President blasts Portland mayor after pro-Trump supporter killed

President Trump unleashed a flurry of tweets after a man identified as a supporter of a right-wing group was fatally shot in Portland Saturday.

Paula Bronstein/AP
Supporters of President Donald Trump attend a rally and car parade, Aug. 29, 2020, in Clackamas, Oregon, on the way to Portland.

Democrats on Sunday accused President Donald Trump of trying to inflame racial tensions and incite violence to benefit his campaign as he praised supporters who clashed with protesters in Portland, Oregon, where one man died overnight, and announced he will travel to Kenosha, Wisconsin, amid anger over the shooting of another Black man by police.

Mr. Trump unleashed a flurry of tweets and retweets the day after a man identified as a supporter of a right-wing group was shot and killed in Portland, where a large caravan of Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter protesters clashed in the city's streets. Mr. Trump praised the caravan participants as “GREAT PATRIOTS!” and retweeted what appeared to be the dead man's name along with a message to “Rest in peace.”

Mr. Trump also retweeted those who blamed the city’s Democratic mayor for the death.

“The people of Portland, like all other cities & parts of our great Country, want Law & Order," Mr. Trump later tweeted. "The Radical Left Democrat Mayors, like the dummy running Portland, or the guy right now in his basement unwilling to lead or even speak out against crime, will never be able to do it!”

Mr. Trump has throughout the summer cast American cities as under siege by violence and lawlessness, despite the fact that most of the demonstrations against racial injustice have been largely peaceful. With about nine weeks until Election Day, some of his advisers see an aggressive “law and order” message as the best way for the president to turn voters against his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, and regain the support of suburban voters, particularly women, who have abandoned him. But Democrats accuse Mr. Trump of rooting for unrest and trying to stoke further violence for political gain instead of seeking to ratchet down tensions.

“He may think that war in our streets is good for his reelection chances, but that is not presidential leadership – or even basic human compassion,” Mr. Biden said in a statement responding to the shooting, in which he “unequivocally” condemned violence on all side, while accusing Mr. Trump of “recklessly encouraging" it.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, blamed Mr. Trump for the tensions.

“Do you seriously wonder, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence?” he asked at a televised news conference. “It’s you who have created the hate and the division.”

Mr. Trump, who appeared to be watching, responded with real-time tweets labeling Wheeler a “wacky Radical Left Do Nothing Democrat."

After a reporter told Mr. Wheeler about the tweet, the mayor shot back, “I’d appreciate that the president support us or stay the hell out of the way."

Late Sunday Oregon Gov. Kate Brown released details of a plan to address the violence in Portland while protecting free speech. She said the district attorney’s office in Multnomah County, which includes Portland, will prosecute serious criminal offenses and the sheriff’s office will work with other agencies to hold people arrested for violent behavior and ensure there is adequate jail space.

Also, Ms. Brown said Oregon State Police will return to Portland to help local police, and nearby law enforcement agencies will also be asked to assist.

“We all must come together – elected officials, community leaders, all of us – to stop the cycle of violence,” the Democrat said in a statement.

Mr. Trump has cast the upcoming election as clash between “law and order” and anarchy, and he has denounced protesters as “thugs” while sharply defending police. That theme was front-and-center at last week’s Republican National Convention, which used recent protest footage to paint a foreboding and violent picture of the future if Mr. Biden denies Mr. Trump a second term.

Mr. Trump is expected to continue to hit that theme when he travels Tuesday to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where tensions are still raw after police shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back seven times, leaving him paralyzed. The shooting has ignited new demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality months after George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer touched off a wider reckoning on race.

Mr. Trump will be meeting with law enforcement officers and “surveying” the damage in the city, where businesses have been vandalized and some buildings burned during demonstrations, White House spokesman Judd Deere announced.

But Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, asked Mr. Trump to reconsider in a letter Sunday.

“I, along with other community leaders who have reached out, are concerned about what your presence will mean for Kenosha and our state. I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing. I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together,” Mr. Evers wrote in the letter, obtained by The Associated Press.

Earlier Sunday, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, also expressed concerns about the visit. “I don’t know how, given any of the previous statements that the president made, that he intends to come here to be helpful. And we absolutely don’t need that right now,” Mr. Barnes said in an interview with CNN.

Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, said Mr. Trump is “doing everything he can to fan the flames.”

"I think his visit has one purpose, and one purpose only. And that is to agitate things and to make things worse," Ms. Bass said Sunday on CNN's “State of the Union." "It is clear his campaign is all about law and order. It is a throwback to the past. And he’s going to do everything to disrupt law and order in this time period."

Mr. Deere responded to the critics saying, “The only people to blame for the violence and riots in our streets are liberal politicians and their incompetent policies that have failed to get control of these destructive situations."

