Friends remember Aaron Danielson: 'He wasn't taking sides'
Just a day before his death, the man fatally shot during Saturday's Trump 2020 car caravan in downtown Portland attended a Patriot Prayer event just across the Columbia River in Camas, Washington.
The night after his demise, friends gathered at their regular spot to reminisce over the times shared with the victim, a resident of Southwest Portland.
Police have identified the man shot dead outside a parking garage on Saturday, Aug. 29, as Aaron J. Danielson, 39, who went by the name Jay.
Several people who said they knew Danielson told the Portland Tribune he was not a racist but politically provocative and drawn to the action of the nightly protests. All talked off the record for fear of retaliation. His strongest defender was a Black man who said Danielson was a "great guy" who spent a lot of time with a racially mixed group of friends at a local tavern.
The friends got together at the tavern Sunday afternoon to mourn Danielson's death. Several of them and a number of the tavern employees who knew Danielson talked to the Portland Tribune about him. Although some said he occasionally liked to stir up trouble, all said they could not believe he did anything to deserve to die. They were all offended Danielson was being labeled a racist and Nazi on social media.
"If he was a Nazi, he was the worst one I ever met," a Black woman said.
The Black man said Danielson had been going to the downtown protests to record them on his smart phone and post videos virtually every night since they started. They believe he recorded and posted one of the widely viewed videos of the pickup driver being assaulted after crashing his truck trying to escape a mob on the night of Aug. 16. The video referenced appeared on a YouTube channel with films taken other sources, however.
"He wasn't taking sides, he just wanted to show people what was going on. I kept telling him not to go downtown, that it was too dangerous. What's going on down there is crazy and wrong," one man said.
But Danielson didn't stay away — and in fact went out to another dueling counterprotest the night before his death.
Local Black Lives Matter groups organized a counter protest after the conservative Patriot Prayer movement's leader, activist Joey Gibson, promoted plans for a pro-police Camas Rally For The Blue on Friday, Aug. 28 at the corner of Third Avenue and Dallas Street in Camas.
In a live-stream capturing 30 minutes of the six-hour event in Camas, Danielson can be seen riding a skateboard near the crowd of BLM protesters gathered outside an Arco gas station.
"He was just zooming around the whole time, mostly filming," one person who attended the protest told the Tribune, who asked that their name not be used due to privacy concerns.
Amateur sleuths on social media have circulated screenshots of a tattooed man wearing body armor they accuse of being Danielson's killer. The Oregonian/OregonLive also has named a person of interest in the shooting, and uncovered similar photos.
The Camas protester then pointed to live-stream footage showing both Danielson and the tattooed man attending the dueling protest on Friday.
"I don't recall seeing any notable conflict of any sort or even really any sense of anger or aggression from either of them towards anybody really," a protester said, but later clarified: "(Danielson) was riding up and down with the aggressive flag wavers in the street in front of the BLM people. He was cheering people on to harass BLM people when they came over to the gas station lot."
Later that night, someone at the Camas rally produced a long rifle, frightening many of the Black Lives Matter attendees and causing some to leave, the protester said.
Danielson and another frequent participant at conservative street events, Chandler Pappas, were interviewed by the Tribune at the Clackamas Town Center mall that served as a staging ground for Saturday's Trump 2020 car caravan, where Pappas said they would be providing volunteer security.
On Wednesday, Aug. 26, Pappas was heard exclaiming he was "ready for war" while pointing a paintball gun at counter-protesters during a rally at Gresham City Hall. On Saturday, after the interview at Clackamas Town Center concluded, the duo returned to packing up their gear: a paintball gun, knives and mace.
Hours later, the car parade wound its way through downtown Portland, spurring several fights and arrests by Portland police. It was only after the cars left the central city that two gunshots rang out at Southwest Third Avenue and Morrison Street, where Danielson was found dead with a bullet wound to the chest.
In an interview with MSNBC, Patriot Prayer leader Gibson called Danielson "one of the nicest guys that you'll ever meet... No one would ever want to hurt this guy."
MSNBC airs interview with Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson, who talks about one of his supporters who was killed in Portland.— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) August 31, 2020
Asked if he has any regrets, he knocks the media's coverage of the "Trump cruise."
"I donâ€™t know what else we could have done differently." pic.twitter.com/btfjhcCCEO
The case remains an active homicide investigation.
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