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Oregon deputy suspended for inciting vigilantes

This article contains news and liberal opinion.

Oregon police and fire agencies are having to devote resources to combating the false rumors.

Now, one of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s own deputies is accused of helping to propagate those rumors.

The deputy also is accused of inciting vigilantes to commit violence.

“An Oregon deputy has been placed on leave after a viral video emerged of him falsely blaming Antifa for the state’s wildfires as police continue to plead with the public to stop spreading unfounded rumors,” MSN reported on Monday, September 14, 2020. Read story here and watch the video here.

MSN said, “There is no evidence that the fires were deliberately started by arsonists or activists.”

The deputy’s remarks incited vigilantes

The website of Oregon’s largest newspaper, Oregon Live, said, “The deputy’s remarks seemed to give credence to the idea that anti-fascists were causing havoc and possibly setting fires, unfounded rumors strenuously debunked by law enforcement.”

Oregon Live added, “The deputy is heard on the video telling the person filming that deputies ‘need the public’s help,’ in regard to anti-fascists. Numerous reports and photos of people being stopped by armed vigilantes in Clackamas County have been circulating on social media.”

A sheriff’s deputy encouraging paranoiacs with guns to patrol communities is deeply troubling even without spreading false rumors. Earlier this year, a family of innocent campers passing through Forks, Washington, were threatened and followed by armed vigilantes who suspected them of being “antifa.” Read that story here. It won’t take very many of these incidents before one ends in tragedy.

The same deputy allegedly coached vigilantes to plant weapons on protesters after shooting them

Oregon Live also reported that the Clackamas sheriff’s office “has declined multiple requests for comment on another viral video, showing what appears to be the same Clackamas County deputy coaching militia members …  in which he appears to coach militia members on their ability to use force.”

A person who commented under a YouTube clip from that video accused the deputy of telling the vigilantes “that killing someone in self-defense requires a threat of serious bodily injury or death and if ‘you throw a f****** knife in their hand after you shoot them, that’s on you.'” (Source here.) If this quote is accurate, he gave them advice on how to get away with shooting protesters. I listened to the video and couldn’t make out whether that was said, and the deputy isn’t visible or identifiable in the video, in which the view of the person speaking is obstructed by other persons.

This occurred in the parking lot of a Clackamas shopping mall on Saturday, August 29, 2020, where about 1,000 Trump supporters and armed vigilantes had gathered to parade through Portland. That demonstration that became violent, with members of the caravan pepper-spraying crowds from their pickups.

Later that night, one of those vigilantes was shot to death by a self-described “antifa.” Police found a handgun and knife on his body. He is known to have been at the shopping mall that afternoon, as there are photos of him there, but it’s unknown if there’s any connection between the knife he was carrying and the deputy’s purported advice.

Encouraging vigilantes is a terrible idea.

There have been allegations that police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, also fraternized with armed vigilantes, including one who killed two protesters and wounded a third (story here). A study group has pointed to dozens of similar situations around the country (story here). And last month the FBI issued a report stating that white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members, and militia members have infiltrated police agencies across the U.S. (story here).

In my view, crowd control and police responsibilities should never be delegated to untrained citizens. If local police can’t handle a situation, they have the option of asking other law enforcement agencies to lend them additional manpower, or requesting National Guard troops. Police officers and National Guard troops are trained to handle these situations; vigilantes are not. They have a command structure; vigilantes do not. They are answerable to the community; vigilantes are not. And vigilantes are far more likely to lose their heads in a tense situation.

For these reasons, in a riot situation, the police and National Guard should keep vigilantes out of the area, not invite them in. Doing that also could expose their agencies to legal liability for whatever the vigilantes do. But the main issue here is protecting the public from armed citizens who have no business going into these situations with guns. Police agencies and their officers also have no business taking sides between “right” and “left;” their job is to protect property and lives, and enforce the laws equally with respect to everyone, protesters and counter-protesters alike.

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