It took days for Mr. Trump to weigh in on Mr. Blake's shooting, which was captured on cellphone video, and even then he had little to say.

“Well, I'm looking into it very strongly. I'll be getting reports,” he said in an interview in New Hampshire Friday. “It was not a good sight. I didn't like the sight of it, certainly, and I think most people would agree with that.”

Mr. Trump offered similar words – “We’re looking at it very, very carefully” – when asked Saturday about Kyle Rittenhouse, the white 17-year-old who has been charged with fatally shooting two protesters and wounding a third Tuesday after he traveled to Kenosha, apparently to defend the city from protesters. Attorneys representing Mr. Rittenhouse, who was seen walking with an assault-style rifle, have said he acted in self-defense.

But Mr. Trump on Sunday appeared to lend support to the teenager when he liked a retweet of a series of messages that began, “Kyle Rittenhouse is a good example of why I decided to vote for Trump.”

The circumstances of Saturday night’s shooting in Portland remain unclear. Video from the city shows sporadic fighting between the groups, with Trump supporters firing paintball pellets at opponents and using bear spray as counterprotesters threw rocks and other objects at the 600-car Trump caravan.

About 15 minutes after the caravan left the city, a supporter of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer was fatally shot.

Patriot Prayer members have frequently clashed with protesters in Portland in the past, its founder, Joey Gibson, said Sunday. He identified the shooting victim as Aaron “Jay” Danielson and called him a “good friend,” but provided no details. Mr. Danielson apparently also went by the name Jay Bishop, according to Patriot Prayer’s Facebook page.

Mr. Trump retweeted the victim’s name and wrote, “Rest in peace Jay!”

Police have released little information and Chief Chuck Lovell said Sunday that investigators are still gathering evidence, including surveillance video from area businesses. Earlier Sunday, the agency released a plea for any information related to the killing, including videos, photos, or eyewitness accounts.

Patriot Prayer is based in Washington state and was founded in 2016. Since early 2017, its supporters have been periodically coming to Portland to hold rallies for Mr. Trump, ratcheting up tensions in the liberal city long before the national outrage over Mr. Floyd's death sparked more than three months of protests here.

Portland has seen nearly 100 consecutive nights of Black Lives Matter protests and many have ended with vandalism to federal and city property, including police precincts, a county jail, the federal courthouse, and City Hall. In July, Mr. Trump sent more than 100 federal agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to safeguard federal property – a move that instead reinvigorated the protests.

Thousands of people clashed with the federal agents each night for two weeks, turning a two-block area of the city into what felt like a war zone as agents lobbed tear gas canisters and pepper spray at the crowds and some protesters tossed fireworks at the agents and shined lasers in their eyes.

Those agents withdrew July 31 but smaller nightly protests have continued in pockets of the city. More than 600 people have been arrested since late May.

On Sunday, Portland authorities urged people to stay away from the downtown as they try to de-escalate tensions and braced for what promised to be another night of violence. 

Mr. Trump earlier Sunday appeared to be encouraging his supporters to move into Portland in the wake of the shooting. After the shooting, the president shared a video of his supporters driving into Portland and called those in Saturday's caravan “GREAT PATRIOTS!”

Mayor Wheeler begged those who wanted to come to Portland to “seek retribution” to stay away.

“If you’re from out of town and you’re reading something on social media – if you’re reading any facts on social media – they’re probably wrong because we don’t have all the facts yet,” Mr. Wheeler said. “They are still assembling the facts. This is not the time to get hotheaded because you read something on Twitter that some guy made up in his mother’s basement.”

The White House and its allies, meanwhile, continued to blame local leaders for allowing the protests to rage on night after night.

“When you encourage the disdain for the police, you encourage criminals. When you do little or nothing to stop rioting, you encourage anarchy. So when you are encouraging criminals and anarchy, people’s lives are lost,” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said on CNN’s “State of the Union."

“I’m asking Portland officials, so that’s the mayor, that’s the governor and that’s local law enforcement, to do their job to address any violent activity that is occurring in their streets,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Mr. Wolf said the federal government was prepared to send agents to Portland and other cities to protect federal buildings and assist police.

Mr. Lovell and Mr. Wheeler said they had no plans to request National Guard troops but the city is seeking assistance from the sheriff’s department and Oregon State Police.

Mr. Wheeler, who is running for a second term, also rejected a call for his resignation made Sunday by a coalition of civil rights and protest groups. He has come under fire from some in Portland for criticizing violent demonstrators and saying they were helping Mr. Trump with his reelection campaign.

The mayor, who is also the police commissioner, has also been faulted for letting Portland police use tear gas on multiple occasions and has been nicknamed “Tear Gas Teddy" by some protesters.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writers Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon; Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; and Laurie Kellman and Will Weissert contributed to this report.

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