They Never Announced Themselves as Police Before Gunning Him Down from Unmarked Cars
Michael Reinoehl, a father of two, was eating a gummy worm when cops opened fire
The killing of 48-year-old Michael Reinoehl — a supporter of Black Lives Matter and Antifa — looks increasingly like a hit. Rather than carry out the warrant issued for his arrest, a U.S. Marshals Task Force and local police appear to have acted in retaliation for Reinoehl’s alleged killing of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a member of a far-right, pro-Trump group in Portland, which he claims he did in self-defense.
This post will explore the details of both Reinoehl’s alleged shooting of Danielson and eyewitness accounts of Reinoehl’s death at the hands of law enforcement. I’ll also delve into the deep ties between far-right, white supremacist groups and the police, as it’s crucial to understanding the context behind the killing of Michael Reinoehl. I’ve been working on this piece for the past several weeks, and I already know none of my editors at the publications I wrote for will touch this with a 20-foot-pole, so I wanted to make sure my subscribers read it. If you like this post, feel free to hit the subscribe button below, and share this with your friends!
48-year-old Portland protester Michael Reinoehl before he was killed by police (screenshot from Donovan Farley’s Vice News interview)
In 2015, after white supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof gunned down 9 people in a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, police apprehended him without firing a shot (they even bought him a meal at Burger King after he said he was hungry).
In 2019, after white supremacist terrorist Patrick Crusius murdered 23 people and injured 23 others at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, police apprehended him without firing a shot.
In August of 2020, after Kyle Rittenhouse allegedly killed two Black Lives Matter protesters and injured a third — allegedly crossing state lines with a rifle he wasn’t old enough to legally carry — Illinois police apprehended him without firing a shot.
Michael Reinoehl was not given the same courtesy.
No body camera video of the shooting of Reinoehl has emerged as of this writing, so investigators are currently relying on eyewitness accounts. Eyewitness accounts and police accounts are conflicting. Last week, two eyewitnesses told local media that Reinoehl fired at police “40 to 50 times” with an assault rifle before police returned fire (police later said they found a handgun on his person, not a rifle) one eyewitness recently told The Washington Post that there was never any attempt to peacefully apprehend Reinoehl (emphasis mine).
[A]ccording to Nate Dinguss, Reinoehl was clutching a cellphone and eating a gummy worm as he walked to his car outside an apartment complex in Lacey, Wash. That’s when officers opened fire without first announcing themselves or trying to arrest him, Dinguss, a 39-year-old who lives in the apartment complex, said in a statement shared with The Washington Post.
Dinguss’s account of the Sept. 3 fatal shooting, first reported by the Oregonian, contradicts details offered by federal authorities, who said Reinoehl, 48, pulled a gun as members of a fugitive task force tried to arrest him. Two other witnesses also told the Olympian they had seen Reinoehl fire a weapon at police.
…Dinguss said he never saw Reinoehl pull out a gun.
He said he watched as two unmarked police vehicles converged on Reinoehl as he walked to his car, holding his phone and chewing on a piece of candy. The officers never audibly identified themselves and didn’t try to arrest Reinoehl, Dinguss said.
Instead, he said they immediately began firing. When Reinoehl heard the gunfire, he ducked behind his car, which was pinned in by the law enforcement vehicles; he never tried to get inside, Dinguss said, and he never saw him reaching for a weapon. Dinguss said he watched police unleash rapid-fire rounds at Reinoehl, once pausing to shout “Stop!” before resuming their fire.
Dinguss added officers waited “multiple minutes” before rendering medical aid to Reinoehl, who died at the scene from several gunshot wounds.
On August 29 — three days after Kyle Rittenhouse allegedly killed protesters in Kenosha — a caravan of Trump supporters converged on Portland, Oregon, likely provoked by President Trump’s constant harping on Black Lives Matter protesters and the elected Democrats who run the city government.
