Portland protests

Portland shooting: what is Patriot Prayer and why is it linked to Trump?

The shooting of a suspected Patriot Prayer sympathizer in Portland has led city mayor Ted Wheeler to call for calm after threats of retribution.

Portland shooting: what is Patriot Prayer and why is it linked to Trump?
Nathan Howard AFP

The City of Portland, Oregon has been one of the main focal points of protests against police brutality and racial injustice sweeping the United States in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May. For three months protesters and police have faced off nightly in Portland, leading Donald Trump to send in federal law enforcement units in July in a move that the president’s political opponents said only exacerbated an already potentially explosive situation. Joe Biden, Trump’s challenger for the presidency in the November elections, described the White House incumbent as “a president who is determined to sow chaos and division. To make matters worse instead of better.”

The police shooting of Jacob Blake on 23 August has seen tensions rise further and a fatal shooting on Saturday during clashes between Trump supporters rallying in Portland and counterdemonstrators has lit a touch paper that the president did little to douse in a series of tweets that accused protesters identifying themselves with the Antifa movement as being “Anarchists, thugs and agitators.”

Shooting victim believed to be Patriot Prayer sympathizer

Details of the shooting have yet to be made official but Amy Kremer, co-founder of the Women for Trump organization, identified the victim as Jay Bishop, who according to the New York Times was wearing a Patriot Prayer hat when he was killed.

Trump subsequently retweeted Kremer’s post with the message: “Rest in Peace Jay!”

According to Oregon Live, Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson said the victim was a “friend and supporter” of the group who went by the name Jay Bishop to avoid being identified as such. Other sources said the victim’s real name is Aaron “Jay” Danielson.

According to the same source, 48-year-old Michael Forest Reinoehl is under investigation for the shooting after allegedly being seen in the vicinity at the time. Reinoehl is accused of being in possession of a loaded gun. 

Who are Patriot Prayer and what is Antifa?

The Antifa movement in the US identifies itself as a left wing, anti-fascist, anti-racist organization dedicated to tackling neo-Nazism, white supremacism and the far right. Antifa traces its roots as far back to the 1930s, when the Stalinist Communist Party of Germany set up Antifaschistische Aktion during the Weimar Republic.

Portland is considered an Antifa stronghold and the city’s branch of the organization, the Rose City Antifa, is believed to the be the oldest active Antifa group in the US. The group’s stated goal is to “oppose racial prejudice, bigotry and fascism in our communities in Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest.”

After Trump’s successful presidential election campaign in 2016, the Rose City Antifa clashed with police and Trump supporters, paying particular attention to a group calling itself Patriot Prayer.

It has yet to be confirmed that Patriot Prayer was directly involved in the clashes in Portland over the weekend but the group is based in the city and has often rallied in support of Trump, drawing Antifa counter protesters onto the streets in response.

Patriot Prayer is a quasi-religious far-right antigovernment organization that claims to promote Christianity, but has participated in and encouraged the escalation of violence in the Pacific Northwest. The group regularly organizes rallies and demonstrations that have drawn support from white supremacists and other far right groups.

Patriot Prayer members reportedly had joined a convoy of Trump supporters in some 600 vehicles that gathered in Clackamas County before entering downtown Portland, when the clashes broke out.

Trump has often lashed out at what he calls the “radical left” and blamed Portland Mayor, Democrat Ted Wheeler, for the unrest.

Portland mayor tells Trump to stay “the hell out of the way”

Officials in Portland said on Sunday they were braced for an escalation of violence in the coming days, citing social media posts vowing revenge for the shooting of Danielson.

"For those of you saying on Twitter this morning that you plan to come to Portland to seek retribution, I'm calling on you to stay away," Wheeler told a news conference, urging individuals of all political persuasions to join in renouncing violence.

He also lashed out at Trump for political rhetoric that he said "encouraged division and stoked violence," and brushed aside a flurry of weekend Twitter posts from the president criticizing Wheeler and urging the mayor to request help from the federal government to restore order.

"It's an aggressive stance. It's not collaborative," Wheeler said of Trump's tweets. "I'd appreciate it if the president would support us or stay the hell out of the way."

In response to the continued unrest in the city, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told ABC that “all options are on the table” to quell the clashes in Portland.