PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A 34-year-old freelance journalist is now facing 5 bias crime charges for allegedly vandalizing 2 Jewish temples, setting fire to a mosque and targeting a downtown Portland restaurant over the course of 10 days.
Michael E. Bivins faces charges for the vandalism at Congregation Shir Tikvah and Congregration Beth Israel along with an arson at the Muslim Community Center.
He appeared in court for his arraignment Monday and was seen making faces at the cameras. He even asked the judge to dismiss his attorney. The judge encouraged him not to do that.
Along with the bias crimes, Bivins faces one count of arson and 4 counts of criminal mischief. Documents obtained by KOIN 6 News show Bivins also damaged a restaurant, a location not previously connected publicly.
He was a freelance journalist for a number of news organizations in recent years, often covering political extremism.
The senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana, told KOIN 6 News his congregation is still reeling from the attacks. Yellow swastikas were spray painted on the synagogue walls, days after the congregation commemorated Holocaust memorial day.
“That my house of worship, the place where my community gathers would be targeted with an anti-Semitic death threat – that creates a real vulnerability,” Rabbi Cahana said.
Police data shows the number of bias crimes reported in Portland dropped from 55 to 50 in 2021. But the numbers of total bias incidents were reported at record highs last year.
Despite this, Rabbi Cahana said his congregation will continue to stand tall in the face of targeted attacks. He said he feels safer with Bivins behind bars.
“Certainly, we all feel safer if this person is in custody,” the rabbi said.
Bivins next court appearance is scheduled for May 17.