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Seattle police chief candidate Robert Lehner has experience with anarchists

Protesters light a bonfire on Capitol Hill on May 1, 2014. (AP photo)

Among the three candidates to become Seattle’s next police chief, do any have the expertise to deal with the community of anarchists here that terrorize private property each May Day and sometimes on random days?

One candidate does. Robert Lehner was formerly the chief in Eugene, Ore., dubbed the “anarchist capital of the world.”

The city in central Western Oregon, home of the University of Oregon, attracted anarchists and eco-terrorists from all over the nation in the 1990s. The anarchists made their home in the city’s Whiteaker neighborhood, terrorizing residents by riding around town on bikes, smashing windows, apparently on a campaign to “reclaim the streets.”

In 1999, part of that community came to Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization conference, which turned into the infamous Battle in Seattle, a riot that caused chaos and massive property damage downtown.

Some of those anarchists have stayed in Seattle, and attack private property intermittently to this day.

If Seattle Mayor Ed Murray chooses Lehner, currently chief in Elk Grove, Calif., he may be choosing someone with a remedy to the anarchist problem.

KTTH host Ben Shapiro spoke to Lehner on Monday about his candidacy, and about how he could stop extremist groups from creating another Battle in Seattle.

Lehner said that, for the most part, most left-wing protesters seek the appropriate permits and march with respect and peace. But extremist groups often infiltrate the peaceful leftist groups. The May Day events in Eugene were similar in size to Seattle, he said, and shared a similar demographic.

“Legitimate protesters don’t want to be part of those events,” Lehner said of anarchist protests. He said that Seattle has been successful in segregating peaceful and violent protesters, which he would seek to continue.

“To the degree that Seattle police have been able to segregate those two groups, they’ve been very successful,” he said.


Lehner began his career in Tucson, Ariz., in the late 1970s, and rose to assistant chief of that department. He served as chief in Eugene between 2004 and 2008 and in 2008 became chief in Elk Grove, at that time one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S.

During Lehner’s reign in Eugene, federal officials carried out “Operation Backfire,” a sting against the radical groups Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front.

One radical eco-terrorist arrested during the operation, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, was convicted on three counts of arson, one of those related to her setting fire to a Eugene police substation.

On the issue of the agreement between Seattle police and the Department of Justice over use-of-force incidents, Lehner said that he would have to live it before truly knowing how to implement it. He has read it thoroughly, he said, “Unless we’re living there, I’m confident all our familiarity is purely from reading.”

Lehner said that he’s not opposed to greater community oversight of police activities, especially investigations.

“Doesn’t that put a lot of constraints on what the police department can and can’t do?” Shapiro wondered.

“It opens up the process of the police department,” he told Shapiro. “It’s important that everybody who considers themselves a stakeholder is brought into the discussion.”

Lehner did not directly address the issue of anarchists groups in Seattle. He pledged one of his first duties would be to work on understanding and implementing the Department of Justice settlement. He expressed confidence that the DOJ has investigated use-of-force incidents here, and said that he would not re-investigate those cases.

“Our job is to implement [the settlement],” Lehner said.

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