A vocal proponent of the far-left antifa movement who was suspected of fatally shooting a supporter of a far-right group in Portland, Ore., this weekend was shot and killed in a confrontation with federal law enforcement Thursday, a Justice Department official said.
Investigators were seeking to take Michael Forest Reinoehl into custody in connection with the fatal shooting of 39-year-old Aaron Danielson on Saturday after confrontations between supporters of President Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter counterprotesters.
The FBI located Reinoehl somewhere in Washington state, the official said, and an officer shot him when he “pulled a gun.” The U.S. Marshals Service was also involved in apprehending him, the official said.
News of Reinoehl’s death was first reported by The New York Times.
In an interview aired Thursday on “VICE News Tonight,” Reinoehl said he believed he and a friend were in danger when Danielson was shot and killed. In the footage VICE aired, Reinoehl strongly implied he was the shooter, though if he said so directly, that was not shown.
One person who asserted he was with Danielson during the encounter has previously said he did not realize a gun was being pointed in his direction before shots rang out and believes he and Danielson were targeted because they wore hats showing their affiliation with the far-right Patriot Prayer group — apparently disputing Reinoehl’s account.
“I was confident that I did not hit anyone innocent, and I made my exit,” Reinoehl told VICE News when asked about what happened immediately after the incident.
“I see a civil war right around the corner,” he added later. “That shot felt like the beginning of a war.”
VICE News reported that Reinoehl approached a freelance journalist, who came to them. Reinoehl’s sister had previously told The Washington Post that police asked her if her brother was the person captured in images of the incident that circulated online.
“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,” Reinoehl told VICE News. “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.”
Police had not publicly accused Reinoehl, 48, of any crimes as of Thursday night, and they had said little about the shooting of Danielson. The Post’s efforts to reach him had been unsuccessful.
A Portland police spokeswoman said Thursday only that the investigation is ongoing. Friends of Danielson, who also went by “Jay,” alleged that he might have been targeted because he was wearing a hat that bore the Patriot Prayer insignia.
The incident came after a caravan of Trump supporters, including members of the Patriot Prayer group, made their way through Portland, sparking skirmishes with those who objected to their presence. Portland has seen more than three months of often violent protests after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, and the shooting seemed to intensify the persistent tension.
Video posted online of the encounter left few clear answers about what happened. In one video, men can be heard shouting, followed in rapid succession by the sound of something spraying and then two gunshots. In another video, shouts of “We got a couple right here” and “He’s pulling it out” can be heard before the gunfire.
In a taped interview posted online, Chandler Pappas, who said he was with Danielson during the shooting, said whoever fired the shots “recognized our Patriot Prayer hats,” and just before gunfire rang out, he heard someone say, “We’ve got a couple of ’em right here. Pull it out. Pull it out.” He said it “didn’t even register that somebody was pointing a gun at us until the shots went off.”
Pappas told The Post that Danielson was “killed in cold blood” but did not provide other details. A representative for Pappas referred a reporter to a Fox News interview Thursday night in which Pappas said of Reinoehl’s assertion: “I think their whole campaign is disinformation … I know they will not be able to produce anything to corroborate that story, whatsoever.”
Reinoehl told VICE News that he had seen the caravan of trucks with flags on them earlier in the day, and that the scene generally provoked him.
“I immediately think that they’re out to get me,” he said. He said someone later called him to tell him to come downtown because “security” might be necessary,” and when he arrived and saw the trucks, “It felt like the beginning of a war.”
Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer, said Danielson owned a local moving company and — as far as he knew — had no confrontations with Reinoehl earlier in the night, and that the incident occurred after the caravan had broken up. Reinoehl insisted his actions were “totally justified,” and that the incident was related to the protest.
“Not to mention the fact that they say that they don’t know who it was. That’s a lie,” Reinoehl said. “Within an hour, Facebook and Twitter and all that had my face and name labeled as the shooter.”
Justin Dunlap, a lighting technician from nearby Vancouver, Wash., who recorded one of the widely circulated videos and broadcast it live on Facebook, previously told The Post that he heard yelling and saw mace being sprayed. Then gunshots rang out.
