The Danielson/Spokane Story

On Sunday, September 6, the upbringing and life of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, the man shot dead in Portland last week, was featured on the front page of the Spokesman Review. The article was entitled entitled “Search for Meaning” (in the paper version). Ted McDermott wrote his piece based primarily on interviews with Danielson’s father and stepmother. They live in Green Bluff, north of Spokane, the same area that Mr. Danielson spent his first twenty years of his yearly forty year life. I recommend the article. It does a good job of reminding us that every person has a story that precedes whatever thrusts them into the spotlight. That’s important. It is also a story of radicalization both of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a radicalization that pulled Mr. Danielson’s parents some distance in the same direction.

Mr. Danielson took a hard rightward turn around the time he hooked up with Joey Gibson and Gibson’s “Patriot Prayer.” During this period Danielson sent his parents links to right wing conspiracy videos that documented the views he was taking on. Last Saturday, August 29, Danielson rode with Gibson in the back of a pickup truck into Portland as part of the Trump-supporters caravan. Some of the participants shot paintballs and released bear spray at the bystanders. At 8:46PM, a quarter hour after the caravan left Portland, Jay Danielson, owner of a local moving business, accompanied by Chandler Pappas, another Patriot Prayer member, was walking a Portland street, wearing a Patriot Prayer hat, with a canister of bear spray in one hand, a collapsable baton in the other, and a loaded Glock pistol in his waistband, in short, a man looking for, or at least fully prepared for, a fight—and a man easily mistaken for Joey Gibson himself. 

The man who allegedly shot Danielson, Michael Forest Reinoehl, now also dead in a hail of bullets shot by law enforcement, was similarly radicalized, but on the other side. 

Like Danielson, Michael Forest Reinoehl has a story that leads up to the confrontation that ultimately left both men dead. He was doubtlessly propelled by extremist beliefs, just like Danielson, but on the other end of the spectrum. How did he arrive at those beliefs? Did he think he was shooting Joey Gibson? Did Gibson and Reinoehl have a history (maybe dating to the Cider Riot incident for which Gibson is [as far as I can learn] still under indictment for incitement, as well as facing a civil suit for damages)? What were the influences that radicalized Reinoehl?

The “Meaning” in the “Search for Meaning” in this series of horrible events lies in the radicalization of these two men, Danielson and Reinoehl. Danielson is not representative of the majority of the people in the Trump caravan that preceded the shooting and Reinoehl is not representative of the majority of Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Both men were radicalized by in our dangerously polarized times. 

Why was Danielson armed, wearing a Patriot Prayer hat, and walking in downtown Portland after the Trump caravan had left the city? Danielson’s father offers us some clues:

“He started to get more and more concerned about government taking over, the U.N. coming in, China controlling everything. I mean, we started hearing about it. We hadn’t heard about it before that. He started getting very, very concerned.”

Dave said he was texting them and “having us watch videos of things almost on a daily basis for two or three months. So it had escalated.”

Some of what he sent, Dave said, was about how “Biden was linked with China” and how “their plan was to control the food as a possibility, so stock up. There was lots more that we deleted.”

“Some of them, I thought, were a stretch,” Dave said. “Some of them seemed right on.”

He also said he doesn’t believe his son was an extremist.

The U.N. “coming in?” Biden “linked with China?” Government taking over? China controlling everything? “Their plan to control the food?” These are the recurring nightmares of the fevered right, the pipe dreams of groups like the John Birch Society and some Fundamentalist end-times preachers. As Dave (Jay’s father) says, they are “a stretch.” More worrisome is that Dave adds, “Some [unspecified] seem right on.” Which ones? 

Perhaps Jay Danielson wasn’t an extremist, as his father believes, but Jay was certainly propelled by an extremist belief system fostered by the extreme right wing, pushed by conspiracy theorists and endorsers of conspiracy theories like Alex Jones and Donald Trump.

Still, most of us in this crazy world, including Jay’s parents (and even Jay) want the same thing–the peace in which to live our lives.

“It seems it has to mean something that a young man as wonderful as he was, that he was assassinated,” Dave [Danielson’s 80 year old father, resident of Green Bluff] said. “It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense. And maybe for Jay, this will serve as a catalyst, springboard, to wake people up that something awful has happened to our country and they have the power to do something about it.”

Without using guns,” Mary chimed in.  
[The bold is mine.]

Dave said he wants to see Democrats “get together with the Republican side and put a stop to this violence.”

“If I can lose the life of my son,” Dave said, “they can sit down at a table and be civil to each other and start to work something out. I deserve that as a citizen.”

I fervently share Dave and Mary Danielson’s wish. They sound like good people with whom I could find much in common. Nonetheless, I fear that while Donald Trump, the Great Divider and chief conspiracy theory promoter, remains President, and Mitch McConnell rules a U.S. Senate majority, we are destined for more people parading with guns, further polarization, and no peace. Vote.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Joey Gibson is an armed professional right wing agitator with multiple connections to armed right wing figures in our region: Matt Shea and his Covenant Church in north Spokane, and Ammon Bundy to name just two. Gibson appeared a Matt Shea’s May 1 protest against Jay Inslee’s lockdown order, in front of Dr. Bob Lutz’s homewith Casey Whalen ludicrously protesting against the mask mandate, and at the Spokane City Council in support of Covenant Church’s “Church at Planned Parenthood” as the City Council debated a noise ordinance on March 2. 

Joey Gibson radicalized Mr. Danielson, and now, with Danielson dead from a bullet that might have been meant for Gibson, Gibson is in the business of using the media to eulogize Mr. Danielson and make him a martyr.

Agitators egg people on, spin them up, until someone gets killed, then they take advantage of the fallout to spin things up further. Pay attention. This is a local manifestation of Trump’s “law and order” message.