It’s one of the lingering mysteries from 2020’s anti-police brutality protests: Who tossed a couple of pipe bombs at Portland, Oregon, protesters one night in a city park? Was an ex-Navy SEAL who provides the police with training materials involved? And was there any likelihood that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) would seriously investigate the matter?
However, the FBI has now joined the investigation at PPB’s request, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. The federal agency’s involvement prompted one witness to come forward with an unexploded device that was tossed that night, and the fresh evidence could help move the case forward.
Witnesses at the scene in southeast Portland’s Laurelhurst Park on Aug. 8, 2020, initially identified a Portland-area man named Louis Garrick Fernbaugh as one of a group of dark-clad men who they said were responsible for tossing the bombs in the direction of protesters. A videographer pursued Fernbaugh to his vehicle and was threatened.
Portland Police have insisted all along that Fernbaugh is a “person of interest” in the case, but the lack of eyewitnesses willing to cooperate with police had stymied their attempts to investigate the matter.
As Suzette Smith at Willamette Week reported, the incident began at about 2:30 AM when legal observers, reporters, and protesters saw a flash over a copse of trees at Laurelhurst Park, followed by a loud boom—louder than the usual one created by fireworks or police flash-bang grenades. The protesters who were near the flash investigated and saw men in dark clothing in the trees; one of them appeared to toss another device that then exploded, again harmlessly, with no one nearby.
A video shared on Instagram (and then on Twitter) showed protesters chasing the dark-clad men out of the park following the blast. Another video, also shared on Twitter, showed one of the independent journalists at the park pursuing one of those men, who was carrying what appear to be night-vision goggles, apparently to his car, where he behaved threateningly.
The man recording the incident—Portland videographer Scott Keeler, who said he had observed the man in the park earlier walking away from the explosions—was using a flashlight, and first asked the man to stop as Keeler walked up to him at a car the man appeared to be using. “Why are you throwing pipe bombs at people?” Keeler asked.
“Look man, I’m not the guy you wanna fuck with,” the man responded. Keeler again queried him about the bombs, to which the man replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. But I’m not that guy you wanna fuck with. I’m fucking telling you.”
The man appeared to be reaching behind his back for a weapon, Keeler told Smith, so Keeler backed off. When he posted the video, the man was promptly identified as Fernbaugh. A former SEAL and CIA contractor, he had boasted previously on social media about “infiltrating Antifa.” He operates a security company that sells informational materials to local police agencies.
PPB acknowledged that Fernbaugh was a “person of interest” in the case, but that without eyewitness testimony that he was among the people in the park who were tossing devices, they couldn’t proceed with the investigation.
“His presence on video is leaving the area approximately one half hour after the explosion,” detective Meredith Hopper told Daily Kos via email after an inquiry about the case. “He is not observed on the video of the explosion. If there is not someone that can identify him present then there is no probable cause of his arrest.”
“We know that that’s Garrick Fernbaugh that was in the area,” a PPB official familiar with the investigation told OPB. “We do not have any photographs, video, or anything of him throwing the explosive device. We cannot move forward until we have someone in person talk to us, or at least identify themselves positively, give us a witness account of this.”
Fernbaugh told the military news outlet Task & Purpose that he had not been the person who threw the devices. But he acknowledged that he was present at the park that night.
Fernbaugh claimed to be conducting reconnaissance on “antifa,” which was why he was wearing a tactical helmet with night vision goggles. He said it was part of his effort to develop “a service for law enforcement.”
“In addition to President Trump declaring by executive order that ANTIFA is a domestic terrorist organization, I also described that Unconventional Warfare (UW) experts that I’ve spoken to agree that ANTIFA meets the criteria of a domestic terrorist organization and is conducting an insurrection,” Fernbaugh said. “My education and experience uniquely qualifies me to develop strategies to counter this threat.”
[In reality, Trump’s declaration regarding antifa was meaningless since the president lacks the power to make a designation that does not exist. And if it did, it would unquestionably meet significant First Amendment challenges.]
Fernbaugh also contacted OPB to complain about its reporting, writing via Twitter message: “Whatever it was that exploded, was clearly not a pipe bomb, that much is clear. No injuries and so on … Report the inconsistencies in the timeline and the fact that ANTIFA has been violently attacking the police with fireworks so powerful, they can’t be distinguished between the Flash-bangs the police are throwing and the fireworks ANTIFA is throwing back!”
However, after languishing for over a year, the investigation moved into a higher gear recently when PPB requested FBI participation and the agency agreed to do so.
“I can confirm the reporting from the Portland Police Bureau that we’ve been asked to assist on this case and we’re providing what assistance we can appropriate with federal statutes and legal guidelines,” FBI Portland Special Agent in Charge Renn Cannon told OPB.
As a result, eyewitness Shauna Snider handed over one of the unexploded devices thrown near her and others at Laurelhurst Park to the FBI. Snider told OPB that FBI agents queried her about her failure to contact Portland police immediately.
“It would be pretty absurd to ask 30 people who have just been beaten and rushed out by cops to call cops for help,” Snider said. “Also, the cops did show up. They came onto Ankeny [Street] and waited on top of the hill with their headlights off, and all of us were really sketched out.”
Snider told OPB she believed police were in the area, “aware of the bombs, and didn’t come out.”
The anonymous PPB official told OPB that they are also pursuing forensic leads to try to solve the case.
“There’s a two-prong approach: the forensic approach and direct witness information. Ideally, we would have both, that’s the perfect case,” the PPB official said. “Realistically, it’s hard to get both so we hope for one or the other. Everything is going to be done forensically to try to tie the suspect to the device.”
The unsolved mystery has been part of the disparate treatment of right-wing extremists who bring violence to Portland street protests and the leftist anti-police protesters swept up during the 100-plus days the city endured unrest, based on citizens’ own grievances as well as those that had been given national attention, such as the murder of George Floyd.
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