President Donald Trump is campaigning on “law and order,” but a string of comments he made over the weekend showed how he’s steering the country toward violent lawlessness.
During an interview with Jeanine Pirro that aired on Fox News Saturday evening and then during political rallies he held in Nevada on Saturday and Sunday, Trump lauded law enforcement officials for killing antifa supporter Michael Reinoehl. Reinoehl was wanted on suspicion of killing a supporter of a right-wing group called Patriot Prayer named Aaron Danielson during confrontations between a caravan of Trump supporters and counterprotesters in Portland, Oregon, on August 28.
Officers said Reinoehl pulled a gun on them before his fatal September 3 shooting in Lacey, Washington, and two witnesses told the Olympian they saw Reinoehl fire a weapon at officers. But one witness told the Oregonian that officers opened fire unprompted. (US marshals were present during the raid that killed Reinoehl, but local officials reportedly fired the fatal shots.)
“Officers shot multiple rapid-fire rounds at Reinoehl before issuing a brief ‘stop’ command, quickly followed by more rapid-fire shooting by additional officers,” the eyewitness, an ordained minister named Nathaniel Dingess, said, according to a statement released by his lawyer.
While public knowledge about the circumstances surrounding Reinoehl’s death remains scant, if officers shot Reinoehl without justification, it’d be tantamount to murder. But Trump made abundantly clear that he’s not waiting for the facts to come in before he draws conclusions.
“Now we sent in the US marshals for the killer, the man that killed the young man in the street,” Trump told Judge Jeanine. “Two and a half days went by, and I put out [on Twitter], ‘When are you going to go get him?’ And the US marshals went in to get in, and in a short period of time, they ended in a gunfight. This guy was a violent criminal, and the US marshals killed him. And I’ll tell you something — that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.”
Trump on a purported antifa sympathizer who allegedly killed someone in Portland being killed by federal forces: "This guy was a violent criminal, and the US Marshals killed him. And I'll tell you something -- that's the way it has to be. There has to be retribution." pic.twitter.com/WfIP9b37sA— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 13, 2020
During his rally on Saturday night in Minden, Nevada, Trump alluded to Reinoehl’s killing and lauded US marshals for doing a “great job,” adding, darkly, “you know what I mean.”
"By the way, the US Marshals did a great job in Portland. You know what I mean" -- here's Trump endorsing US Marshals killing a purported antifa sympathizer who was allegedly involved in a murder pic.twitter.com/v2vbhE49xz— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 13, 2020
Then, on Sunday night in Henderson, Trump brought up the incident again and said, “as you know, in Portland the other day, we had to send in the US Marshals. A man, who’s a bad guy, bad guy, shot somebody right in the middle of the street, who they say was a very fine young man. Shot him, killed him. Just shot him like, it was on television. Two and a half days, nothing happened, I said, ‘What’s going on?’ We sent in the US marshals, it was taken care of in 15 minutes, okay?”
It’s bad enough that the president is more or less endorsing extrajudicial killings before all the relevant facts are known, and despite an eyewitness saying it was unjustified. But it’s even worse viewed in light of how Trump is politicizing street violence.
What we know about the killing of Michael Reinoehl
Reinoehl was a self-proclaimed “100% antifa” supporter who participated in protests in Portland that started after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis cops in late May. On August 29, he was involved in a confrontation that ended in Danielson’s death. Police identified him as a suspect using surveillance and social media videos.
Just hours before he was tracked down in Washington state, Reinoehl did an interview with Vice News in which he claimed he shot Danielson in self-defense. But he was charged with second-degree murder and unlawful use of a weapon.
Eyewitnesses agree that about 25 to 50 shots were fired in the moments leading up to Reinoehl being fatally shot. But as mentioned earlier, eyewitness accounts differ. A lawyer representing Dingess, the witness who described Reinoehl’s killing as tantamount to an execution, called for an independent investigation in a statement.
“Given the political sentiment of the deceased, and the national climate regarding police shootings, the investigation ought to be handled by an outside organization without ties to law enforcement, if it can really be considered fair and neutral,” the lawyer, Luke Laughlin, said. “The law requires, and Reinoehl’s family and the public deserve, transparency and accountability. At a time when public outcry over police killings is at its peak in this country, it is imperative that the circumstances of Reinoehl’s death not be swept aside.”
The “law and order” guy is actually lawless
Trump’s comments suggesting that Reinoehl’s killing was justified stands in contrast to his silence regarding the killing of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month. Those protesters, who took to the streets following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, were allegedly gunned down by a 17-year-old Trump supporter named Kyle Rittenhouse who has since been charged with first-degree murder.
But instead of condemning Rittenhouse, Trump suggested his actions were justified during a news conference on August 31.
“That was an interesting situation. You saw the same tape that I saw, and he was trying to get away [from protesters], I guess, it looks like, and he fell, and then they very violently attacked him,” Trump said. “I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would’ve been killed.”
Trump defends Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old supporter of his who is charged with murdering two protesters in Kenosha pic.twitter.com/KdfkdTPRVG— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 31, 2020
During that same news conference, Trump made an evidence-free accusation that left-wing protesters have “killed a lot of people,” and announced that the departments of Homeland Security and Justice are forming a joint operations center to “investigate violent left-wing civil unrest.” He refused to condemn supporters of his who were filmed shooting paintball guns and macing people in Portland on the night Danielson was killed, saying “that was a peaceful protest” and “paint is not bullets.”
So while the president pays lip service to law and order, his pattern of excusing deadly acts against his enemies while condoning it when they’re committed by his supporters tells a very different story.