The Left and NeverTrumpers Justify Murder for Political Disagreement

America has a history of assassinations and attempted assassinations of political leaders. Saturday night we crossed the line into the assassination of ordinary partisans, shot down on the streets for their political beliefs. And the side of the now-hot culture war that led us over that line is the very one that typically lectures the rest of us about gun violence.

Trump supporter Aaron Danielson (also known as Jay Bishop), 39, a member of the Christian conservative group Patriot Prayer, was murdered in cold blood in Portland on Saturday allegedly by Michael Reinoehl, an aging snowboard dude and Antifa supporter. Danielson was participating in a “Trump 2020 Cruise Rally,” a caravan of Trump supporters that gathered in Clackamas, Oregon, about 10 miles southeast of downtown Portland, the site of three months of protests and violence by Antifa and Black Lives Matter supporters. The group planned to loop around downtown on Interstates 405 and 5, but did not plan to leave the highway to confront the protesters and rioters.

A small group that included Danielson broke off and entered the downtown area with Trump and MAGA flags flying. Clashes ensued, with Antifa spraying urine and throwing objects at the cars and the caravanners firing pepper spray and paintball guns at the crowd. At some point Danielson left the car he was riding in. (Many had been blocked by protesters.) He was allegedly accosted by Reinoehl, apparently sprayed mace at him, and was shot dead in response.

Despite the mace, Reinoehl, unlike Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot three people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has no arguable claim of self-defense. Rittenhouse’s latter two victims had pointed a gun at him and bashed him in the head with a skateboard after he’d fallen while being pursued by an angry mob. This clearly meets the general self-defense standard of reasonable belief that one is in imminent danger of death or severe injury. (The facts surrounding the first shooting are much murkier, and there is a question as to whether it would vitiate the self-defense claim in the latter shootings if he’d been the aggressor in the first one.) Being sprayed with mace during a street encounter does not.

But still, let’s stipulate that Danielson and the others in the breakaway group were probably not choir boys, and that their decision to leave the main caravan and drive into downtown Portland in an “in-your-face” gesture to the protesters was a poor, foolish, and immature move on their part. It was still clearly within their constitutional rights and in no way legal provocation justifying assault or murder.

That was settled in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie 43 years ago, in which the Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment rights of a group of Nazis (bona fide Nazis, not the kind conjured up in the imaginations of the Left these days) to march through a neighborhood with a large population of Holocaust survivors. 

In 2011, the court reiterated the same principle at greater length in Snyder v. Phelps, holding that Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church cult had the right to shout “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” outside the funerals of young servicemen killed in action. Even the victims of Nazi depravity and the grieving parents of dead soldiers, the Court held, did not have the right to bar such traumatic intrusion into their personal space—much less to attack or kill the intruders. The freedom to walk on the streets of even “unfriendly territory” and not be physically assaulted for your political beliefs no matter how odious is fundamental.

Antifa obviously disagrees with this principle. As a protester attempting to block the Trump caravan put it: “Portland is supposed to be a progressive city, f–k these guys.” No conservatives need enter.

The Democratic Party and its NeverTrump yes-men apparently agree. Their reaction to Danielson’s murder came down to “he asked for it.” 

As CNN reported, “Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, blamed Saturday night’s violence on the caravan,” since they allegedly “drove into downtown Portland . . . armed and looking for a fight.” But the only weapons we know they were armed with were paintball guns, pepper spray, and mace. As bad as that may be, it was Antifa who started shooting actual bullets. Nonetheless, Brown piously intoned, without mentioning Antifa, “I will not allow Patriot Prayer . . . to bring more bloodshed to our streets.”

A writer for the Bulwark—the media organ of the capitalist wing of Antifa—chimed in even more disingenuously from the NeverTrump amen corner. After first baselessly accusing the Trump supporters of seeking to “instigate #war [sic] on the streets of Portland through attempted vehicular homicide,” he lets slip a few paragraphs later that the real instigation justifying the shooting was that they had the effrontery to go “parading through Portland with f–king Trump flags on their trucks.”

The operatives who write Joe Biden’s statements for him seemed to take a more responsible tack—until you look closely and see their fingers crossed behind their backs. The statement began promisingly by declaring that “the deadly violence we saw overnight in Portland is unacceptable,” condemning it “unequivocally,” and reciting eloquently, “We must not become a country at war with ourselves. A country that accepts the killing of fellow Americans who do not agree with you.” 

But then in the next paragraph the Biden handlers, echoing Governor Brown and the Bulwark, accuse the Trump supporters of having brought the killing on themselves by “spoiling for a fight” and “seeking conflict”—by exercising their right to be on public streets claimed by the Left.

The Left is playing a very dangerous blame-the-victim game here—effectively countenancing the murder of people for their political views if they dare to enter turf controlled by a mob of the other side. It should be remembered that the Right has a lot more guns. There are lots of little clusters of “progressives” with their “No Hate” signs sprinkled throughout conservative areas. Their neighbors tolerate them. Do liberals really want a world where they shoot them instead?

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About Dennis Saffran

Dennis Saffran is a Queens, N.Y.-based appellate attorney and political and policy writer whose work has appeared in City Journal, The Federalist, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. Follow him on twitter @dennisjsaffran.

Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

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