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by Just Is

Quasi-Warfare in Portland

In an era awash with political violence it’s difficult to make sense of it all. Mainstream media perpetuates the narrative that “both sides” are equally culpable. That’s apparent in coverage regarding the murder of Aaron Danielson in Portland on August 29th. As details of his death emerged, outlets like Fox News began martyring him as a fallen hero and victim of ANTIFA. The suspect Michael Reinoehl was shot dead by police in Washington on September 3rd. The week leading up to these two murders was a surreal foreshadowing. For 10 days I filmed demonstrations in Portland with Black Zebra Pro. I watched all parties involved prepare for civil war in the streets of downtown Portland. Only two days after I left the city Aaron Danielson was shot and killed by Michael Reinoehl.

 

On August 22nd hundreds of Trump supporters rallied in front of the Justice Center. They stood downtown in broad daylight looking ready for combat. They huddled behind shields and banners emblazoned with messages like “Trumps Army” and “Back the Blue”. One carried a Captain America shield. A leftist yelled, “Captain America fought fascists, you idiot!”. Trumpers brandished paintball guns and concealed real ones. Their ranks included former and current members of the armed forces and plenty of wannabes. Trump’s army donned riot gear and carried military-grade munitions, just like any other state-sponsored law enforcement group.

Clip from Livestream. Portland, OR ​

Hundreds more Anti-racists and Anti-fascists gathered across from the Justice Center. They resisted Trump’s supporters with paintballs and improvised objects. Trump’s army brandished their weapons as openly as they did their affiliations. Their banners and bullet-proof vests bore the names of military branches and far-right groups they aligned with. I saw members of the Proud Boys, including Alan Swinney, who pointed a gun at a crowd of demonstrators that afternoon. Thankfully he didn’t fire. I also saw members of the local group Patriot Prayer. Exactly one week later Aaron Danielson (a Patriot Prayer supporter) was killed. The murder suspect Michael Reinoehl was a former member of the armed forces.  

 

On August 22nd the madness was endless. Almost everyone took cover to escape injury. Journalists were caught in the crossfire. Some right-wingers filmed on the pro-Trump side. I noticed one wincing from a green laser beam blinding his eyes. Leftist demonstrators took cover behind street signs and newspaper boxes while exchanging rounds of paintballs with the right. Trump supporters attacked a “Snack Van” covered in BLM graffiti. Militiamen smashed the windows and tore its door off the hinges while assaulting the man in the driver's seat. Later on Twitter right-wingers falsely accused the van of distributing ammunition. No one was exempt. This was quasi-warfare after all.

The leftists known as “ANTIFA” were ready. They were cloaked in black, wearing complimentary helmets and gas masks. Their shields were constructed in DIY fashion from plastic barrels and trash cans. The front lines frequently dissolved into fistfights and beatdowns. People relentlessly heckled each other until a projectile was thrown (usually by a Trump supporter) and the opposing side returned violence via fists and boots. Trump’s supporters sprayed mace and foolishly hurled tear gas at demonstrators, who had become seasoned political warriors. Antifascists returned the tear gas canisters with skill acquired from months of facing off with various police forces. Chemical agents streaked overhead. Fireworks occasionally exploded in the crowd. One detonated on someone near me. This happened for hours until the right-wing finally retreated after being engulfed by their own tear gas.

 

During their retreat “Trump’s Army” fired paintballs and indiscriminately discharged mace. I witnessed another Proud Boy, Tusitala Toese (aka “Tiny”), being followed by demonstrators who were throwing garbage at him and shouting, “Leave and never come back!” Tiny, who is an American Samoan and evangelical Christian, walked backward and yelled at the crowd, “Check your people!” Someone in the crowd yelled back, “Check your internalized racism!” A young woman took a futile swing at Tiny just before his equally massive Proud Boy comrade punched her square in the face. This assault happened in front of the local police. Law enforcement watched and did nothing while that woman bled through her mask. Later Police claimed it was “too dangerous” to arrest Tiny that day.

