A First Glimpse of People’s Justice in Portland

By the Editorial Board

Update: Late Thursday night, it was reported that Michael Forest Reinoehl, the suspected shooter of fascist Aaron J. Danielson, was gunned down by police. This can only be seen as political retaliation against the people for defending themselves with revolutionary violence. Read Tribune’s response to this development here.

As the protest movement first ignited by the May Uprisings was beginning to wane, Portland remained the site of the most consistently combative protests night-after-night complete with clashes with police and fascists. After the brutal shooting of Jacob Blake and subsequent murder of two anti-racist protesters by a fascist militia member in Kenosha helped spur a resurgence of militant protests, it is only fitting that the people have had one of their first tastes of People’s Justice at the site of these ongoing combative demonstrations.

On the night of August 29, a member of the fascist group Patriot Prayer was shot and killed on the streets of downtown Portland after a caravan of Trump supporting reactionaries decided to confront anti-police protesters by driving through the site of their demonstration, deploying mace and shooting paintballs as they passed through. Later that night, videos of the ongoing protest captured Aaron J. Danielson (also known as Jay Bishop) attempt to attack protesters with bear mace before two shots rang out and he fell to the ground, dying on the scene.

One of the eyewitnesses who captured the incident on camera reported that Danielson reached for his hip and began spraying a heavy dose of mace before he was shot; it should also be noted that Danielson was photographed carrying a knife on this hip earlier that day. While the ruling class media was quick to obscure the political nature of the altercation, video from the that night confirms that Danielson was identified by protesters as a pro-Trump reactionary and onlookers warned that he was grabbing for a bear mace cannister as he approached. At this point the identity of the protester who killed Danielson has not yet been confirmed.

While the actions of the unidentified gunman would likely pass for self-defense if it were a police officer or pro-government reactionary pulling the trigger, the legal argument for self-defense is not what is truly important here. The shooting should be viewed in the wider context of the protest movement for Black lives and its frequent clashes with racist, police-supporting reactionaries that have all too often resulted in the murder of activists. This event marks the first documented use of lethal force against a fascist attempting to menace and attack protesters, breaking with the previous pattern of returning fire once it is already too late. Regardless of whether the shooter is identified and/or prosecuted, the fact is that Danielson was guilty of being a fascist and was on the receiving on of People’s Justice in its most deadly form in the broad defense of the protest movement. These fascists have a long, documented history of terrorizing people  and it was only a matter of time until they were on the receiving end.

Danielson was wearing a hat with the logo of the fascist group Patriot Prayer when he was shot dead; the group’s leader, Joey Gibson, also confirmed that he was a member. Patriot Prayer, while attempting to downplay their fascistic politics by claiming they are simply Christian patriots, are known for seeking out violent confrontations with antifascist protesters and have allied themselves with other fascist groups like the Proud Boys to this end. The Portland rail stabber Jeremy Joseph Christian, who killed two people who tried to intervene as he verbally abused a Muslim passenger, had attended a Patriot Prayer rally only a month prior. The fascist group also has documented friendship with the Portland police, who have looked the other way as they violently attacked progressive activists and, in some cases, even given them advice on how to avoid arrest.

Donald Trump has continued to escalate his gestures to fascism in response to the shooting, tweeting “RIP Jay” along with a comment from another reactionary blaming “ANTIFA” for the violence. The significance of this action is twofold: on the one hand, Trump is showing clearly that he supports the civilian fascist movement’s use of terror against the movement for Black lives, further evidenced by the fact that he did not memorialize the two anti-racist protesters killed by a fascist militia member in Kenosha. He is also furthering his strategy of labeling ‘Antifa’ a terrorist group and, in turn, using that to label any and all combative or destructive protests as ‘domestic terrorism’ (as he has already  done in the cases of Portland and Kenosha) and impugn participants as ‘outside agitators’ and ‘terrorists.’

Likewise, the president of the police union in Portland has seized the opportunity to demand increased funding for the department as well as carte blanche to brutally put down protests under the guise of a “zero-tolerance” policy on violence. This “zero tolerance” position ignores the fact that the police are the most violent force in the clashes that have become common over the course of the mass rebellions against the police.

In an effort to erase the class character of Danielson’s politics, the ruling class media has promoted the line of his friends who claim that he was simply a “freedom-loving American” who was neither a radical nor an agitator. The truth is that he was a fascist who was actively terrorizing the movement for Black lives and knowingly sought out confrontation with protesters, making the mistake of bringing mace to a gunfight. Local ruling class media has also promoted an event memorializing Danielson this upcoming Saturday; it is likely that the demonstration will be another flashpoint in the street fight between left and right in Portland. They have even obscured the motivations for the shooting by being intentionally vague out of a fear of inspiring similar instances of People Justice against fascists.

Naturally, democratic politicians like Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Joe Biden were quick to blame Trump for the violence, while still condemning violence on ‘both sides,’ mirroring Trump’s previous responses to fascist violence. Their interest is in separating and isolating the most rebellious segments of the protest movement so they can maintain the ‘respectable’ image of the protests and claim an unearned ideological leadership over it.

Thankfully the largely unorganized and heavily anarchist-influenced protesters in Portland did not fall for this same trap. In footage from later that night, a woman speaking on a megaphone says, “Everybody needs to realize what’s going on in these streets. Our community can hold it’s own without police. We can take out the trash on our own. I am not sad that a fucking fascist died tonight.” The endorsement of People’s Justice over the reactionary ‘justice’ system of the state and the refusal to resort to condemning violence ‘on both sides’ shows the relatively advanced character of the protests there.

What we are seeing in Portland and across the country is the typical pattern of reaction: for every attempt at a progressive step forward, the reactionaries attempt to pull things back. As people in the US have taken to the streets in the tens of millions against the police and racist violence, these people have counterposed themselves against the movement for Black lives. They have made it clear that they believe the state is justified in its murder Black and poor working class people and are making it their job to aid the police in their efforts to violently suppress any seemingly progressive or left-wing protest. While they claim to cherish and defend ‘freedom,’ the fascist militias and other groups have an inherently anti-democratic nature and they function as an extralegal arm of repression, allied with the state and doing their fair share of the dirty work in terrorizing the people.

Every time the people rise up, the fascists with lash out with reactionary violence. This does not mean that the people shouldn’t rebel for fear of retaliation, in fact quite the opposite, it shows the these rebellions actually do threaten the state and its most reactionary allies and that instead of playing respectability politics to avoid blame, they should take a more proactive position in wielding revolutionary violence against these threats in order to put them down.

Self-defense has its natural limitations—by only acting in self defense the movement for Black lives yields the initiative to the fascists and allows them to strike first. This tactic is only useful for those interested in playing the victim and scoring sympathy points with a reactionary state that only cares about sustaining its own existence.

This was not the first shooting death at a protest and it certainly won’t be the last, however this incident stands out in that it is the first time that the protest movement has actively employed lethal violence against an enemy and exacted People’s Justice in an isolated case. It demonstrates the need for revolutionaries to see this as a life or death street battle for our future and to take this militant energy and channel it into stable, organized bodies capable of waging People’s War against the Old State and its fascist lackeys. It is always right to rebel against reactionaries, and only through popularizing the idea of People’s Justice and taking the initiative tactically can the protest movement for Black lives reinvigorate the combative actions that were so commonplace during the May Uprisings.


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