According to The Guardian, it was the third Saturday in a row that Trump supporters drove into Portland to confront protesters. Video shows trucks decked out in Trump flags and Thin Blue Line flags (and at least one with a Confederate flag) driving into crowds of protesters, spraying them with pepper spray through open windows, and throwing objects from the bed of their truck.
Trucks part of the August 29 pro-Trump caravan in Portland driving into protesters and spraying them with pepper spray (screenshot from Guardian video)
That night, Aaron “Jay” Danielson and Chandler Pappas — members of the far-right group Patriot Prayer — were armed and walking the streets of downtown Portland in tactical gear when they came into contact with Reinoehl. Danielson was wearing a Patriot Prayer hat at the time Reinoehl shot him.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Patriot Prayer frequently associates with the Proud Boys, a white supremacist street gang that promotes members who brawl with leftists. Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson says members “should be carrying around guns at all times.” In 2019, local Portland-area paper Willamette Week obtained texts between Gibson and Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Lt. Jeff Niiya showing the two had a warm and familiar rapport.
Niiya — who leads the PPB’s rapid response unit that patrols protests — even told Gibson that his officers wouldn’t arrest Tusitala “Tiny” Toese (a Patriot Prayer associate with a violent history who has an active warrant for his arrest) if “he doesn’t do anything that may draw our attention.” The texts prompted Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to call for an independent investigation into his city’s police department.
The details of the shooting are murky. A grainy video of the shooting shows men crossing a street in close proximity to one another before a gun goes off twice. Smoke from the gunshots and a passing car obscure what happened in the critical moment. New York Times correspondent Mike Baker, who covers the Pacific Northwest, uncovered surveillance camera images showing Reinoehl apparently being followed by Danielson and Pappas before he ducked into a parking garage. Danielson is seen carrying a can of mace in one hand and an expandable baton in the other.
Just before he was killed, Reinoehl told Vice News freelancer Donovan Farley he was acting in self-defense, and felt the need to tell his version of events despite advice from attorneys to not speak to the media (emphasis mine).
At 8:45 p.m., Reinoehl said he went to the aid of a friend surrounded by trucks laden with armed pro-Trump protesters. “I saw someone that is a dear and close friend of mine in the movement by himself basically confronting all these vehicles,” Reinhoel told Farley. “And so I let him know that I'm here, parked my vehicle and joined up with him, found myself in the intersection in front of the food trucks surrounded by trucks and cars that had weapons.”
Reindoehl stressed that people participating in the pro-Trump caravan were heavily armed in those trucks, and that they carried “not just paintball guns,” as reported in the press.
He found himself in a confrontation with a man who he says threatened him and another protester with a knife. “Had I stepped forward, he would have maced or stabbed me,” Reinoehl said.
Bystander video from multiple angles show a man who resembles Reinoehl and appears to have the same neck tattoo fire two shots at Danielson and then walk away. “I was confident that I did not hit anyone innocent and I made my exit,” he said.
Since the shooting, Reinoehl said he’s gone into hiding, and moved his children to a safe place after shots were fired into his house just hours after the incident. “They're out hunting me,” he said. “There's nightly posts of the hunt and where they're going to be hunting. They made a post saying the deer are going to feel lucky this year because it's open season on Michael right now.”
He had not turned himself in, he said, because he believed right-wing protesters were collaborating with police, who will not protect him or his family.
He said at the time of the confrontation and the shooting, there were no police present to help. “There was definitely nobody in sight, no police officer, nobody at all that could intervene. It was a free-for-all. And the police were letting it happen,” he said.
Two days later, he said he had no regrets about his actions. “If the life of anybody I care about is in danger, and there's something I can do to prevent it … I think that any good human being would do the same thing,” he said.
Reinoehl said he’s spoken to attorneys who say he’s “got a viable case for self-defense and protection because there’s a definite threat to my life.”
Given the documented closeness Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson had with the Portland Police Bureau, the fact that police weren’t doing enough to prevent violence between protesters and counter-protesters, and the fact that Danielson and Pappas were both armed, Reinoehl’s account is believable.
It’s also worth noting that Reinoehl holds more militant beliefs than most protesters. In an Instagram post, Reinoehl wrote that he was “100% ANTIFA all the way” and that he was “willing to fight” on behalf of fellow protesters.
“We do not want violence but we will not run from it either! If the police continue to pick on and beat up innocent citizens that are peacefully voicing their objections, it must be met with equal force,” Reinoehl wrote. “We are currently living through a crucial point in Humanities[sic] evolution. We truly have an opportunity right now to fix everything. But it will be a fight like no other! It will be a war and like all wars there will be casualties.”
“I was in the army and I hated it. I did not feel like fighting for them would ever be a good cause. Today’s protesters and antifa are my brothers in arms,” he continued.
Reinoehl’s post may seem over-the-top in describing a “war” coming, but he was right to fear retribution from the far right. Politico recently reported that the draft report of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s annual threat assessment named white supremacists as the most deadly domestic terror threat in the nation (a DHS whistleblower recently came forward to accuse top agency officials of doctoring the report to downplay the threat from white supremacists and exaggerate the threat from antifa).
“Lone offenders and small cells of individuals motivated by a diverse array of social, ideological, and personal factors will pose the primary terrorist threat to the United States,” the draft read. “Among these groups, we assess that white supremacist extremists – who increasingly are networking with likeminded persons abroad – will pose the most persistent and lethal threat.”
Just a week before the Politico report, The Guardian‘s Sam Levin reported that police officers in more than a dozen states — including Oregon — have been in engaged in “racist militant activities” for decades. In 2018, Levin also reported that California police worked alongside white supremacists and neo-Nazis to identify anti-racist protesters in order to prosecute them.
This is all par for the course according to the FBI, which has been warning since 2006 that white supremacists have been infiltrating local police departments across the country “in order to disrupt investigations against fellow members and recruit other supremacists,” according to PBS:
Much of the bulletin has been redacted, but in it, the FBI identified white supremacists in law enforcement as a concern, because of their access to both “restricted areas vulnerable to sabotage” and elected officials or people who could be seen as “potential targets for violence.” The memo also warned of “ghost skins,” hate group members who don’t overtly display their beliefs in order to “blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes.”
“At least one white supremacist group has reportedly encouraged ghost skins to seek positions in law enforcement for the capability of alerting skinhead crews of pending investigative action against them,” the report read.
Problems with white supremacists in law enforcement have surfaced since that report. In 2014, two Florida officers — including a deputy police chief — were fired after an FBI informant outed them as members of the Ku Klux Klan. It marked the second time within five years that the agency uncovered an officer’s membership in the KKK.
The current moment America finds itself in is profoundly dangerous for the left. Despite 93 percent of the racial justice protests that erupted across the country being peaceful in nature, armed white supremacists, militias, and far-right activists have been attacking, menacing, and threatening protesters for months.
Portland State University Alexander Reid Ross (whom I interviewed in July) has documented more than 560 incidents of violence and threats against Black Lives Matter protesters from the far right since early June. Some of these violent incidents involved or were provoked by local law enforcement, which suggests that peaceful protesters can’t fully count on the police to protect them from militias and right-wing extremists.
Michael Reinoehl’s violent death at the hands of police just hours after his Vice News interview was published may very well be a signal to other leftists that it’s open season on antifa, and any attack on one of their own will result in swift reprisal. Reinoehl himself seemed to sense that his death was imminent, according to a September 3 New York Times report.
An hour before his fatal encounter with law enforcement, Mr. Reinoehl was on the telephone with Tiffanie Wickwire, who was helping him set up a GoFundMe page, Ms. Wickwire said in an interview.
“We were talking about his kids and what to do for them if anything happened to him,” she said, referring to his 17-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.
“Stay safe,” they told each other at the end of the call, she said.