The Proud Boys escaped angry demonstrators when officers intervened and prevented mob retaliation on behalf of the woman who was punched. She held her nose while someone provided first-aid. When the last of the right-wingers fled an “unlawful assembly” was declared. Police and Homeland Security agents arrived in full regalia, looking like storm troopers. Demonstrators have made a habit of playing the imperial march theme from Star Wars whenever they arrive. The crowd was appalled that law enforcement allowed the far right to tear through Portland only to declare an “unlawful assembly” when it was all over.

 

Police eventually decided not to enforce their own dispersal order and left into a nearby precinct building. Alan Sweeney, the Proud Boy documented pointing a gun that day, held a flag-waving event in a suburb of Portland the following week. On Twitter Swinney said that event was a response to Saturday’s throwdown. He referred to both pro-Trump events as “victories”. The fact Alan Swinney was allowed to organize a political event near Portland less than a week after pointing a gun at protesters there should be a clear indication that law enforcement has a strong bias in his group's favor. In fact, the Portland Police Bureau has a proven history of cooperation with far right extremists. 

Hundreds more Anti-racists and Anti-fascists gathered across from the Justice Center. They resisted Trump’s supporters with paintballs and improvised objects. Trump’s army brandished their weapons as openly as they did their affiliations. Their banners and bullet-proof vests bore the names of military branches and far-right groups they aligned with. I saw members of the Proud Boys, including Alan Swinney, who pointed a gun at a crowd of demonstrators that afternoon. Thankfully he didn’t fire. I also saw members of the local group Patriot Prayer. Exactly one week later Aaron Danielson (a Patriot Prayer supporter) was killed. The murder suspect Michael Reinoehl was a former member of the armed forces.  

 

On August 22nd the madness was endless. Almost everyone took cover to escape injury. Journalists were caught in the crossfire. Some right-wingers filmed on the pro-Trump side. I noticed one wincing from a green laser beam blinding his eyes. Leftist demonstrators took cover behind street signs and newspaper boxes while exchanging rounds of paintballs with the right. Trump supporters attacked a “Snack Van” covered in BLM graffiti. Militiamen smashed the windows and tore its door off the hinges while assaulting the man in the driver's seat. Later on Twitter right-wingers falsely accused the van of distributing ammunition. No one was exempt. This was quasi-warfare after all.

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 Political violence isn’t caused by leftists. It’s fueled by law enforcement, Trump supporters, and centrists who side with authority and villainize those demonstrating against it. Michael Reinhart essentially admitted to killing Aaron Danielson and claimed self-defense shortly before being killed by police. Meanwhile, Kyle Riddenhouse killed two people in Kenosha, claimed self-defense, and will live to see his day in court. Michael Reinhol didn’t live long enough to be granted that privilege. That’s because America tolerates violent right-wing extremists, not left-wing ones. Meanwhile, mainstream media refers to property damage as “acts of violence” and condemns “both sides”. That false equivalency has become deadly. 

 

When Aaron Danielson was killed in Portland I was shocked but not surprised. Patriot Prayer is emboldened by the Portland police who turn a blind eye towards violence against leftists. Yet the racist rhetoric of Trump is backed by state-sponsored violence. His coalition includes professional and volunteer forces. History shows us far-right paramilitaries working in conjunction with law enforcement are a sign of imminent fascism.  In an interview shortly before he was killed by police Michael Reinoehl said he is “100% anti-fascist” but “not a member of ANTIFA”. He also said he believes he may have fired the first shot of the next civil war. 

 

We don’t know the details surrounding the murder of Aaron Danielson or the police murder of Michael Reinoehl, but I can understand why Reinhol felt his city was under attack. The day he killed Aaron Daielson hundreds of vehicles stormed Portland in a pro-Trump caravan while assaulting demonstrators with projectiles. When the right-wing claims self-defense they live to make the argument in court. When leftists make that same argument they are executed by police who act as judge, jury, and executioner. Fighting fascism is self-defense. If our justice system and media don't fundamentally change quasi-warfare is just the beginning. Bloodshed in Portland and across the country will only increase until we defund law enforcement, reinvest in our broken communities and stop the institutionalized cycle of fear and hatred.

Full Livestream of Portland, OR 9.22.2020

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