“We got him,” the president said of a fugitive killed by federal deputies. Witnesses say officers made no attempt to arrest him first.
In chilling remarks at a campaign rally in North Carolina on Thursday, the president of the United States boasted about federal agents killing an anti-fascist activist suspected of murdering one of his supporters in Portland, Oregon this summer, calling the suspect’s death without trial an example of his leadership.
“We sent in the U.S. Marshals,” President Donald Trump said proudly of the federal task force that killed the suspect, Michael Reinoehl. “Took 15 minutes, it was over,” he added. “We got him.”
It’s not the first time that Trump has taken credit for the killing of Reinoehl, a self-described “100% ANTIFA” activist who was gunned down on September 3, hours after Portland’s district attorney had indicted him for murder in the fatal shooting of Aaron J. Danielson, a right-wing activist, five days earlier, after a raucous pro-Trump car caravan.
Trump had bragged about the killing to Fox News last month, saying in an interview, “the U.S. Marshals killed him, and I’ll tell you something — that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution.”
Reinoehl was in fact killed by local officers in Washington state who were deputized as federal agents as part of a fugitive task force led by United States Marshals. Multiple witnesses have come forward in recent weeks to dispute the claim from officers that they fired on Reinoehl instead of trying to arrest him because he pointed a gun at them.
The president’s latest comments stirred particular outrage online because video snippets from his rambling, only somewhat coherent monologue suggested that he agreed with the witnesses, who told reporters for The Oregonian, The New York Times, Oregon Public Broadcasting, and ProPublica that the officers had fired on Reinoehl without attempting to detain him.
A spokesman for the Thurston County Sheriff’s office in Washington, which is running a criminal homicide investigation into the suspect’s death, told The Oregonian on Tuesday that officers found a loaded handgun in Reinoehl’s front pocket, and his hand on or near the gun, after he was fatally shot.
One widely shared excerpt from the president’s remarks on Thursday, posted on Twitter by Acyn Torabi, was viewed more than 3 million times, but showed just the last 17 seconds of Trump’s meandering, minute-long diatribe.
While there is no doubt that Trump did praise federal deputies for killing Reinoehl — as part of a riff about how quickly agents under his command could put an end to violence from left-wing activists — the full video of his remarks shows that the president appeared to be saying, in his own, fractured way, that the federal government was forced to intervene because local officials in Portland, who are Democrats, “didn’t want to arrest him.”
In the abbreviated version of the video that went viral, it seemed to many viewers as if the president had said the U.S. Marshals “didn’t want to arrest him,” and that he was endorsing an extrajudicial execution.
“The Democrats smear decent Americans as racists, slander our nation as evil, indoctrinate our children and incite anti-American riots on our streets that we could control in 25 minutes — as we did in Minneapolis, as we do wherever we go, but they have to invite us in, by law they have to invite us in,” Trump told fans at the start of the remarks in Greenville, North Carolina on Thursday. “We want to go to Portland so bad, that one would take 15 minutes to set, 15 minutes,” he added.
“And the man that shot another innocent man,” he continued, referring to Reinoehl. “This was an innocent man shot, killed, instantly killed. I said, ‘What happened?’ ‘Well, we haven’t arrested him,'” the president said, recounting an almost certainly imaginary conversation with Portland officials.
“Two days, three days went by,” Trump continued, describing the period during which Portland’s district attorney was, in fact, compiling enough evidence against Reinoehl for an indictment — including clear security camera images of the shooting. “We sent in the U.S. Marshals: took 15 minutes it was over — 15 minutes it was over, we got him,” Trump said.
“They knew who he was, they didn’t want to arrest him. In 15 minutes, that ended,” the president said. “Anywhile,” he added, slurring his words, “they call themselves ‘peaceful protesters.'”
Trump had leveled the same accusation against Portland officials the day that Reinoehl was killed. Writing on Twitter that night, the president complained that the suspect had not been arrested yet, despite witness video of the shooting and an apparent confession from Reinoehl himself in a television interview with Vice News.
When he posted that tweet, about 11:40 p.m. Eastern time, Trump was apparently unaware that Reinoehl was already dead. The fugitive task force had moved in on the suspect almost two hours earlier, acting on a warrant for his arrest on a charge of second-degree murder obtained that day by Portland’s progressive prosecutor, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt.
While Trump has subsequently suggested that the task force was acting in response to his tweet, the timing of when it was posted suggests that he was not in the loop on its actions. The president’s tweet was not even posted until 13 minutes after the news of Reinoehl’s death had been reported by The New York Times.
In a statement the next morning, Attorney General William Barr expressed no qualms about the killing of the suspect, claiming that he had “produced a firearm,” and offering praise for the federal task force “that located Reinoehl and prevented him from escaping justice.”