The man being sought for the fatal shooting of a right-wing activist during clashes in Portland last weekend was killed on Thursday night as federal officers attempted to take him into custody, authorities said.
Michael Forest Reinoehl, a 48-year-old self-described professional snowboarder who had said on social media that he was “100% ANTIFA all the way,” was shot dead in Lacey, north of Portland, where he was said to be hiding out.
Officials told the Associated Press that Reinoehl had pulled a gun on authorities as he tried to flee, prompting multiple officers to fire their weapons. The Oregonian reported witnesses hearing as many as 50 shots fired.
Reinoehl was identified as a suspect by people on social media within hours of the weekend shooting of Aaron J. Danielson, 39, which was captured on cellphone videos. However, he was never publicly named by officials.
In an interview with freelance journalist Donovan Farley published in Vice News on Thursday — just hours before he was shot dead — Reinoehl admitted to the killing.
He said he had regularly provided “security” at Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, and insisted that the shooting was an act of self-defense against a pro-Trump supporter armed with a knife. “I had no choice,” he said. “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.”
“Had I stepped forward, he would have maced or stabbed me,” he said.
Danielson appears to have been at the protest with members of the far-right pro-Trump group Patriot Prayer. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Patriot Prayer, which is active in the Pacific Northwest, has frequently engaged in violent skirmishes with political opponents.
But Michelle Dawson, a close friend of Danielson’s who had met him at one of the group’s rallies, told BuzzFeed News that he went to the protests on Saturday to “document everything and see what’s going on in the city that he lives in.”
Reinoehl’s Instagram account indicates that he had been attending anti-racism protests in Portland for months.
In a post dated June 16, Reinoehl identified himself as “100% ANTIFA all the way” and said he was “willing to fight for my brothers and sisters! Even if some of them are too ignorant to realize what antifa really stands for.”
“We truly have an opportunity right now to fix everything. But it will be a war and like all wars there will be casualties,” he wrote.
Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is a protest movement that demonstrates against the far-right. It’s extremely decentralized. While most people demonstrate peacefully, some do resort to violence or destruction. The far-right and some Republicans have fear-mongered about the latter, painting antifa as a great danger to the nation, or describing other anti-racism protesters as "antifa" as a way to discredit their message.
For months, Portland has been a focal point for clashes during the anti-racism protests that swept the US this summer following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Tensions there only increased after the Trump administration sent in federal agents to quash demonstrations, which the president said were led by “anarchists” but which many residents said were mostly peaceful.
Amid wider national conflict between the far-right and protesters, violence once again broke out in Portland over the weekend following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A caravan of vehicles with pro-Trump flags drove by protesters and fired bear spray and paintballs, prompting fights. It was after this caravan rolled through that Reinoehl allegedly shot Danielson.
An Instagram post dated July 3 indicates that he may have had a previous run-in with Danielson’s group. The post shows a screenshot of a Facebook messenger conversation between Rienoehl and an unnamed individual, who is warning him about “a Patriot group on Facebook.”
“[On the] 4th of July they are taking back the cities. They might probably are hostile w arms,” the message reads. “Watch your and your friends back and don’t get cought [sic] in a crossfire.”
Rienoehl responded, “Thank you my friend we are ready.”
According to police documents seen by the Oregonian, at 2:10 a.m. on July 5, Rienoehl was cited in the 700 block of Portland’s Southwest Main Street “allegations of possessing a loaded gun in a public place, resisting arrest and interfering with police.” The paper reported that the charges were dropped on July 30 and he never spent any time in jail.
Reinoehl was first named as a suspect in the shooting by the Oregonian on Sunday in a story that cited an unnamed police source and Reinoehl’s estranged sister, who spoke on the condition that she not be named. His sister said she had learned about the shooting from a threatening phone call telling her that she and her family would be “in danger” unless they “turned [Reinoehl] over.”
After the call, his sister identified him as an individual seen running away from the scene in an eyewitness video posted to Facebook. She contacted law enforcement.
Reinoehl’s sister — who also spoke to Oregon Public Broadcasting on the condition she not be named, as she said her family was receiving death threats — said her brother was erratic and self-destructive.
"He's the kind of person who should have stayed as far away from the protests as possible,” she said, “because he's not the kind of person who could rationally work through that intense environment.”
Reinoehl described himself as a professional snowboarder on his Facebook and Instagram pages, which are full of images of himself snowboarding. On his now-deleted LinkedIn profile, he described himself as a snowboarding instructor.
Although Reinoehl claimed to work for the company Deviation Ski & Snowboard on his social media profiles, on Sunday the company released a statement denying any association with him. “The individual being mentioned is not currently and has never been an employee or sponsored athlete of Deviation,” the company said. “All of us at Deviation are deeply troubled to learn about the violence that took place and we unconditionally condemn the use of violence by anyone.”
Although Rienoehl said he was an Army veteran in the June 16 post, a claim he repeated to Vice News, the Army has no record of his having served, a spokesperson for the Army told BuzzFeed News earlier this week.
In a statement Monday, as Reinoehl’s name spread across the internet, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell told members of the public that the investigation was still in its early stages.
"I ask everyone to give the detectives time to do their important work before drawing conclusions about what took place,” he said.
Reacting to his death on Thursday night, Reinoehl’s sister told Oregon Public Broadcasting she was saddened.
"It's awful," she said. "This whole thing is awful. There's a lot of people out there who feel like violence is the only solution to fixing things now, people on both sides."