After a February 19 2022 shooting in Portland’s Normandale Park, disinformation spread rapidly on social media — including claims that the alleged shooter was an “armed homeowner” facing off against “armed protesters.”
On February 19 2022, KOIN published “PPB: 1 killed, 5 others hurt in Normandale Park shooting,” reporting:
One person was killed and five others were wounded when gunfire erupted during a protest at Normandale Park in Northeast Portland on Saturday evening [February 19 2022].
The shooting happened around 8 p.m., which was around the same time a march protesting the shooting death of Amir Locke, a Black man shot and killed by Minneapolis police, was slated to happen, according to social media announcements.
On the scene, police found one female had died. Authorities have not released the victim’s identity at this time.
Other shooting victims, identified only as two men and three women by police, were taken to local hospitals. Their conditions are currently unknown.
That early, local reporting alluded to witness complaints about law enforcement’s handling of the shooting and its aftermath:
Among other claims, protesters focused on [the Portland Police Bureau]’s response to the shooting that took place Saturday night during a protest for Amir Locke in Portland’s Normandale Park. They alleged police arrested a medic providing aid to someone who had been shot.
Another article (by local outlet KGW) was published around the same time. It was later updated to include information about the identity of the woman killed in the shooting:
One female victim was found dead when officers arrived, PPB said. Friends later confirmed with KGW that her name is June Knightly. Her cause of death will be determined by the Oregon State Medical Examiner, police said.
A paywalled story from OregonLive.com focused on Knightly, 60, who was described as a frequent participant in local protests:
June Knightly had a decades-long history of activism in Portland, first in the LGBTQ movement and more recently as a fixture of the city’s racial justice protest culture.
Her friends and her wife remembered her Monday [February 21 2022] as a kind and generous woman whose imposing appearance belied a gentle nature. She had a knack for striking compromise and listening to others even when she disagreed with them.
On February 20 2022, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) issued a press release, later updated with information prefacing the original content. It described the Normandale Park shooting as a confrontation between “armed protesters” and an “armed homeowner,” reading in part:
A preliminary investigation into the February 19, 2022 shooting near the intersection of Northeast 55th Avenue and Northeast Hassalo Street indicates this incident started with a confrontation between an armed homeowner and armed protesters.
The scene was extremely chaotic, and a number of witnesses were uncooperative with responding officers. Most people on scene left without talking to police. Detectives believe a large number of people either witnessed what happened, or recorded the incident as it unfolded. This is a very complicated incident, and investigators are trying to put this puzzle together without having all the pieces. Detectives ask that anyone with information or video please contact Detective Scott Broughton at [email protected] (503) 823-3774 or Detective Rico Beniga at [email protected] or 503-823-0457. The case number is 22-47502.
***ORIGINAL MESSAGE BELOW***
On February 19, 2022, at 8:01 p.m., officers from the North Precinct responded to a shooting call near the intersection of Northeast 55th Avenue and Northeast Hassalo Street. When officers arrived they located a female victim who was deceased. Additional shooting victims, two men and three women, were transported to area hospitals and their status is unknown at this time …
In addition to PPB’s characterization of the alleged shooter and the victims, the press release claimed that “a number of witnesses were uncooperative with responding officers,” adding that “most people on scene left without talking to police.” Those claims later came to issue in a viral thread by Portland-area independent journalist @Johnthelefty (who does not use a surname publicly for safety reasons.)
On February 21 2022, he tweeted a thread about the Normandale Park shooting and the alleged gunman. It began:
In a series of tweets, he addressed inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the PPB statement quoted above, and relevance of the claims:
Ben Smith IS NOT A HOMEOWNER & the killing WAS politically motivated. He is a part of the #furry community which has a history of alt-right ties. Furrys fall all across the political spectrum though. Reports that he sells ghost guns & is a gun fanatic. 2/
#PortlandMassShooter Ben Smith followed Andy Ngo on you tube. Sources say he was a big fan of Ngo. It is unclear if Ben Smith knew about JFPK March from Andy Ngo. Ngo demonized them as armed extremists that attack the public. Smith called victims terrorists before opening fire 3/
Portland Police made definitive statements about the #PortlandMassShooter that weren’t important details but make the shooter look less culpable. That he was a home owner and he didn’t have political affiliations. Both of these are wrong. 4/
Ben Smith goes by Polybun.He caught Furry’s attention for his antisemitism, Nazi Sympathies & desire for Proud Boys to do a mass shooting like he ended up carrying out. He was in a”Free Fur All”chat that was being called”Nazi Con” by anti-Racist furries 5/ …
… Ngo is trying his best to demonize victims (include 60yr old woman) of the mass shooting to make shooter look like the victim. Uses misinformation straight from PPB, such as destruction of evidence (No evidence of this).Police got video from a protester & oregon catholic press 7/
Portland SWAT team executing a search warrant at Ben Smith’s apartment. I don’t believe any other Law Enforcement agencies are involved. I overheard them talking about Chats that go way back. Smith’s Telegram had been active in the last hour, so Police may be accessing phone 8/
On February 22 2022, @Johnthelefty added:
On February 21 2022, expert on online extremism and journalist Robert Evans (@IwriteOK) tweeted about the Portland shooting, describing the victims as “unarmed traffic safety volunteers,” not “armed protesters”:
Another person, @chadloder, retweeted a September 2021 post mentioning Smith by his handle Polybun, and observing that his social media activity had already been noted as “violent”:
As for Smith, news aggregator Heavy.com published a “fast facts” post about his purported involvement in the incident — again deviating significantly from details provided in the PPB press release:
Benjamin Jeffrey Smith, a self-described anti-social machinist with a trail of disturbing social media posts, was named as the Portland, Oregon, man who is under suspicion in the mass shooting of five people that left a Black Lives Matter protester dead.
