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Man charged with vandalizing Portland synagogues, mosque pleads not guilty

Michael Bivins, 34, is facing several charges, including arson, for allegedly vandalizing several places of worship over a five-day period.

PORTLAND, Ore. — In court for the first time since his Saturday arrest, a seemingly jovial Michael Bivins pleaded not guilty to vandalizing several places of worship in Portland over a five-day stretch.

"Having this person behind bars is a benefit to all of our community," said Senior Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel. 

Investigators said Bivins graffitied an anti-Semitic phrase with yellow spray paint on the side of Congregation Beth Israel's synagogue in Northwest Portland and threw a large rock through a window. 

Bivins is also suspected of breaking a window at Congregation Shir Tikvah's synagogue on Northeast Sandy Boulevard. Authorities said Bivins even tried to burn down the Portland Muslim Community Center of on North Vancouver Avenue.

The crimes occurred between April 30 and May 4, according to court documents. 

Authorities said Bivins spoke with a reporter at the Fox 12 news station in Beaverton on May 4 and admitted to the crimes. The reporter told police Bivins vowed to continue vandalizing places of worship and repeatedly made anti-Semitic comments. 

When police interviewed Bivens, he admitted to speaking with a reporter but denied admitting to any crimes. He also mentioned that he lives in a Southeast Portland apartment with his mother. 

Police got a search warrant for the apartment and found clothing that matched surveillance images of the suspect. They also found a can of yellow spray paint, among other evidence connecting Bivens to the crimes. 

"I would hope that he could understand the great harm caused by these kinds of incidents," Cahana said. "There are people who should feel comfortable in their synagogues, in their mosques."

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Cahana said his congregation's sense of security was shattered by Bivins, who used to work as a freelance journalist in the Portland area. He has covered many of the protests across the city over the course of the last several years. 

Bivins seemed in front of the cameras in court. At times, he smirked for photographers and he even flexed once.

His behavior in court surely would not have amused his victims, who instead choose to focus on the work of law enforcement.

"I'm really pleased that law enforcement, many different bureaus of law enforcement, took these incidents so seriously," Cahana said.

A judge set bail at $45,000. Bivins is due back in court May 17.

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