in place to vet and verify anonymous online reports.

Whitten said at the town hall that there had been 10 attacks but in an interview with me admitted that he had only spoken directly with one alleged victim. That individual told him of a negative experience with police rather than experiencing a hate crime. {snip}

Outside of the initial allegation by Stanford, none of the purported incidents of beatings, killings or kidnapping were — I confirmed with Portland police — reported to authorities.

Did these crimes really happen? Wilfred Reilly, a political scientist at Kentucky State and author of the book “Hate Crime Hoax,” says the nonreporting and cinematic narrative are indications they might not have.


Patterns he identifies among them are the lack of evidence, reluctance to cooperate with police, sensational claims, the presence of fundraising and the involvement of radical activists — all of which appear to be happening in Portland.

Fear and hatred of police may sound irrational in progressive Portland, where the sympathetic mayor doubles as the police commissioner, but it’s also convenient — until it’s not. Filing a false police report, as Smollett was suspected of doing, is a crime. {snip}