It’s only taken five years of ongoing assaults and preplanned violence by right-wing thugs—accompanied by an obscene double standard in enforcement by police officers and prosecutors—for authorities in Portland, Oregon, to finally start taking the problem seriously. But two separate cases this week in Portland courts indicate that progress is finally happening.
On Wednesday, notorious Proud Boys brawler Tusitala “Tiny” Toese was arraigned on multiple felonies related to the violence he led at a Portland rally on August 22, 2021, and order detained without bail. Then on Thursday, the man who opened fire on a group of protesters in a park on February 19 near his residence, killing one person and wounding four others before he was himself shot, was also arraigned in Multnomah County Circuit Court on multiple counts after he was released from his subsequent hospitalization.
Benjamin Smith, 43, was in a wheelchair while making his court appearance by video. He now faces count of murder, four counts of attempted murder and three counts of assault with a firearm, to which he pleaded not guilty.
Toese was charged with a total of 11 felony counts, including six counts of assault, two counts of unlawful use of a weapon, two counts of riot, and two counts of criminal mischief. The judge ruled that he will be ordered to remain in the downtown Portland jail without bail.
The prosecutions suggest that legal authorities, at least, have begun to awaken to the reality that, while they have been focused on suppressing left-wing protests and activists, right-wing extremists have been getting away with extreme violence directed at those same factions for the past five years. Toese in particular has been one of the more violent actors in those scenarios and yet has managed to largely escape serious legal consequences for them until now.
Similarly, when a right-wing ex-Navy SEAL was believed to have tossed a pipe bomb at Portland residents protesting police brutality at a park in August 2020, the Portland Police Bureau only conducted a brief investigation and never filed charges, complaining that none of the people targeted were willing to cooperate with investigators.
So when Smith opened fire on the crowd in February, and police initially described the incident by saying it “appeared to be a confrontation between armed protesters and an armed homeowner,” and complaining about uncooperative witnesses, there were concerns that the non-investigation might be repeated.
The gravity of the case, however, was much greater. Moreover, despite the initial police spin, the facts soon emerged: the people who Smith confronted—a group of traffic-safety volunteers who were shepherding a demonstration at Normandale Park in northeastern Portland—were unarmed. Witnesses described how he confronted the group and yelled at them to leave the area; the volunteers responded by telling him to leave them alone.
“(Smith) responds by demanding they ‘make’ him leave and he approaches a participant aggressively, who pushes him back,” Deputy District Attorney Mariel Mota wrote in the affidavit. “(Smith) continues to yell at participants and a few moments later, (he) draws a handgun and fires at multiple people, striking five.”
A person participating in the march with a concealed-carry permit stopped Smith’s rampage by rushing to the scene and shooting him in the hip. Smith was listed in critical condition for the first week of his hospitalization, but was discharged from the hospital this week and promptly booked into Multnomah County Jail on Wednesday.
A respected and well-known 60-year-old activist named June Brandy Knightly was pronounced dead at the scene. Four others were injured, including one who was shot in the neck, paralyzing them from the neck down, while a second victim was shot multiple times and hospitalized.
Smith’s roommate, Kristine Christenson, told Oregon Public Broadcasting shortly after the shooting that he had become increasingly radicalized during the late Obama administration and early Trump years. Eventually, she said, he would yell racial slurs in his room and make misogynistic remarks.
“He got angrier and angrier,” Christenson said, noting that he owned a number of guns including rifles, shotguns and handguns. “I have not been comfortable living with him for a while. I did not feel safe with him, especially this last two years with the whole COVID thing. I think that made him even more angry.”
“He talked about wanting to go shoot commies and antifa all the friggin‘ time,” Christenson said. “He was just a sad angry dude. … He talked about wanting to do this for a while. He was angry at the mask mandates, he was angry at the ‘damned liberals.’”
Smith’s social-media trail revealed that he was a committed fan of Alex Jones, Andy Ngo and other far-right media agitators. He used far-right Telegram channels to spew misogynistic hate, anti-Semitic comments and claims like “Communists aren’t human beings… it’s okay to kill them.” He also once wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Kyle Rittenhouse True Patriot.” He commented that he wished the Proud Boys would “shoot people up.”
