Editor’s note: Some of the comments in the video may be disturbing to hear. Viewer discretion is advised.
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Beaverton city council meeting earlier this month was infiltrated by what they believe to be AI-generated bots, spewing hate speech and profanity, leaving council and audience members stunned.
Much of the online testimony started off similarly, referencing issues brought up by in-person testimony or other concerns, before quickly escalating to racial slurs and hate speech.
One public comment caller after the next spewed profanity and hate speech during a city council meeting, from referencing the Holocaust to using racial slurs.
Following in-person testimony, the council started to hear out all who signed up for online testimony during the Oct. 3 meeting, many starting with the same intro of, “Hello, can you hear me?” only for each speaker to quickly escalate.
“At first, I just kind of felt like, ‘Oh, that’s weird, we have a lot of online comments that were almost proportional to what was in the room.’ And as soon as they started naming names, the first speaker out of the gate started naming members of the Jewish community and leadership, I knew instantly where the direction it was going to go,” Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty said. “I was looking at the rest of the names trying to calculate if this was a one-off or everyone in the Zoom line was going to be espousing similar sentiments and so as soon as it went from naming names to something atrocious, I just cut them off.”
Mayor Beaty says she made the executive decision to cut off speakers, especially because there were kids in the audience.
“What you can’t see from the clip is that we had young people in the audience that were there to get a walk-and-ride proclamation that I was issuing, and there were kids from my daughter’s school in the audience as this was happening,” Beaty said. “I really made a gut decision, not only as the mayor but as a mom, as I looked out in the audience and heard people gasping and saw the young kids looking at me, expecting me to do something.”
Beaty says they don’t know who was responsible for it or why the City of Beaverton was targeted, but during the meeting, mentioned the belief that these callers were AI-generated bots.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of mayors across the country to figure out if this is isolated with us. Is this happening in other cities? It is happening in other cities, and it’s predominantly happening in cities where women are mayors. A lot of what is happening across the country is to women mayors who identify as Jewish, and so I don’t know exactly why the city was in the mix. My only guess would be we’re incredibly progressive,” Beaty said. “We’ve had to spend the majority of our energy with our city attorney and other groups trying to figure out what are we going to do if this happens in the future. I mean, of course, my heart is the mayor hopes this wasn’t community members that were doing this. My hope is that it’s somebody in the basement in the middle of the country, just targeting random cities. But I would say we don’t really have a clue on who exactly it was or why it started.”
The mayor says right now, the law is clear when it comes to allowing First Amendment speech and public testimony, but they also don’t want to do away with the virtual option after seeing a boost in community engagement with the option.
“This has really expanded public participation and so I’m not going to allow, as the mayor, bad actors to persuade us to do something differently,” Beaty said.
The next city council meeting is slated for next Tuesday, Oct. 17. So far, virtual public comment will be allowed, but they’re also looking into legal options to make sure this doesn’t happen again.