Cover photo: Ted Warren/Associated Press
By Peter Cherry
A New York Times investigation into the murder of antifascist activist Michael Reinoehl at the hands of US Marshals has revealed important evidence that this was a targeted political assassination. Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr have upheld the cold-blooded murder as a model for dealing with antifascists who dare to defend themselves against armed reactionaries menacing protesters for Black lives.
In the report published on Wednesday, several accounts from bystanders and police officers stated that Reinoehl’s handgun remained in his pocket, unused. It was also reported that Reinoehl was not given a warning before federal agents opened fire, despite previous claims saying otherwise.
Michael Reinoehl had been working as security for ongoing demonstrations in the movement for Black lives in Portland. Reinoehl and his friend were approached by the fascist Aaron J. Danielson who threatened them in an altercation with a knife, leading Reinoehl to shoot the armed fascist in self-defense. Danielson was later found to have a metal baton, mace, a loaded Glock 17 handgun, and three magazines of ammunition at the time of his death.
Reinoehl, in an interview with Vice News, stated he had to flee because he was fearful that the fascist organization that Danielson was part of (Patriot Prayer) was out to get him. Just hours after Danielson’s death, Reinhoel was identified online by the far-right and shots were fired into his house. “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.”
After the attempt on his life, Reinoehl fled to Lacey, Washington, a suburb of Olympia, about 120 miles north of Portland, and started keeping his gun on him at all times to defend himself.
On the day of his death, Reinoehl was getting into his car in the parking lot of an apartment complex when two unmarked SUVs pulled up next to his vehicle and members of a US Marshals task force, recruited from among local and Washington state police, shot and killed him. The press release from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office claims that “the wanted subject [Reinoehl] came out of the apartment and got in the vehicle to leave. During the attempt to apprehend him, shots were fired at the suspect in the vehicle and he fled from the vehicle on foot. Additional shots were fired at the suspected and he was later pronounced dead at the location.”
In earlier press reports, the police stated that they had been following Reinoehl through his cell phone while they applied for a warrant to allow them to legally determine where he was located. One hour and 14 minutes after the warrant was approved, the police followed Reinoehl’s cellphone location and shot him dead. Shortly before his death, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Do your job, and do it fast. Everybody knows who this thug is.”
As the Times account points out, “Five eyewitnesses said in interviews that the gunfire began the instant the vehicles arrived. None of them saw Mr. Reinoehl holding a weapon.” Garret Louis, a resident who witnessed the shooting while running to get his eight-year old son out of the line of fire, said that the officers arrived and started shooting with such speed that he presumed it was drug dealers murdering their competition. Ricocheted bullets narrowly missed Louis’ son and the brother of another witness. Louis, a former medic in the military who now works as a carpenter, hurried over to offer assistance to Reinoehl but was driven away by police and cursed at.
Another witness, Chad Smith, stated, “There was no yelling. There was no screaming. There was no altercation. It was just went straight to gunshots.” In that time, four police fired 30 rounds from four weapons, two handguns and two assault rifles.
As the movement for Black lives continues to rage in cities like Portland, Trump has used federal police and encouraged civilian fascists to go on the offensive against protesters there, egging on reactionaries like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer to invade Portland, and echoing his support with encouragements to “stand back and stand by.” The valiant act of self-defense by Reinoehl, an act of People’s Justice against hated fascist groups, was met with assassination to discourage armed action against fascists.
Trump lauded the murder of Reinoehl as “retribution.” At the first presidential debate, Trump also called it a great achievement that Reinoehl was murdered, while Biden raised no objections. Biden has similarly called for the use of federal police against the protest movement. At a rally on Wednesday, Trump doubled down on this, saying, “We sent in the US Marshals. It took fifteen minutes and it was over…They knew who he was, they didn’t want to arrest and [in] 15 minutes that ended.”
The growing disregard for democratic rights and due process on the part of the state reveals the depth of its increased reactionization, formerly recognized at least in word. Relying more on death squads that carry out well-publicized and unpunished targeted assassinations of antifascist activists, in tandem with making ‘antifa’ a recognized “terrorist organization,” police agencies and the government are responding to the people becoming more bolder and confident with lead.
This reveals the necessity of revolutionary leadership, revolutionary organization, and tactically preparing for increased reactionary violence from the Old State and its fascist lackeys with organized bodies that will treat street confrontations as schools of war, to train and militarize all who participate, and to defend and shelter its fighters through engaging in calculated engagements. The popularization of People’s Justice, of taking back what the reactionaries wish to deprive through revolutionary violence, is crucial in ensuring that Reinoehl’s assassination not be in vain.
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