Extrajudicial Execution

In my youth in the 1950s and early 1960s lawbreakers were apprehended by upright men like Marshal Matt Dillon of the TV series Gunsmoke. The “bad guys” were always warned; they knew who was arresting them; they were only shot if they pulled a gun and shot first. Even then, the accused was usually shot in the hand that held the gun. Then he was trotted off to jail. On 1950s television the accused got a fair jury trial that revealed their actual guilt or innocence. Lynch mobs were lawless and the sheriffs protected people threatened by one. If a wrong were committed it was always put right. The television–and the world it depicted–were presented in sharply focused black and white. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the way things work.

On October 13 the New York Times published an article entitled, “‘Straight to Gunshots’: How a U.S. Task Force Killed an Antifa Activist.” In the tumult of pre-election news the article did not get the attention it deserved. The article (and this 3 minute 43 second clip from the article that is found on youtube) presents disturbing evidence that should remind us of a Duterte/Philipines style extrajudicial killing. 

Just as disturbing is this youtube video of Mr. Trump, bragging to his rally crowd that “We sent in the U.S. Marshals. Took fifteen minutes and it was over.” (U.S. Marshals, who work under the direction of Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, could be engaged because Reinoehl had crossed the state line from Oregon into Washington. Otherwise, Trump, Barr, and the federal Marshals would have lacked jurisdiction.)

William Barr in his press release was on the same message as Trump concerning this extrajudicial killing, describing Reinoehl as a “violent agitator.” This wording is prejudicial propaganda to describe a man whose arrest warrant was for “second-degree murder with a weapon and unlawful use of a weapon,” not “violent agitation.” With his words Barr has judged Reinoehl guilty of a crime for which no jury will ever hear the evidence. 

Reinoehl’s killing by U.S. Marshals was worrisome to many in law enforcement.  Quoted in the The Hill, Ken Klippenstein, D.C. correspondent for The Nation said:

“The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it because whether or not that’s what happened, the message sent to the public is that the marshals and local law enforcement in the FBI that served with them in this operation are just these kind of lawless roving gangs that are going to go out and do the president’s bidding,”

Michael Reinoehl, the man shot to death under Trump’s and Barr’s direction in the incident analyzed by the NYTimes, was accused of killing Aaron J. Danielson on the streets of Portland, Oregon, Saturday evening, August 29th. Danielson was shot on a downtown Portland street in an altercation that involved Danielson allegedly carrying a baton and using pepper spray. The shooting occurred after Danielson participated in the provocative Trump 2020 Cruise Rally. That rally involved cruising pickup trucks containing men shooting paintball guns and spraying pepper spray at Black Lives Matter protesters. (Who was more the “violent agitator” before the shooting?) Danielson, originally from Spokane, was closely associated with Joey Gibson, far right provocateur and founder of Patriot Prayer, a gun-waving group that tends to attract white supremacists. The media at the time, including the Spokesman, told Danielson’s life story in detail and with notable sympathy, a man caught up in the patriotic passions of his time. 

Shortly after Danielson’s death Reinoehl was named as the prime suspect. Five days later, on Thursday, September 3, Reinoehl died in an indiscriminate hail of bullets in a neighborhood in Lacey, Washington, gunned down, according to all but one witness interviewed by the NYTimes, by men who descended abruptly in unmarked vehicles. Bullets whizzed past an eight year out on his bike and through the walls of nearby apartments. No bullhorn announcement like the one you might imagine hearing, “This is the police! Put your hands in plain view or we will shoot!” preceded the gunfire. Reinoehl died on the street with a pistol in his pocket. Did he die thinking he’d been shot by the police or by a rightwing mob?

Reinoehl is presented in most of the media as “self-described antifa,” as if that alone were grounds for execution. Examine that. “Antifa” is short for anti-fascist. As I recall history, anti-fascism was the side to be on for most of the 20th century. Where is the detailed examination of Reinoehl’s life? Where are the interviews of his friends? When will we hear and see the evidence presented to a jury in a court of law in this land that claims to pride itself on justice and “the rule of law?” 

Thanks to the current federal administration under Trump and Barr Michael Reinoehl lies dead, accused, judged, and executed like he might have been in what we used to call a “banana republic.” What have we become?

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Trump has a long history of meting out judgment and recommending execution. The most public example of this was directed at five black and hispanic teenagers in the Central Park jogger case in 1989. As a private citizen Trump spent tens of thousands of dollars placing ads and grandstanding over his perception of their obvious guilt, an effort many believe strongly influenced their convictions and incarceration. In shameful disregard for the rule of law, Trump continues to insist on their guilt of these men despite their total exoneration based on DNA evidence and the confession of the actual rapist in 2002. The sordid tale of this initial miscarriage of justice (and Trump’s involvement) is told at length in the recent Netflix short series dramatization, “When They See Us.” This alone should have been grounds to disqualify Trump for elective office. 

P.S.S. I highly recommend a revisit to another piece of history that had faded in my memory by watching the excellent dramatization, “The Trial of The Chicago 7,” also on Netflix. I rather doubt Trump and Barr were thinking this strategically, but one has to wonder if they considered that having Michael Reinoehl murdered was this best way to avoid what might have become a political show trial.