Hundreds of people gathered Saturday in Esther Short Park for a remembrance and celebration of life for Aaron “Jay” Danielson, the man fatally shot one week earlier in downtown Portland after a rally in support of President Donald Trump.
Organizers of Saturday’s event expected as many as 600 to attend the afternoon memorial service that stretched into a nighttime candlelight vigil. They handed out T-shirts and bumper stickers calling for justice for Danielson. People grilled hot dogs and hamburgers for the crowd and waved flags as Danielson’s friends spoke.
The Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office determined the 39-year-old Portland resident died from a gunshot wound to the chest. Danielson was a supporter of the Vancouver-based right-wing Patriot Prayer group and a friend of the group’s leader, Joey Gibson, who spoke emphatically before the crowd on Saturday.
Gibson encouraged people to be courageous rather than fearful and to use Danielson as an inspiration.
“You’ve got to ask yourself: What are you willing to sacrifice?,” Gibson said. “Are you worried about what people think about you? Jay didn’t.”
Gibson acknowledged that he and a lot of other people are tempted with hatred right now due to what has unfolded.
“They got everything going up against us, but it doesn’t matter, guys. It doesn’t matter if you fight for what you believe in. If you fight for what you believe in, God will have your back,” Gibson said.
As he paced the stage underneath the park’s gazebo, he said the media screwed over Danielson’s family and that politicians are “running and hiding.”
“If you keep getting up and you keep fighting, it doesn’t matter what they throw at you,” Gibson said, referring in part to Facebook and Instagram on Friday disabling Patriot Prayer’s accounts.
“They can have my Facebook. I don’t care. You think God doesn’t have bigger plans than Facebook? C’mon now,” he said. “These multimillion-dollar corporations got nothing on the plan that God has for this country as long as we stand up and fight as hard as we can.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Patriot Prayer a far-right group active in the Pacific Northwest that has hosted and promoted rallies in progressive cities such as Portland, frequently engaging in violence against their political opponents.
Gibson and his supporters have described it as a Christian organization. Though white supremacists have attended Patriot Prayer events, Gibson has defended himself and his movement against claims that he’s aligned with white supremacists.
Gibson wants Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to apologize to Danielson’s family. He called on anybody who has a heart to speak out against what happened to Danielson.
“Stand up for what is right and stand up for justice,” Gibson told the crowd.
He told The Columbian there are a lot of unanswered questions about the fatal shooting in downtown Portland and described the last several days as “a storm.” Gibson said he doesn’t want to see anyone encourage acts of violence in Danielson’s name.
Danielson’s friend Michelle Dawson, a Yacolt town councilor who first met him at a rally about a year ago, told The Columbian she would like to see everyone else involved in his death brought in peacefully. She doesn’t want to see any more lives lost.
“Jay wouldn’t want that. Jay was about peace and love,” Dawson told The Columbian.
Dawson said the gathering was beautiful and what Danielson would want.
When Dawson spoke to the crowd, she urged the media that “slam him and slander his name” to get the story right and said she was angry about portrayals of Danielson as a Nazi, fascist and white supremacist.
Multiple local and national media outlets were in attendance.
“Jay was a proud American. Jay loved his country. Jay loved President Trump and, by God, Jay loved Patriot Prayer,” Dawson said to applause.
Her speech led the crowd to chant, “Get it right!” and then, “USA! USA!”
On Thursday night, the man believed to have fatally shot Danielson was killed when he pulled a gun as a federal task force attempted to apprehend him near Lacey, the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement. The man, Michael Forest Reinoehl, 48, had described himself in a social media post as “100% ANTIFA,” and suggested the tactics of counter-protesters amounted to “warfare.”
He had been shot at one protest and cited for having a gun at another, according to The Associated Press.
A candlelight vigil for Danielson began at 8 p.m. The group prayed and mourned Danielson, describing him as a patriot and a God-fearing man who had friends from different walks of life. Gibson said Danielson’s death happened for a reason: “to wake up the nation.”
“We will never let the public forget Jay’s name,” he said.