Dunlap, 44, said that when the gunshots were fired, “the guy who had sprayed the bear mace turned and took three or four steps and then went face down. While he was doing that, the two that he had bear-maced ran back in my general direction and kind of went around the corner.”
Reinoehl’s Instagram page indicates that he had been attending Black Lives Matter demonstrations in recent months. He often posted photos and videos using the hashtag “blaklivesmatter” and indicated a distaste for Trump, the police and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat. In a lengthy post on June 16, he wrote that he was “100% ANTIFA all the way!” and hinted of violence.
“I am willing to fight for my brothers and sisters! Even if some of them are too ignorant to realize what antifa truly stands for. We do not want violence but we will not run from it either!” he wrote, adding later, “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.”
In the VICE News interview, Reinoehl said he was not a “member” of Antifa, but supported the ideology.
The Oregonian reported that one of its photographers had gotten a picture of him Friday night during a demonstration outside Wheeler’s home.
Court records indicate Reinoehl was cited on July 5 for possessing a loaded firearm in a public place, resisting arrest and interfering with a peace officer, though the case was later dropped. The Oregonian reported that stemmed from an incident during a protest.
Later that month, Reinoehl was apparently back at protests. Showing a bloody bandage on his arm, he told Bloomberg News in a video posted online that he intervened in an altercation to pull a gun away from someone and was shot. Reinoehl said on the video that he had military experience and had been “working security” to try to protect people in the crowd. He said he had brought his daughter to the demonstrations.
“It’s escalating to a point where they’re trying to disrupt us in every way that’s illegal,” Reinoehl said, asserting that people were shooting at protesters and starting fights.
Reinoehl’s sister, who asked that her name be withheld because her family had been receiving threats, said she had not had contact with her brother in three years. But she said soon after the incident — when online sleuths had apparently figured out her brother’s identity from videos of the shooting — she was awakened to callers threatening to harm her and her family.
The sister said she was soon put in touch with police in Portland, who asked her if she could identify Reinoehl in images captured of the incident that had been circulating online. She said she told law enforcement that the images appeared to show her brother, and they later warned her they might soon have to release information to the press about the case.
The sister said even when they were in closer contact, Reinoehl, a professional snowboarder who had also done construction work, was a “nebulous figure who showed up every once in a while demanding money from Mom and then disappearing again.” She and her mother both said they broke contact with Reinoehl years ago, frustrated by his frequently coming around to ask for money.
In June, Reinoehl was arrested for driving under the influence, reckless endangerment of a person and unlawful possession of a firearm after an Oregon State Police trooper saw him appearing to race another car — which investigators would later find was being driven by Reinoehl’s 17-year-old son — on Interstate 84 in Oregon.
According to a police account of the incident, the two cars were traveling at 111 mph. Police said that after they stopped and searched Reinoehl’s car, they found marijuana, prescription pills and a loaded pistol for which Reinoehl did not have a license. They said Reinoehl “showed signs of impairment” and was traveling with his 11-year-old daughter, a kitten and a large dog.
The sister said she did not know Reinoehl had become so actively involved in recent racial-justice demonstrations, as his social media posts seem to suggest. She said she was dismayed that some people seemed to be hailing the killing because the victim was a supporter of the president and that others were trying to “use it for their political agendas.”
“No one should ever celebrate the death of anyone, even in the rare circumstances where a person deserves it, it’s never a celebratory moment,” she said, adding later: “There’s too much hate and violence in this country right now, and people think the solution is more hate and violence, but that’s never been the case. Violence begets violence, and hate begets hate.”
The sister said that she had received dozens of threats, and they seemed to be coming from supporters of the Patriot Prayer group. One person, she said, sent her husband a picture of her with the text, “Patriot Prayer says hello.”
“They were saying ‘blood for blood,’ if we didn’t turn him over, our family was in danger,” the sister said.
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The Washington Post’s Julie Tate contributed to this report.