Smith has not been named as the suspect by authorities; he was named by OregonLive, which reported that witnesses have identified him as the shooter. He is described by a member of the “furry” community as a local “furry” who goes by the name Polybun. He is also known as Ben Smith and was also shot, leaving him critically wounded, the newspaper reported. Police have released few details of what they described as a chaotic scene.
Smith’s roommate told Opd.org, “He talked about wanting to go shoot commies and antifa all the friggin time. 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 d***** liberals.” He worked at Peninsula Iron Works.
On Reddit, Ben Smith, writing as Polybun, wrote, “I’m not that into crowds, i’m not the artistic sort, and i’m fairly antisocial. I’m a machinist by trade, build electronic gadgets and hot rods for fun.” Screenshots emerged of posts under his handle on Telegram and other accounts.
Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB.org) published “Alleged killer in Portland’s Normandale Park protest shooting identified” on February 22 2022, reporting:
The man suspected of shooting and killing a racial justice demonstrator Saturday night [February 19 2022] has been identified as Benjamin Jeffrey Smith, 43, of Northeast Portland.
Smith’s roommate, Kristine Christenson, told OPB that when she first moved into his apartment seven years ago, he let her stay there for free … She said Smith slowly became more radicalized starting in the later years of the Obama administration and accelerating during the Trump administration. At times, she heard him yelling racial slurs in his room and deriding women.
“As the years went on, he’s just gotten more and more radicalized. He got angrier and angrier,” Christenson told OPB. “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.”
PortlandMercury.com indicated that Smith “lived in an apartment across from Normandale Park for more than a decade, and has harbored growing animosity against Black Lives Matter protesters, COVID-19 mask mandates, unhoused Portlanders, and liberals, according to his roommate, Kristine Christenson.” Heavy.com embedded a Twitter thread by journalist Donovan Farley from February 21 2022.
[@Johnthelefty’s tweet identifying Smith] is also what source(s) who used to be close to Ben Smith told me earlier today. They provided a photo and described his far-right extremism and gun obsession. They also told me his Telegram last logged on last Saturday at 8 pm and then abruptly … 1/
came back online shortly Sunday evening. One imagines this was the @PortlandPolice going through his phone. I will not be sharing the photo or any other details at this moment as it could comprise the safety of my source(s). The @PortlandPolice know Smith’s motivations & have 2/
been deceiving the public: this certainly appears to be a highly political act by someone who had previously threatened political violence and murder against leftists. @PortlandPolice hid this from the public. It is also worth pointing out that Smith is an @MrAndyNgo fan.
A shooting in Portland’s Normandale Park on February 19 2022 led to extensive discussion by local anti-extremist journalists and activists. A PPB statement describing the incident as a conflict between “armed protesters” and an “armed homeowner” was described as “deceiving the public,” and locals identified Smith as the alleged shooter.
PPB’s statement did not indicate whether the deadly shooting was politically motivated, but news organizations quickly located Smith’s social media interactions — including violent fantasies about shooting “communists.” Smith’s roommate explained he “harbored growing animosity against Black Lives Matter protesters, COVID-19 mask mandates, unhoused Portlanders, and liberals,” details that did not make it into the updated PPB press release.
Additional discourse focused on Smith’s interest in Andy Ngo, and Ngo’s ongoing efforts to foment violence against anti-fascists in Portland.
Update, April 19 2023, 4:55 PM: On April 18 2023, Portland-based KGW reported that Smith was sentenced to “life in prison with eligibility for parole after 55 years.”
In an April 18 2023 article, Oregon Public Broadcasting described Smith’s sentencing, excerpting statements made during the hearing:
Allie Bradley, who Smith shot four times, told Smith his actions have forever marred her life.
“The weight of your bullets have not left my body,” Bradley said. “I thought I was going to die. But you couldn’t steal my strength even when you tried to kill me.”
Several who spoke said Smith’s shooting should serve as an example of what can happen if people with a history of making violent threats aren’t stopped sooner. In the years leading up to the shooting, Smith was reported numerous times to law enforcement for making threats online. That included a threat assessment conducted by the FBI, which said it spoke with Smith in 2021. The FBI did not investigate further.
Dajah Beck, a woman who Smith shot in the chest and arm, used her time in court to play a portion of the audio captured by a GoPro camera attached to her motorcycle helmet the night of the shooting.
“I’m playing this for the world that averts its eyes from political extremism and vigilantism like this,” Beck said before playing the clip.
In addition to prison time, KGW reported that Smith would be required to pay “over $58,900 in restitution” under Oregon’s Crime Victims’ Compensation Program.