Portland protests: Two dead on either side of divide

©Agence France-Presse

Investigators move the body of a man identified by media as Michael Forest Reinoehl after he was shot and killed by law enforcement on September 3, 2020 in Lacey, Washington

Portland (AFP) - One was a far-right activist, the other a member of the far-left Antifa movement. Both men paid with their lives after getting drawn into the anti-racism demonstrations that have shaken the US for the last three months.

Aaron Danielson, 39, a supporter of a far-right group called Patriot Prayer, was fatally shot last weekend in Portland, Oregon after he joined pro-Trump supporters who descended on the western US city, sparking confrontations with Black Lives Matter counter-protesters.

Five days later, the man suspected in the shooting, Michael Reinoehl, 48, was killed in the neighboring state of Washington as police tried to arrest him on Thursday evening.

Shortly before his death, Vice News published an interview with Reinoehl, a former professional snowboarder who appears to have taken part in many of the nightly protests in Portland, according to his Instagram page.

Reinoehl appeared to acknowledge shooting Danielson in the interview.

He said on the night of the tragedy, he and a friend had ended up in a standoff with a man he claimed had a knife.

"Had I stepped forward, he would have maced or stabbed me," Reinoehl told VICE.

"I was confident that I did not hit anyone innocent and I made my exit," he added.

He said he fired his gun in self-defense.

"You know, lots of lawyers suggest that I shouldn't even be saying anything, but I feel it's important that the world at least gets a little bit of what's really going on," he said. "I had no choice. I mean, I, I had a choice. I could have sat there and watched them kill a friend of mine of color. But I wasn't going to do that."

However one of Danielson's friends, Chandler Pappas, who was with him when he died, insists he was gunned down because he was a supporter of Patriot Prayer and was wearing a hat with the group's logo.

"He was a good man and he was just killed senselessly for no reason other than he believed something different than they do," he told supporters during a rally Sunday. "He was Christian. He was conservative."

'It will be a war'

The exact circumstances surrounding Danielson's death may never be known but cellphone video of the shooting shows both him and his assailant on a darkened street.

Three shots ring out and Danielson is then shown on the ground as Pappas slaps him in the face yelling "Jay, Jay," his nickname.

What is certain is that Danielson and Reinoehl may well have crossed paths before during the nightly demonstrations that have taken place in downtown Portland since the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

Reinoehl portrayed himself on social media as a former soldier who helped the protesters with security.

In an Instagram post on June 16 he wrote he was "100% Antifa" and predicted violence.

"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."

On the eve of the shooting, The Oregonian newspaper said Reinoehl was spotted at a demonstration near the Portland mayor's house with his 11-year-old daughter who carried a baseball bat.

Court records also show he was given a citation on July 5 for carrying a loaded weapon in a public place. In June, he was arrested for driving under the influence after he was seen racing with another car driven by his 17-year-old son.

As for Danielson, he rode around Portland on an electric skateboard every night since the protests erupted to record the unrest on his phone and uploaded the videos on a YouTube channel.

On the night of his death, Danielson, who worked for a transport company and lived alone with his two dogs, was out documenting the latest protest, according to a friend.