Gabe Johnson was sitting in his apartment Saturday night in Portland, Oregon, when he heard the gunshots that took the life of a man later identified as Aaron “Jay” Danielson.
Johnson, a Marine Corps veteran and Portland local, has watched the violence unfold in his city over the past three months. He also watched with frustration as the media often failed to report what is actually happening there.
After he heard the gunshots Saturday night, Johnson said, he was concerned that the media would not report the incident accurately, so he walked the four blocks to the scene of the crime to see the situation firsthand.
Johnson joins the podcast to explain what he witnessed and what it has been like living so close to the ongoing riots in Portland.
We also cover these stories:
- President Trump is going to Wisconsin despite a request by Gov. Tony Evers that he not visit the state.
- The case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn will continue to weave its way through the courts.
- The number of coronavirus cases reported in the United States is now over 6 million.
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Virginia Allen: I am joined by Gabe Johnson, a marine veteran and Portland local. Gabe, thanks so much for coming on the show today.
Gabe Johnson: Hey, you’re very welcome.
Allen: Gabe, we had the pleasure of speaking on Friday, and you told me in detail really what it’s been like to live just a few blocks away from the courthouse in Portland while there’s been so much unrest, and you began going down to the riots in July because you wanted to see for yourself what was actually happening. What made you say in July, “I have to go down there and see this for myself”?
Johnson: Well, in July, which seems like almost a year ago, it seems like this stuff’s been going on so long, but in July I had been laying in bed and, after about 20 explosions, I decided that, “Hey, let me just count how many are going to go off tonight,” not realizing that I would get to about 82 before I stopped counting.
Along the way, I closed my eyes, just because, I’m like, “Gosh, this really feels familiar.” And I say “feels” because being a veteran and being in Desert Storm, Desert Shield, and then going back as a contractor, it felt like I was back in Iraq, back in Mosul, and I’m in my bed, even though it really didn’t impact me until just then. And so, more explosions continued to go off that night and I just decided, “Enough’s enough.”
I literally jumped out of bed screaming, “Oh, my God.” And I decided I’m going to just sleep on it and see what happened. When I woke up in the morning, it just came to me that I really needed to just go out and do something, whether it was start a conversation, do something. Because what I’m seeing and hearing is just maddening.
I decided to, with a friend, go out and use the American flag as a form of unity, a form of just bringing people back together. Because one of the things that I’ve noticed is that just we as Americans, regardless of our political affiliation, a lot of us have given up our patriotism.
And I say, “A lot of us,” I’m not including myself in that, but it definitely was a reminder that, gosh, the thing that brings us back together is this American flag. And that hasn’t been our symbol and people have just given it up.
I decided that I would just go there and start a conversation, not realizing just how far, I want to say as far as we’ve come, but as far as we’ve just gone backward being there, because I was met with immediate hate. And I say hate, but hate from blacks calling me the N-word and calling me a coon and calling me Uncle Tom and jigaboo, and just saying what the flag represents to them.
Now, mind you, these are black youth that I was talking to. And I want to make the distinction because I think that older black Americans may or may not feel that way. But the ones that I’ve talked to that have really come out and supported me have been an older generation.
So, as I’m down there talking to some of the youth, and I was actually talking to this gentleman who was asking me questions on camera, this black young lady grabs my flag from me and runs down the street, throws it in the street and, I don’t know, starts yelling something.
This 65-year-old black man, veteran, walks over, grabs my flag, and is coming back, and he’s saying to me, “There’s no way I’m going to let them burn the American flag.” He had been there observing, listening for a while, hadn’t said anything at all. But when it came to burning the flag, I guess that’s where he drew a line in the sand.
As he was coming back to me, he gets jumped by these two black kids, literally roundhoused, punch him in the face. And as he hit the ground, they started stomping on him. So, I run over there to assist this man and they run away. As they’re running, they grab the flag and they throw it over the huge fence that’s in front of the federal courthouse.
There’s just been so much division through this whole thing, whether it’s black on blacks or, unfortunately, white on black crime, and the same as we saw just occur over the weekend. It doesn’t really matter what race you are, but this thing is definitely dividing our country. And so, back in July, it doesn’t seem like it’s gotten any better since then.
Allen: Gabe, it’s shocking to hear you tell this story. This is happening essentially in your backyard, just a few blocks away from where you live. You’re simply carrying an American flag with you, … like you say, it should be this amazing symbol of unity in our country. And for so long it has been that symbol of unity. And you simply enter the scene with the flag and you’re met with such hostility.
