On Feb. 19 in Portland, an armed right-wing extremist opened fire on a group of unarmed women safety volunteers at a demonstration against racist police violence. One woman was killed and others were seriously injured. Media and local officials spun a false tale of an altercation between a “homeowner” and “armed protesters.” It took the efforts of community activists and local journalists to reveal the true narrative: the safety volunteers were completely unarmed and ambushed by a far-right extremist.
‘He didn’t go for the crowd. He came for us.‘
On Feb 19 at around 8 p.m., a crowd of people gathered in Portland’s Normandale Park in mourning and solidarity for Amir Locke, a young Black man killed by Minneapolis police earlier this month.
During the rally, far-right extremist Benjamin Smith stormed out of his apartment near the park brandishing a gun. The women, unarmed and standing at some distance from the main crowd, were monitoring traffic on the road around the park. Smith screamed racial and misogynistic slurs at the women and began firing. The primary witness tweeted on Feb. 22: “We were a small group of women, alone. He saw us alone and he came for us. He didn’t go to the crowd. He came for us. This wasn’t a protestor altercation.”
June Knightly, a 60-year-old activist who walked with a cane, threw herself in front of her friends to protect them. The attacker shot her in the head at point-blank range, killing her.
Smith continued shooting at the defenseless women until an armed protester intervened and shot back, saving the rest of the women from certain injury and death. Three other people were injured, two of them critically. One woman is now paralyzed from the neck down.
The armed defender shot Smith in the hip, preventing him from killing and injuring yet more people. The armed defender has not been officially identified. Charges were initially filed and the defender was taken into custody on the night of the shooting, but all charges were dropped.
Smith faces nine charges in total, including one count of murder in the second degree with a firearm, and four counts attempted murder.
Media and police attempt to hide far-right character of attack
Immediately after the incident the police, local, and national media reported the shooting was the result of an altercation between an “armed protester” and an “armed homeowner.”
The Portland Police Bureau refused to officially name and charge the shooter until community activists and independent journalists uncovered the murderer’s identity. Activists spoke to neighbors and other witnesses and then revealed Smith’s identity online. It is their work that forced the truth to come to the fore and made the police and mayor backpedal on their statements. Only then did the police confirm the identity of the far-right murderer.
Police Chief Chuck Lovell admitted that he “didn’t know” why the homeowner narrative took hold or where it began. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the city’s Police Commissioner, claimed it was a mistake caused by rushing to release information.
This framing of Smith as a “homeowner” reflects an attempt to tone down and deflect the political nature of the far-right attacks. This reflects the complete lack of care taken by the police and the City of Portland as they reported the situation, and a shockingly blasé attitude towards fascist violence.
In the meantime, harrowing details of the incident and about Smith’s past actions have poured out as people expressed their grief, fear, and frustration. Local journalists uncovered Smith’s social media accounts, including his YouTube account, where he recently commented, “this is why we arm ourselves folks” on a video of far-right provocateur Andy Ngo.
Smith’s roommate has since come forward describing the murderer’s radicalization and hatred of racial justice protesters.
City is responsible for encouraging violence against racial justice protests
Mayor Wheeler attributed the fascist killing to a “senseless act of gun violence.”
In fact, Wheeler himself has incited violence against protesters. During the uprising against racism, Wheeler said he wanted to “unmask” demonstrators, and “make it hurt them a little bit.” Despite public outrage Wheeler has doubled down on his calls to violence.
Justice for June Knightly and all victims of fascist violence
Knightly often participated in local demonstrations as part of a volunteer traffic safety team to protect protesters from being kettled by police or run down by far-right extremists in vehicles. She helped provide traffic safety for a recent rally for the District Council of Trade Unions. In an interview with the Daily Beast, her friends remembered her as someone who “believed in the goodness of the world” and “acted on her convictions.”
A GoFundMe fundraiser has been created for the victims of the far-right violence. Justice for June Knightly!
Photo: Youth lead protest for racial justice in 2020. Pete Forsyth, Wiki Strategies, CC by 4.0