"...Violence is the answer,” he wrote on Telegram. “If you think for a single moment the government isn't willing to commit acts of violence against you to enforce this insane shit, you're dead wrong. That's not ego, that's fact. Stop being stupid."
He was particularly drawn to Ngo’s work, commenting frequently on the anti-antifa agitator’s Twitter threads. Days before he opened fire in Portland, he had commented in a reply to a Ngo post showing a police shooting: “This is why you arm yourselves folks.”
Predictably, Ngo tried to exploit the incident, describing it as “Antifa vs. Neighbor,” and claiming: “The narrative by antifa that it was a far-right attack is falling apart.” Even as Smith was being charged, he attempted to pin blame on the anti-fascists targeted by Smith, tweeting: “They say evidence was removed from the scene & are asking for cooperation from witnesses. Antifa accounts had called for destruction of evidence.” After the details of Smith’s far-right radicalization, embrace of violence, and devotion to his own work was exposed, Ngo predictably fell silent and has not mentioned the case since.
Smith’s tentative trial date is May 5, currently assigned to Circuit Judge Michael A. Greenlick.
The charges against Toese were handed down in December by a grand jury naming both Toese and another Proud Boy, but only unsealed in late January. The second man—Miles Douglas Furrow, 41, of Oregon City, Oregon—faces multiple counts of assault and riot after he was identified as the man who jumped into the front seat of a parked car the Proud Boys had identified as being driven by an antifascist and began brutally beating the driver. Toese had bashed out the windows of the car just prior to the assault.
The violence erupted when a phalanx of black-clad anti-fascists marched past the vacant Kmart parking lot where the rally was being held (the event had moved at the last hour after being originally scheduled for the downtown Portland waterfront), and a cluster of Proud Boys began chasing them. A van involved in the situation came to a halt at the edge of the parking lot, and its occupants also were chased down Sandy Boulevard.
A series of roving street battles followed, featuring sticks, batons, baseball bats, paintball and Airsoft guns, and wafting clouds of bear mace, accompanied by bursts of fireworks. Participants on both sides carried large shields.
Some Proud Boys returned to the abandoned van—a Metro ambulance van designed to carry people with disabilities—and proceeded, at Toese’s urging, to break out its windows, then tip it over and destroy the equipment inside.
They also caught up to an anti-fascist at his parked pickup truck, which appeared to be carrying water supplied for the counter-protesters. With Toese again urging them on while breaking the car’s windows, they slashed the man’s tires and sprayed him with mace, after which one masked Proud Boy with fighting gloves—later identified as Furrow—entered the cab and began beating the man. The man eventually was able to get out of the truck and flee the scene.
The affidavit depicts Toese—who had in fact helped organize the event as an ironic “Summer of Love” gathering—as the primary commander of the attacking Proud Boys. It alleges that he ordered groups of men clad in body armor to advance or “fall back” as they clashed with counterprotesters. It says Toese directed a group of Proud Boys to open fire with paintball guns as he watched, after which he waved them forward while both sides hurled various objects—fireworks, rocks, anything handy—at each other.
During his arraignment, prosecutors argued that he should be held without bail pending a preventative detention hearing—in part because of the comments he made while giving speeches onstage.
“In reference to a perceived belief that Antifa would appear at the rally,” the affidavit says, Toese told the audience: “Well guess what’s going to happen to your fascist heroes today if they show up and try to attack somebody. They’re going to get an ass whooping.”
“You want to keep on poking a sleeping bear, guess what? It’s going to rise up and it’s going to be 1776,” Toese continued. “You’re going to mess around and find out, the wrong way.”
He later directly addressed a group of journalists and streamers: “That’s our message to you, Antifa: the Americans are coming out and they’re sick and tired of this shit. If we have to fight fire with fire, we’re going to fucking do it. Fuck Antifa.”
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos