• Fri. Oct 30th, 2020

What We Know About the Death of Michael Forest Reinoehl, the Portland Shooting Suspect

Law enforcement agents in Washington State killed a suspect on Thursday night in the shooting death of a right-wing activist in Portland, Ore., last week, the latest development in the protests and counterdemonstrations that have escalated tensions in the city and drawn the nation’s attention.

The suspect, Michael Forest Reinoehl, 48, was shot by officers in Lacey, Wash., as they tried to arrest him, law enforcement officials said. The right-wing activist, Aaron J. Danielson, 39, had been shot five days earlier in Portland, and an arrest warrant for murder had been issued for Mr. Reinoehl earlier on Thursday.

Mr. Reinoehl’s death is also playing out during a broader confrontation between opposing visions for the nation, as protesters demanding racial justice clash with right-wing activists on the streets in events that have become increasingly politicized ahead of the presidential election.

ImageLt. Ray Brady of the sheriff’s office in Thurston County, which contains Lacey, spoke to the news media late on Thursday.
Credit…Joshua Bessex for The New York Times

Mr. Reinoehl was shot on Thursday night by officers from a federally led fugitive task force, the U.S. Marshals Service said.

“Initial reports indicate the suspect produced a firearm, threatening the lives of law enforcement officers,” the Marshals Service said in a statement. “Task force members responded to the threat and struck the suspect who was pronounced dead at the scene.”

An arrest warrant for Mr. Reinoehl had been obtained by the Portland police through the Circuit Court in Multnomah County, Ore., earlier Thursday, the Marshals Service said.

According to Lt. Ray Brady of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the shooting of Mr. Reinoehl, a police team was in a residential area of Lacey, a town southwest of Seattle, looking for a homicide suspect.

Though he did not mention Mr. Reinoehl by name, Lieutenant Brady said the suspect left an apartment and entered a vehicle, where he was approached by the police officers.

“As they attempted to apprehend him, there was gunfire,” he said, adding that four officers fired their weapons and that the suspect was thought to be armed. Shots were fired into the vehicle and the suspect fled, then more shots were fired.

Credit…Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian, via Associated Press

Mr. Reinoehl, a father of two from a Portland suburb, had said he was an Army veteran. He had been a familiar face at the protests for weeks, and described himself in posts on social media as an anti-fascist activist. He also previously described providing “security” at the protests.

“I am 100% ANTIFA all the way!” he posted on Instagram in June, referencing the loose collection of activists that have mobilized to oppose what they see as fascism or racism. That same post was also laced with violent messages.

“We truly have an opportunity right now to fix everything,” he wrote. “But it will be a fight like no other! It will be a war and like all wars there will be casualties.”

In an interview with Vice News, published earlier on Thursday, Mr. Reinoehl appeared to admit to the shooting of Mr. Danielson, and said he believed he had acted in self-defense.

“Had I not acted, I am confident that my friend and I am sure, I, would have been killed, because I wasn’t going to stand there and let something happen,” he said in the interview.

Credit…Mason Trinca for The New York Times

The city of Portland has been the site of nightly protests for three months since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited national demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

At the height of the protests this summer, federal agents were sent to the city, further raising tensions; they were withdrawn weeks later. On Saturday, a large caravan of supporters of President Trump traveled through the city as a counterprotest, and a small contingent broke off and traveled through downtown.

Mr. Danielson, a supporter of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, was part of the group that entered downtown Portland. That group clashed with other protesters, firing paintball guns and pepper spray from trucks as they moved through the streets, and as protesters threw objects at them.

An investigation into videos taken in Portland on Saturday showed the moment of the shooting, in which Mr. Danielson can be seen raising his arm and beginning to spray a pepper spray-like substance before the gunshots are heard. Mr. Danielson died at the scene.

Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

The shooting of Mr. Danielson and the subsequent death of Mr. Reinoehl have raised fears that of confrontations between Black Lives Matter supporters and pro-Trump demonstrators in other cities could lead to more deadly skirmishes.

In Kenosha, Wis., demonstrations have gripped the city since mid-August when a white police officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back as he entered his car with his three children in the back seat. Last week, two people were killed by a gunman as protesters clashed with counterprotesters.

Kyle Rittenhouse, 17-year-old from Illinois who attended the Kenosha counterprotest armed with a military-style rifle, and whose social media accounts were filled with messages of support for the “Blue Lives Matter” movement and Mr. Trump, has been charged with homicide in that shooting.

The divide over what constitutes racial justice and how to deal with police violence has become a major political issue ahead of the upcoming election.

Earlier this week, President Trump traveled to Wisconsin with a message that focused attention on street violence and disorder. He was followed days later by his Democratic challenger, Joseph R. Biden Jr., whose visit focused instead on sympathizing with the protesters’ calls for racial justice.