(Warning: At the bottom of this story I’ve posted text of violent threats and slurs, including threats of gun violence and death.)
Yesterday, before I went to Bike Happy Hour, I called the Portland Police Bureau non-emergency line. I wanted to let them know that someone who has made multiple threats of lethal violence against specific people in our community was going to be there.
That person, Royal Johnson, did show up. As did many people who say they’ve been victimized by his abusive behavior over the years.
These folks came to Happy Hour specifically as a show of support for each other after Portland resident John Russell posted a message to Instagram that stated, “Sadly, this is not a drill. Inexcusable violent threats have been made in person and online targeting me and many of our friends, particularly women of color, and even threatening mass casualty events at group bike rides.”
I have seen videos of these threats made by Johnson and they are extremely disturbing. I want to be very clear: Regardless of the context, the threats made by Johnson are beyond the pale and are unacceptable in every way.
The nature and tenor of the threats, that I viewed in the form of an 8-minute compilation of videos posted to the Thursday Night Ride group chat (text of some of the threats and a link to the video can be found at end of this story story), led me to take the extraordinary step of a proactive call to the police. I wanted them to be able to respond as quickly as possible if needed.
Thankfully, another call wasn’t necessary. Johnson showed up, and so did people accusing him of serious crimes. One of them, someone holding a sign that read, “Royal is a Transphobe” told me she was wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Johnson said a lot of words at the event, in what felt like attempts to call people out and goad them into a conflict, but no one engaged with the words and nothing much escalated beyond that.
What’s going on with Johnson and our community is not about me. But I think my relationship and experience with him is helpful for bringing us up to speed on where things are right now.
I’ve known Johnson for at least a year. In October 2022 I wrote a story about his work as leader of a grassroots group that tracks down and recovers stolen bikes. Then in March of this year I published a story about a theft recovery in the South Waterfront area that Johnson was involved in. It was a messy story with witnesses claiming things about Johnson that he told me simply never happened. After talking to Johnson and others, I wrote a follow-up story four days later that attempted to clarify things further.
One week later, I invited Johnson over to the BikePortland Shed to record an interview for our podcast where he was able to share his version of the story in his own words.
It was around that time when people began to confide in me their experiences with Johnson. I heard that on more than one occasion, he touched someone on a large group ride in a way they felt was inappropriate. And when called out on it, reacted with anger and claimed he was the victim of racism. Another person said that after he was told he was banned from one Portland-based cycling club, he rode down the block and broke several car windows in a fit of anger. I kept my ears open, and the stories continued to come in.
Meanwhile, I maintained a loose friendship with Johnson and gave him the benefit of the doubt. I’m aware that racism exists in our community and Johnson is one of the only Black men who participates regularly in rides and events. He is also very loud and demonstrative in both his general vibe and fashion sense — so suffice it to say he’s an easy target of attention in a comparatively staid and very white Portland bike scene.
As I heard more and more accusations against Johnson, I would also ask him directly about them and he would share explanations for everything. I felt comfortable enough with my judgment of him, and his side of the story, to remain his acquaintance. But as time went by, and I talked to more people, I decided to no longer associate with him.
Then in August, I heard from several people they uncomfortable with him being at Happy Hour, so I took the unprecedented step of asking him to not attend. He showed up anyways. That was a red flag for me because it illustrated that Johnson didn’t care about my request, even though — up until that time — we had been cool with each other. At that Happy Hour, we ended up getting into several very animated verbal exchanges that left us on the verge of a physical confrontation. After that event, someone texted us both to say how disappointed they were at our behavior toward each other. When Johnson responded to those texts in a way I felt was inappropriate, I cut all interaction with him and have not spoken to or messaged him since.
Also since August, the situation between Johnson and the people who’ve been threatened by him and/or have been subjects of his alleged dangerous and inappropriate behaviors, has escalated considerably. Johnson says he’s tired of being targeted because he’s Black and says the community is conspiring against him. His accusers fear for their lives.
Last week at the Thursday Night Ride, some people protested Johnson’s presence. One person, a Black woman who has called Johnson the n-word online several times, held a sign that said, “Royal is a transphobe.” I wasn’t there and have only seen a video posted to Instagram; but it’s clear Johnson and another person (who is white) got into a heated argument. One person shoved Johnson first, then Johnson returned the shove a few minutes later.
For his part, Johnson says he has been targeted and “dehumanized” and taunted by groups and individuals in the community. After the confrontation at TNR last week, Johnson told me in a message today that, “I simply just could not take it anymore.”
The release of Johnson’s threats this week, his presence at Happy Hour last night, and the heightened fears of people he has targeted, has led to a feeling of unease at the Thursday Night Ride (Note: This post originally stated tonight’s ride was cancelled, but that was not the case and the ride still happened). Shift has taken the ride off its community calendar and posted a message to Instagram today that states, “We are advising everyone not to attend… We hope these are just threats, but we are erring on the side of caution.”
There’s a lot of history between the many people involved in this complex and multi-layered situation. So far, it does not look like people on either side are able to agree on enough, to forgive one another, or respect each other enough, to make amends. If nothing changes, this situation will remain unresolved and will cause stress for many people for the foreseeable future.
I realize this is not a satisfying conclusion. I don’t have the answers and I don’t know all the facts of what has transpired thus far. I only hope this post adds some clarity to what’s been going on and helps our community talk and move forward in a healthier way.
My DMs are always open on social media and I’m happy to answer questions either in the comments below or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Link to video of Johnson’s recent threats. Warning: His words are extremely graphic. (Link)
— Below the banner ad below is the text from some of the threats Johnson made in aforementioned videos. Warning: They are very graphic and might be disturbing to some people: