The man who was fatally shot Saturday night during a skirmish with counterprotesters in Portland, Oregon, was a supporter of a far-right group that participated in a pro-Trump caravan, the group said Monday.
Joey Gibson, founder of the group, which is called Patriot Prayer, said the shooting victim was a resident of Portland who was part of the motorcade that clashed with crowds of Black Lives Matter demonstrators and other protesters on city streets.
The Portland Police Bureau identified him Monday as Aaron "Jay" Danielson, 39. An autopsy listed his cause of death as a gunshot wound to the chest, the department said.
"Jay's one of the nicest guys that you'll ever meet," Gibson said of Danielson, who was photographed in a Patriot Prayer hat at the scene of the shooting. "Anyone that knows him ... no one would ever want to hurt this guy."
In an interview near his home in Vancouver, Washington, Gibson added that he has regrets about Danielson's shooting.
"Jay was in his hometown walking around, and he got attacked," he said. "So I don't know what else we could have done differently."
The caravan of hundreds of vehicles — many flying flags in support of President Donald Trump — began Saturday night in Clackamas, a suburb of Portland, a city that has been a hub of anti-police brutality protests for weeks since the death of George Floyd.
Gibson said the planned route, as organized by police, was to have driven around Portland — but a key off-ramp had mistakenly been blocked off, forcing the fleet of trucks and cars onto city streets. Chief Chuck Lovell said Sunday that Portland police tried to take "precautionary measures" to prevent the caravan from reaching downtown but were unsuccessful.
"All the trucks, no one knew where to go, so everyone was just going into random places," Gibson said. "They split us up into small groups, which actually put more people in danger."
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Asked whether anyone in the caravan fired pepper spray or paintballs into crowds of counterprotesters, Gibson said there were instances of self-defense.
"I think they had a right to defend themselves," Gibson said. "You should have the right to be able to drive through the city of Portland, and you should have the right to defend yourself, also."
Mayor Ted Wheeler on Sunday denounced the violence and blamed Trump for creating the "hate and the division" that led to the unrest. Wheeler also called on those who might "seek retribution" to stay out of the city.
Trump continued to seize on the turmoil Monday in Portland, offering to send federal forces into the city.
"Portland is a mess, and it has been for many years," Trump tweeted. "If this joke of a mayor doesn't clean it up, we will go in and do it for them!"
Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that Patriot Prayer’s “primary focus is to instigate acts of violence with leftists, which they then use as a recruiting tool — and an excuse to hold another rally."
Patriot Prayer was founded in 2016 by Joey Gibson and has made de facto alliances with other far-right extremist groups, like the misogynist pro-Trump group the Proud Boys, which Miller calls their “most loyal partners.”
The group counterprotests leftist rallies in cities across the Pacific Northwest, specifically Portland, and posts videos of skirmishes on social media with the hope of going viral among right-wing commentators, politicians, and, eventually, news organizations.
“What Patriot Prayer really does is create propaganda and pose the idea that antifascists pose an existential threat to the nation, and they’ve been very successful at that. Their goal for years was to get the attention of right-wing media, and the president in particular,” said Miller.
President Trump tweeted “GREAT PATRIOTS!” in response to a video of a caravan of Trump supporters heading into Portland on Saturday night.
“They’ve been looking for legitimization from the president and his administration more broadly for a long time. [The president’s tweets this weekend] are a huge signal from him that he endorses what they’re doing,” said Miller. “They’ve helped create this sort of fascistic propaganda, that it’s order versus chaos, that it’s up to them.”
Gibson cast Patriot Prayer as a faith-based grassroots group that is particularly focused on First and Second Amendment protections. He denied that the group engages in "hate speech," saying he will pay anyone $3,000 if they can find an example of him saying "racist things."
"What we do is promote freedom and God," Gibson said.
While warning about the perils of government overreach, Gibson also backed efforts by Trump to pressure local leaders to bring in federal forces.
"I also think it's smart that he's forcing Ted Wheeler to ask him to bring him in help instead of forcing it in the city," he said.
Last year, Gibson and five other men were charged with rioting outside a Portland bar on May Day.
The case against Gibson is still pending, and he is scheduled to appear for a pretrial hearing Oct. 23, a spokesperson for the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office said Monday.