So I know that, from that point, you’ve really continued to watch things closely in Portland and just pay very close attention to the way that the media is reporting on what’s happening. So I want to ask you about Saturday night. Tragically, a man was shot on Saturday night amid all of the chaos and protests and rioting in Portland. How did you learn about the shooting?
Johnson: Let me start with on Friday because this really, for me, started on Friday. And I say that because I wanted to see if there [were] any stark differences in two events that were going on last week. And one was the NAACP March on Portland that went off on Friday, no problems, no protesting, no nothing, just the march.
There were a few Black Lives Matter people mixed in with them, but nothing like you see in the carnage that goes on night after night after night downtown. So, I make note of that. One rally, just fine, no problems.
Going into Saturday, I literally sat down and was watching and texting a friend, and we’re texting back and forth about the Trump rally, and we were actually pretty surprised.
There were a lot of people, a lot of proud Americans out there in support of their president. We get through the whole rally. And I say get through the whole thing, including them taking a detour and coming through downtown, at least part of them, it wasn’t all 600 vehicles, it was about 100 vehicles that came through.
And literally, KATU, the local ABC affiliate, they dropped their helicopter feed. The CBS affiliate, they dropped their online news feed. And then the feed from YouTube goes down. And we just made note of it, like, “Yeah. OK, it’s dusk.” So it’s right around 7:45, almost 8.
About an hour later, I’m sitting on my couch and watching television and I hear two shots. And I’m thinking to myself, “Damn, is that gunfire?” Because, unfortunately, I know distinctively what gunfire sounds like. And then it was followed up by two other explosions, which had to be some fireworks.
As I’m sitting there, I get a text message and it’s from one of my friends in law enforcement. And he’s like, “Hey, someone just got shot four blocks from your house.”
And so, I decided that, well, … Probably not a good idea, I want to go down simply to see if the story is going to be told accurately. And I’m so glad that I did. I actually spent about two hours down at the scene talking to police officers, talking to the responders that are in the area, and then just getting an overall sense of the mood, the tone in the atmosphere.
One of the things that I am just absolutely appalled by is that there are actual people in the streets in Black Lives Matter attire saying that they’re not sad that a fascist Nazi died tonight. And that’s just wrong. That is just straight hate. And those are the things that we hear from hate groups day in and day out, year after year.
You can’t celebrate someone’s death. I don’t care what side of the fence that you sit on. But more importantly, what’s highly upsetting is just the atmosphere that [Portland Mayor] Ted Wheeler and our city commissioner and our governor has allowed to take root in our city, and the atmosphere is lawlessness. And this is a direct reflection of that, of people dying in the street.
Allen: Wow. There’s still, obviously, a lot of information coming out about this shooting, about what led up to it, the details. But you’re walking down there and you’re saying that the atmosphere, essentially, … it’s not one of sorrow and grief that a life was lost. It’s people saying, “No, this is right.”
Johnson: Yeah, it’s, “This is right.” And it’s on video and they’re not sorry. You look at all the videos that [were] retweeted from that night and there’s people burning the American flag, playing a song, “Down Dixie.” And it’s … appalling. You can’t sit here and one minute protest injustice and oppression of human beings and then at the very turn of a hat, celebrate somebody getting killed.
Allen: You spoke with law enforcement, you said. What were they saying?
Johnson: They were very, very careful about the information that they could put out. They let me know that, again, someone had died close to my house, happens to be a friend of mine, and just honoring keeping information private. It’s generally very vague. And I’ll keep it that way, too.
What I can tell you in what was just put out is, unfortunately, we’re going to see this, and unfortunately, I’m going to see it a block from my house in Terry Schrunk Plaza.
Actually, ironically, I was married there a few years ago. And there was going to be a, probably, protest going on. And these are the people that the prayer warriors are a part of, and it’s another group that isn’t kind.
So now we’re going to have more hate groups combining and clashing in Downtown Portland. Why? Because of the atmosphere that was created.
And I think this is something that could have been totally avoided. And I think it’s something that may get lost, but our elected officials chose … not to prosecute rioters, and they made that publicly known, and they stood by that decision. And they took the police off the streets. So, again, a lawless atmosphere has just been created and you can’t just clean it up at the snap of a hat.
Probably what’s even more insulting, and I know I’m using that word a lot, is that the governor came out with a plan last night and it’s a unified law enforcement plan. She goes on to explain where Portland public police are going to get assistance from Washington County, from Gresham City Police. So basically everyone in the metro area. All the departments in the metro area are now going to assist [the] Portland Police Department.
Earlier in the spring, the mayor took away the coverage, so if you’re an officer and you come and you assist in Portland, you’re not covered, meaning that your union, your insurance protections that you have as a police officer are stripped outside of your jurisdiction.
