Co-Authored & Photos by Mac Smiff
In the evening hours of Saturday, February 19, 2022, Benjamin Jeffrey Smith opened fire on traffic safety volunteers at an Amir Locke demonstration in Portland, Oregon. Social justice activist June Knightly, affectionately known as “T-Rex” for her tall stature, was killed, and four others wounded.
We now know that Smith had advocated for violence against protesters, called on the Proud Boys to accelerate their violence, and followed Andy Ngo, who had recently ranted about the recurring Portland Black Lives Matter protest Smith attacked.
Video “revealed that Smith had confronted a group of people engaged in an organized demonstration at Normandale Park. Smith approached several participants, yelling at them to leave the park. Several participants asked Smith to leave them alone. Moments later, Smith drew a firearm and fired at the crowd, striking five people,” according to Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s office.
The public found out the truth with no thanks to the PPB. When the Bureau arrived on the scene, they did so dressed in their notorious yellow “P” union baseball caps, which are also worn by the Proud Boys. PPB quickly seized control of the situation and narrative, aggressively ousting volunteer medics and confiscating cameras and phones, including the video referenced by the district attorney.
They ignored witness testimony and arrested the volunteer security guard who ended the mass shooting by returning fire, striking the mass shooter’s hip. (This individual is not being charged with a crime after footage showed he saved lives and was released the same night.)
The next day, the PPB described the event as a “two sides” confrontation. A press release they released announced that their preliminary investigation indicated that the “incident started with a confrontation between an armed homeowner and armed protesters.” They went on to stress how “complicated” the situation was, and complain about “a number of witnesses” being uncooperative.
Despite their possession of the video, they wrote that, “this is a very complicated incident, and investigators are trying to put this puzzle together without having all the pieces.” Mayor Ted Wheeler followed this narrative, writing on Twitter that, “many of the details of last night’s shooting near Normandale Park are unclear.”
Still, despite possessing the video, and hearing victims speak publicly about what happened, Police Chief Chuck Lovell reiterated the same narrative two days later, at a Tuesday press conference. Lovell said the PPB “had determined it was a confrontation between an armed resident of the area and armed protesters.” Other than dropping what turned out to be its false claim that Smith was a “homeowner,” little changed in the police narrative.
There was no mention of what was revealed by the video footage they confiscated, no reference to witness testimony, nor the police’s interview of Smith’s roommate, which attested to Smith’s violent rightwing views and stockpiling of guns. Instead, Lovell requested more information and footage from the public and continued to paint the incident as a confrontation between two armed parties.
The police delayed disclosing the identity of the killer, withheld evidence from the public, and crafted a sympathetic narrative. (Online activists identified Smith when the police refused to release his name.)
National news media repeated the original PPB description of events.
Why was the PPB defending a right-wing mass shooter?
False information proliferated by local police is consistently picked up by reputable news organizations without verification and is quickly syndicated for worldwide distribution by agencies such as Reuters and AP. This unabated control of the narrative allowed PPB to spin the story, nationally, as another unfortunate armed conflict on the Eastside instead of a politically-inspired mass shooting by an ardent fan of Andy Ngo.
For onlookers, the PPB’s response might come as a surprise. But for Portland residents, it was sadly predictable. For years, the Bureau has brutalized progressive protestors, while blatantly and implicitly supporting rightwing activists and white supremacists. This effort by the PPB to justify lethal violence against Black Lives Matter protesters was the latest example of a pattern of deceit and sympathy for right-wing actors.
Here are some other recent examples of flagrant public relations by the PPB
Pro-Fascist Rapid Response Training Slides
In January 2022, the City of Portland made public actual PPB Rapid Response Team training slides that included tributes to alt-right figure Kyle Chapman and a poem referencing “dirty hippies” that suggests protesters should be beaten over the head. These materials came to light thanks to a lawsuit from Don’t Shoot Portland, who had discovered the materials in September of 2021.
When PPB Stayed Quiet About Militia Snipers
When Patriot Prayer descended on Portland on August 4, 2018, right-wing militia stationed on a downtown rooftop with weapons including sniper rifles. The PPB stayed quiet about their knowledge of this, only telling city officials months after the fact.
When PPB Was Caught Cooperating with the Proud Boys
In 2019, text messages revealed the PPB cooperated with the Proud Boys.
When the Police Union Falsely Defamed Portland’s First Black City Councilor
In 2021, Portland police union president Brian Hunzaker improperly leaked information that falsely implicated Hardesty in a hit-and-run crash. Hardesty is Portland’s first Black city councilor and the most outspoken critic of the police department on the current city council. The Oregonian ran the story. Hardesty is suing. Just this week, police commissioner Ted Wheeler announced his decision to fire Hunzaker; already, the PPA has vowed to counter.
It’s Not Tear Gas
After Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the Portland Police Bureau would only use tear gas against protestors as a last resort in life-threatening situations, the police continued to, but said they don’t use “tear gas,” they use “CS gas.”
When PPB Announced It Would Do Nothing Ahead of Proud Boy Rally
Ahead of a Proud Boy rally in Portland, the PPB announced the public “should not expect to see police officers.” The day descended into violence, police were nowhere to be seen.
When the Mayor Asked Residents to Help Hurt and Surveille Protestors
In 2021, Mayor Wheeler asked the public to help police surveille protesters, by taking photos of protestor’s license plates. He called on the public to help “hurt them a little bit.”
When asked by a reporter if he regretted those comments, given the recent killing of a protester, he said “People can be hurt in many ways…It was crystal clear from the context of my statement that I was not referring to or advocating violence….If I regret anything it’s that I used a statement that could be used out of context for political gain.”
After a fatal hit and run in February 2022, the PPB falsely informed the media that the victim was homeless. They also declined to release a description of the car involved in the hit-and-run crash.
When the Trump Motorcade Came to Town
After law enforcement from across the region escorted a pro-Trump caravan to Portland, PPB did the same when the truckers arrived downtown.
This was the night that a Patriot Prayer supporter was fatally shot. The shooter Michael Reinoehl was then gunned down and killed by the U.S. Marshalls. (See: “How a US Task Force Killed an Antifa Activist.”)
Stalled Investigation After IED Perpetrator Identified
After a witness tracked down someone they saw throw an improvised explosive device, and recorded their face, the perpetrator was identified as Garrick Fernbaugh, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and CIA contractor who has boasted about infiltrating “ANTIFA” on social media. The PPB requested that witnesses step forward.
The PPB catalyzed a flurry of disinformation when they claimed milkshakes thrown by left-wing protesters contained cement. It was a false claim.
In Contempt of Court for Protest Suppression Tactics
After a federal court ordered the PPB to not shoot protestors with rubber bullets, they “shot peaceful protesters with rubber bullets and paintballs during demonstrations against police violence in violation of [the] court order.” The Bureau was held in contempt of court. One officer, whose actions were in question, told the court that when he shot at protesters he was protecting them from being piled on by officers.
Carjacker Shot A Woman
After a carjacking, which resulted in the police killing of the thief, PPB originally said the carjacker shot a woman on the scene. They later reversed course and said the woman had not been shot by the thief, and that the woman had not been shot.
On the same day Benjamin Smith killed June Knightly, Sgt. Zachary Kenney and officer Reynaldo Rivera shot and killed Joel Michael Arevalo in downtown Portland. PPB has not released details about the killing. Sgt. Kenney, a U.S. military veteran, wrote a 2010 op-ed arguing against a judge who suggested police should confirm a weapon exists before using lethal force.