Michael Forest Reinoehl lived life recklessly and died violently.
Though he was a middle-aged father, the Oregon man received a gunshot wound when he interceded in a confrontation, was caught driving 111 miles per hour in a Cadillac while apparently racing his 17-year-old son in another car and packed a gun as he joined in the Portland protests.
It was there that he allegedly shot and killed a pro-Trump counter-protester only to die himself Thursday in a shootout with federal agents who had come to arrest him outside Olympia, Washington.
His actions shatter any conception of left-wing protesters shunning the use of deadly weapons while their counterparts on the far right show up in groups that wear military fatigues and openly carry pistols and assault rifles.
Those who study extremism say that the events in Portland in the past week underscore the potential for demonstrators on both sides to arrive armed, vastly increasing chances that peaceful protests can turn violent.
The situation becomes “extremely dangerous,” said Mary McCord, a Georgetown University law professor and former acting assistant U.S. attorney general. The constitutional right to peaceful protest is trampled when “you have armed factions ideologically opposed to each other.”
Reinoehl, 48, who had described himself in a social media post as a supporter of the left-leaning antifa, allegedly fatally shot Aaron “Jay” Danielson, 39, in the chest Aug. 29. Danielson, who was carrying his own pistol in a holster, was taking part in a caravan organized by a group called Patriot Prayer. Opponents had tried to block Patriot Prayer’s vehicles as they paraded through the streets. Patriot Prayer members allegedly fired paintballs at them.
The fatal shooting of Danielson brought the Portland confrontation to a new level. Reinoehl told Vice News that he “had no choice” but to shoot because he feared a friend was about to be attacked.
The shooting came days after Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, allegedly shot and killed two people during the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The protests began after a Black man was shot in the back seven times by a police officer. Rittenhouse, who has been charged with homicide, was carrying a rifle and was reportedly part of a right-wing group that had come to Kenosha.
“It was an inevitability that we ended up here,” said Jason Blazakis, director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. In the case of Reinoehl, he said, “I think it is unfortunate that we’ve seen someone on the far left take the populist bait.”
But given the life on the edge that Reinoehl had been living, it isn’t all that surprising.
Records show Reinoehl, who most recently had been living in Sandy and Gresham, Oregon, had been repeatedly ticketed and or arrested by police in Oregon for speeding, driving under the influence of intoxicants, or operating a vehicle without a driver’s license or insurance dating back into the 1990s.
Many of the cases were closed with the payment of fines that ranged from $24 to $120. However, he was arrested in a more serious vehicle-related criminal case in June.
Reinoehl was behind the wheel of a 2005 Cadillac STS when an Oregon State Police trooper spotted the car speeding at 111 miles per hour on Interstate 84, according to a report by the Baker City Herald. He had apparently been racing his 17-year-old son, who drove a Subaru Impreza, the report said.
A police search of the Cadillac found marijuana and pills, along with a loaded and concealed Glock pistol, the report said.
Along with driving under the influence, unlawful possession of a firearm and other charges, Reinoehl was hit with the reckless endangerment charge because his 11-year-old daughter was in the car with him, the report said.
There was more trouble. On July 5, Reinoehl was cited for possessing a loaded gun in a public place, resisting arrest and interfering with police.
On July 26, he was involved in a dispute between two groups in which he was shot in the elbow. “I jumped in there and pulled the gun away from people’s heads, avoided being shot in the stomach and I got shot in the arm,” he told an Associated Press videographer that day.
He remained caught up in violence until the end. When federal agents went to arrest Reinoehl in connection with the death of Danielson, he was fatally shot when he brandished a firearm, according to Attorney General William Barr.
Reinoehl’s actions in Portland show left-wing protesters can be armed, and experts say he’s far from the first.
The sheer size and scope of the street protests that have gripped the nation are also bringing out different types of demonstrators, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“Today the protests are more widespread and dispersed creating a greater diversity of people showing up over a longer expanse of time,” he said.
That’s a change, says Levin. The hard left has been more about using humiliation tactics on opponents who are perceived as bigots and trying to get them to retreat. The hard right has been more about what it sees as protecting turf, a “defense vigilantism” that models itself on being a civil guard.
Now, with peaceful protestors on both sides having to contend with armed interlopers showing up at demonstrations, it’s “an escalating arms race,” Levin said.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Portland shooting: How protesters right and left may arm themselves for rallies