So they took those away. But miraculously, now … they’re giving them back, and assistance from the state police to curtail the violence in the streets. So, if she had this plan in her back pocket, where was it 90 days ago?
Allen: You actually had the privilege of participating in a city town hall in mid-August with various leaders from Portland, including Mayor Ted Wheeler. Tell me a little bit about that experience.
Johnson: The experience, I’ll say it was just a little bit more eye-opening, more than what I had already experienced. I didn’t know that I would be one of two people there with the same view.
However, one of the things that Ted Wheeler extended at the very beginning of the town hall was an invitation for those in the community, those people that are at the town hall, to come in and work with him on some of the solutions on going forward.
I emailed, I called his office for about a week. I didn’t hear anything. Ironically, end of last week, someone from KATU reached out to me and was like, “The Mayor’s Office would like your phone number and your email and your contact information because they’d like to invite you to some events that they’re having,” I don’t know.
I hadn’t heard anything as of last Friday. After this past weekend and a lot of my remarks in the media, I really am not holding out for him to call me because I’m highly upset. And I blame him and I blame our city officials for a citizen of Oregon dying on the street, regardless of the color.
One thing I do also want to note, and when this story force first broke, The New York Times reported, and they had since done a correction, but The New York Times reported that a black man was shot and killed in the street by a Trump supporter.
So, you have reports that are coming out from people that are on the ground that are giving false information to the media, and the media is just running with it without verifying any fact.
And it’s terrible because in the first 10 or 20 minutes after I got home, I’m seeing all this stuff about this black man being shot in the street when it wasn’t even true. It’s almost like we want to see more blacks dying to further push this agenda along. And it’s not one that I agree with.
Allen: In your opinion, what needs to happen today in order to bring that law and order back to the streets of Portland?
Johnson: The governor’s first step, it’s a good one, that does have to happen. You do have to bring law and order back to the streets. You’re going to have to find a medium that will allow city and state officials, community members to talk to some of these groups. And one of them is there’s a great opportunity, but proud police aren’t coming until Sept. 16, I think, for their event.
What an opportunity as a city leader to start a conversation with them and show some compassion for their cohort who just died. Regardless if you believe their beliefs or anything, you’re going to have to show some compassion and understanding and try to deescalate the situation because right now people want retaliation. And those people are bound for retribution. And so, that’s the first threat that we’re going to see on our city. So we need to get out and talk to them.
We also need to talk to these BLM and Antifa and really talk to the leaders and just put a pause on the protesting and the violence that we see day after day. And if that means instituting a curfew in all parts of the city and having a heavy police presence, then that’s just what has to happen, because you can’t keep going on like this. It’s going to escalate way out of control.
Allen: You’ve decided personally that you want to do something to support the law enforcement in your community. Can you tell us a little bit about the fundraiser that you launched?
Johnson: Yeah. Me and Nine Line Apparel, or actually, I had went to them and had asked them about doing a promotion that would generate funding for the Portland Police Department. And, in particular, at the time it was solely for the Portland police chaplains, which was further extended from my meeting with Sheriff [Michael] Reese at the town hall.
But Nine Line partnered with me and coming up with a design, and it’s “A Stand for Justice.” A portion of the proceeds from the T-shirts, sweatshirts, the assortment of attire that they have come out with will be given back as a donation to support chaplains in Multnomah County and Portland public police.
So, all together, there’s 14 chaplains from Multnomah County and two for PPD. The chaplains aren’t paid. The chaplains are the first line of defense for police, whether it’s just, “Hey, I’m having a bad day. I had a bad call. I need to discuss this, I want to get it off my mind,” or simply they know that officers are in distress and they go out and seek them and take them out to dinner and lunches and whatever.
Since these acts of kindness are not funded, I really wanted to just do something kind. We need to do more kind things and put them out to the universe, and hopefully that will change some of the climate around here.
But these people need support. And so, again, Nine Line Apparel partnered with me on this. We actually even extended this promotion through Monday. So, again, it’s a way to just give back to humanity, but give back to our first responders, too, who need it the most.
Allen: We’ll be sure to put a link for that fundraiser in today’s show notes, so if any of our listeners are interested in buying a shirt and supporting these police chaplains, they can.
But Gabe, we just really want to thank you for speaking out and for … essentially, you’ve sort of become this citizen journalist who’s just … telling it like it is. You’re reporting on what you’re seeing. So thank you for being bold enough to do that.
Johnson: Yes, of course. And I think that if more citizens did this then we wouldn’t be getting gaslighted as much as … we are.