Photo by Mac Smiff

Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton tried to claim reverse racism in court.

Nike co-founder Phil Knight made headlines in 2018 after giving $2.5 million to Republican Knute Buehler’s campaign for Oregon governor. Buehler wanted to cut pension benefits, make Oregon less welcoming to migrants — he also called the armed group of far-right extremists who occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 “good people.”

Two years before, Knight donated $25,000 to Oregon State Representative Julie Parrish’s re-election campaign. Since then, Parrish has gone on to become a lead organizer for “Timber Unity,” an Oregon group that has been linked to neofascist and militia organizations. (A top spokesperson for “Timber Unity” is a QAnon proponent and attended the January 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol riot.)

WOHM asked Nike if Knight agrees with Timber Unity’s platform, but has yet to receive a response.

Knight is now doubling down on his support for Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton who, after being elected in 2018, was found to have committed illegal racial discrimination against a Black prospective juror. 

In December, Knight gave $100,000 to support Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton’s 2022 re-election campaign — matching what he gave Barton in 2018.

In the case of illegal discrimination, Barton excluded the only Black prospective juror in a case where he was prosecuting a Black man. Barton said he excluded the man because he was an unemployed college student. When the defense attorney asked why Barton didn’t exclude two white prospective jurors who were also unemployed college students, Barton accused the defense attorney of being racist.

“[He] is a racist man, and he’s racist because he is saying that a juror belongs on this jury simply because of his race…the fact that he’s judging someone on the race and saying that this juror deserves to be here simply because he’s African American is offensive,” Barton said in court.

The case went forward without the Black juror and resulted in a conviction for Barton. But the defense appealed, arguing Barton discriminated against the one Black juror.

After reviewing the case, the Court of Appeals of Oregon found Barton’s reason for excluding the Black juror were “not plausible” because he did not exclude other young, unemployed college students, who were white.

Furthermore, the court wrote, “There is nothing offensive or racist about invoking the United States Supreme Court-established process for eliminating unconstitutional discrimination in jury selection, and defense counsel should not have been subjected to those accusations by the prosecutor simply for doing his job in accordance with the law,” the judge wrote.

Barton’s 2022 re-election campaign calls people “extremists” for demanding current police departments be defunded, and is supported by police unions. He also called Oregon’s nation-leading drug treatment and decriminalization ballot initiative (Measure 110) “a very dangerous measure” and has been an outspoken opponent of other reforms to reduce the mass incarceration crisis in Oregon.

Considering Knight’s past political activity, it shouldn’t be a surprise he is once again supporting Barton.