Death at a Portland Protest: What You Need to Know

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PORTLAND — A “Trump 2020 Cruise Rally,” comprised of hundreds of flag-waving pro-Trump pickup truck drivers, detoured into downtown Portland, Oregon, on Saturday night, setting off clashes between right- and left-wing protesters. Events turned deadly when a supporter of the far-right-wing group Patriot Prayer was shot and killed. Police have yet to formally identify either the victim or any leads on the shooter, but local media have surfaced the name of a suspect first identified by 4chan.

Here’s what you need to know.

What Preceded the Violence?
Portland has been the scene of nightly Black Lives Matter protests, with residents decrying the city’s notoriously racist and brutal police bureau, since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. The protests have been sustained by what the Governor Kate Brown has described as “senseless cycle of violence,” in which police have met protests against police brutality with ever-more brutal policing — responding to individual law-breakers and agitators within crowds by indiscriminately firing tear gas and riot munitions against nonviolent protesters. Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, is also the police commissioner. He has foundered, unable to lead a policy response that appeases the activists in the streets, while failing to restrain a police bureau that plainly does not see itself as a legitimate target for protest.

The unrest in Portland gave President Trump a pretext to deploy federal agents to the city in July, an incursion that was turned around after authoritarian overreach — including the silent snatching of protesters off the street by unidentified agents into unmarked vans — and a broad-based uprising of Portland residents. Since the drawdown of federal agents, protests against local police have continued, as has indiscriminate police violence, most frequently in the form of bull-rushes that subject slow-of-foot protesters to baton blows and pepper spray.

The nightly left-wing protests have recently attracted right-wing counter-protests and violence. Portland is a very progressive city surrounded by conservative suburbs and exurbs, and has, for years, been a flash-point between antifacists and Proud Boy militants. On August 8th, a pipe bomb was thrown at protesters; police have named an ex-Navy SEAL as a “person of interest” in that case. On August 16th, gunshots were fired from a car as it left a right-wing protest downtown. And on August 22nd, right-wing militants led by Proud Boys clashed with left-wing protesters downtown. The scene devolved into chaos as police stood by, even as one Proud Boy brandished a gun.

Portland continues to be a focal point of President Trump’s reelection pitch, centering on “law-and-order” — a phrase first popularized by segregationist George Wallace in the 1960s in justifying brutal crackdowns on Civil Rights protesters. “Make no mistake,” Trump said in his convention speech on August 27th, “if you give power to Joe Biden, the radical left… will make every city look like Democrat-run Portland, Oregon.”

What Was the ‘Cruise Rally’?

The cruise rally was organized by Alex Kyzik, whose social media profiles identify him as a resident of Idaho. In a video posted to Twitter, Kyzik — decked out in Trump/Pence “Keep America Great” gear — invited Trump supporters to the parking lot of the mall at Clackamas Town Center, south of Portland. He encouraged the attendees to bring hidden weapons. “This event is concealed-carry only,” he said. “God bless you, and God bless USA!”

The event drew hundreds of supporters in the mall parking lot. The attendees, predominately driving pickup trucks flying American flags and Trump 2020 campaign flags, then drove north toward Portland, as local law enforcement blocked local traffic. The president himself described the participants as “GREAT PATRIOTS!”

Was the Rally Supposed to Reach Downtown?

According to the map provided by organizers, the Cruise Rally was supposed to keep to highways, circling downtown, but avoiding city streets. On Sunday, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said that PPB’s strategy was to keep the Trump drivers on the interstates. “The goal was to keep them on I-5,” Lovell said, “But later a group of those vehicles was able to come into the downtown core.” These arrivals predictably clashed with left-wing counter-demonstrators.

What Did Those Clashes Look Like?

As the pro-Trump drivers cruised downtown, some of them attacked protesters, and some protesters tossed objects at the passing cars. As captured by New York Times reporter Mike Baker (and later retweeted by Trump, who appeared to back his violent supporters, writing the “big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected”) some of the right wingers sprayed mace and shot paint balls into a crowd that had set fire to a Trump 2020 banner.

Some of the Trump 2020 drivers disregarded red lights, and nearly ran over counter-demonstrators:

Others exited their vehicles. And the two sides squared off in conflicts that escalated into fist fights on the street:

What Led to the Shooting?

At roughly 9 p.m., as tensions rose and night fell, one of the right-wing protesters was shot in the chest near the intersection of Southwest 3rd Avenue and Southwest Alder Street. The precise circumstances of the confrontation are not clear. Video of the deadly confrontation have been widely shared on right-wing social media. It shows two men squaring off in the street. One appears to spray something at the other before two gunshots sound and the first man falls to the pavement.

The victim, who wore a reportedly wore a cap with a Patriot Prayer insignia on it, has been identified by that right-wing group as Aaron “Jay” Danielson, 39. On Monday night, the Portland Police Bureau confirmed the victim’s identity.

Content warning: Gun violence.

Volunteer medics, a mainstay of the city’s BLM protests, attempted to aid to the victim, but were pushed away from the scene by Portland Police who arrived moments later and prioritized clearing the crime scene.

Was the Shooter a Left-Wing Protester?

This has not been established. At a press conference Sunday Police Chief Lovell was asked by a reporter: “Do you know if the shooting was politically motivated?” He responded: “I do not know that, no.” He cautioned reporters about jumping to conclusions and counseled patience as police investigators do their jobs.

That advice has gone unheeded everywhere. The New York Times headline framed the killing as the result of political violence: “One Person Dead in Portland After Clashes Between Trump Supporters and Protesters.” And that assumption has taken hold.

Is There a Suspect in the Case?

Members of the far-right message board 4Chan pieced together photos of past protests and video stills from the night of the violence to accuse a man with a black lives matter tattoo on his neck, and social media posts reading “I am 100% ANTIFA all the way!,” of being the shooter. The Oregonian, citing “sources familiar with the case but not authorized to speak,” reports that this individual is under investigation by the Portland Police Bureau. The suspect has not been named by the police.

What is the Political Fallout?

Democratic nominee Joe Biden responded to the killing with a statement condemning violence as a solution to political differences: “We must not become a country at war with ourselves. A country that accepts the killing of fellow Americans who do not agree with you,” he said. “A country that vows vengeance toward one another. But that is the America that President Trump wants us to be, the America he believes we are.” Biden used the occasion to condemn urban violence more generally: “The deadly violence we saw overnight in Portland is unacceptable. Shooting in the streets of a great American city is unacceptable. I condemn this violence unequivocally… And I challenge Donald Trump to do the same.”

Trump hasn’t done that, instead using the deadly turn in the streets to threaten an invasion of Portland.

For his part, Portland’s mayor Wheeler — who is facing calls from local civil rights leaders to resign — has blasted Trump as responsible for the deadly clash: “It is you who have created the hate and division,” he said Sunday. “You want me to stop the violence that you helped create. What America needs is for you to be stopped so we can come back together as one America.”

What Happened on Sunday Night?

Despite fears of violent right-wing reprisal, Black Lives Matter protesters hit the streets again on Sunday for the 95th consecutive day, targeting a law enforcement facility on the city’s east side. Counterprotesters stayed away. But local police, backed by state forces deployed by the governor, took a heavy hand suppressing the protest, making mass arrests of demonstrators — many of them of them needlessly violent: