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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden slammed President Donald Trump for “fanning the flames of hate and division” after a Trump supporter was shot dead in Portland over the weekend following clashes with counterprotesters.
Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a member of the right-wing Patriot Prayer group, was shot dead at close range on Saturday night in downtown Portland, after he had taken part in a Trump rally consisting of a convoy of hundreds of vehicles through the city earlier in the day.
As a result of the ongoing violence in the city, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced late Sunday that state police troops would once again be deployed to back up Portland’s police forces.
The incident has sparked a renewed war of words between Democrats and Trump over who is to blame for the violence on Portland’s streets. The president called the city’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, a “fool” on Twitter, saying he has allowed violence to persist on the city’s streets for more than three months.
A visibly angry Wheeler addressed Trump directly during a news conference on Sunday, saying the president was responsible for fomenting violence in his city.
“Do you seriously wonder, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence? It is you who have created the hate and division,” Wheeler said. “It is you who have not said the names of Black people who were killed by police officers… it’s you who claim that white supremacists are good people.”
Biden echoed that view in a statement released Sunday night.
“What does President Trump think will happen when he continues to insist on fanning the flames of hate and division in our society and using the politics of fear to whip up his supporters? He is recklessly encouraging violence."
What happened on Saturday?
On Saturday afternoon, a pro-Trump rally consisting of 600 vehicles adorned with Trump flags gathered just outside Portland in a shopping mall in Clackamas County.
Danielson was among the more than 1,000 supporters who attended the “Trump 2020 Cruise Rally in Portland,” along with another Patriot Prayer member, Chandler Pappas. The pair said they were attending “in order to offer makeshift security services for the caravan of Trump supporters,” according to the Portland Tribune.
Danielson was armed with a paintball gun, a knife, and other tactical gear, the paper reported.
“We’re all about independent journalism,” Danielson claimed in an interview with the newspaper, pointing out that conservative journalists have in the past been attacked by left-wing protesters. “Andy Ngo has been assaulted for being an independent journalist — he’s not even right-leaning. The Overton Window has been pushed so far to the left, that like normalcy seems…” before he was cut off.
The convoy traveled into Portland and local media reported members of the convoy firing paintball rounds and pepper spray at Black Lives Matter protesters who were trying to block their route.
Police say they responded to “some instances of violence” between “demonstrators and counter-demonstrators” and arrested several people.
By 8 p.m. most of the vehicles in the convoy had departed downtown Portland. An hour later Danielson was shot and killed.
Multiple videos of the incident were posted on social media. They show a white man firing at Danielson from close range before fleeing the scene. Another video, of the moments after the shooting, shows Pappas trying to talk to Danielson and getting no response.
Who was Danielson?
While the police have yet to officially name the victim, members of the Patriot Prayer group have named him.
“We love Jay and he had such a huge heart,” Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer, wrote on Facebook.
A GoFundMe campaign was also launched to support Danielson’s family and his business partner, and it is already close to reaching its $25,000 goal.
“Aaron ‘Jay’ Danielson was a Portland citizen who went downtown to exercise his constitutional rights during the unrest and was shot and killed on the evening of Saturday, August 29th. There are multiple fraudulent GoFundMe accounts that are set up,” the campaign’s organizers said.
There was a lot of confusion online about the identity of the victim after a number of people claimed he was also known as Jay Bishop, though it’s unclear if he ever used that name.
Trump retweeted a post using this name and claiming — without any evidence — that he was “murdered in Portland by ANTIFA.”
Who shot him?
Police have yet to name a suspect. The Oregonian, citing a source familiar with the case, said the prime suspect is 48-year-old Michael Forest Reinoehl.
Reinoehl’s sister told the paper that once she saw the video of the incident on Sunday morning — after she received a threatening phone call — she called detectives in Portland to identify her brother as the shooter.
“On the one hand, this whole thing surprises the daylights out of us, because we always thought he is a lot of bark, not a lot of bite,” she said. “But he’s also been very impulsive and irrational.”
Users of various online message boards had previously pinpointed a tattoo of a fist on the neck of the man seen fleeing the scene as evidence that Reinoehl was the shooter.
Reinoehl, who describes himself as an anti-fascist on his social media accounts, has frequently attended protests in Portland in recent months. In one Instagram post, he shared a picture of a wound he claims he received during a protest last month.
In a video interview with Bloomberg QuickTake News, Reinoehl describes himself as a professional snowboarder and contractor who has former military experience but “hated” his time in the army.
Trump fans the flames
The shooting of Danielson came just days after a 17-year-old armed with a military-style weapon was charged with homicide in connection with shootings during a protest in Kenosha, which left two people dead and one injured.
Violence on the streets of cities across the U.S. has become a central theme of the 2020 election, with both sides blaming the other for the escalating situation.
On Sunday, Trump posted a rash of messages about the situation in Portland, but rather than calling for calm, the president appeared to further inflame the situation.
“The big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected,” Trump said after posting a video showing his supporters firing paintballs and pepper spray at the counterprotesters.
Trump is trying desperately to use the growing street protests as a way of deflecting attention from his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic to make November’s vote all about “law and order.”
During last week’s Republican National Convention, Trump and the GOP portrayed Joe Biden as weak on crime. The president said his rival and other Democrats were "completely silent about the rioters and criminals spreading mayhem in Democrat-run cities.”
After slamming Trump’s response on Sunday, Biden will follow up with a speech in Pittsburgh on Monday, with the campaign saying his speech will focus on whether voters ”feel safe in Donald Trump’s America.”
Trump, however, threatens to inflame the situation even further on Tuesday when he visits Kenosha. On Sunday night, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers pleaded with the president to cancel his visit.
"I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing. I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together," Evers wrote to Trump.
The White House said the president has no plans to cancel his trip.
Cover: Supporters of President Donald Trump participate in a rally on Sunday 29 August 2020 in Clackamas County outside Portland, Oregon. (AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)