Above: this photo earned the author a death threat just ten minutes
after being posted on a sub gun internet fan page.
”Extreme Risk Protection Orders” or “Red Flag Laws” present an interesting form of gun control, currently adopted by seventeen US states. These exist in various forms and allow temporary firearm confiscation, even if no laws were actually broken by the individual in question. They are typically granted by judicial decision at the request of family members, concerned friends or police officers and present one of the few gun control positions enjoying relatively broad support across the political spectrum.
In the two years since Oregon adopted a Red Flag Law, it’s most commonly involved domestic violence situations or suicide risk. For me, these social issues hit close. I’ve lost friends to suicide and also spent five years working in a women’s shelter. Any means for potentially making violent partners less deadly carries undeniable appeal. Still, I worry about the potential for abuse because laws are only as fair as those enforcing them.
There’s plenty of reasons I feel trepidation. For example, one year ago a resident who was nearly nine months pregnant with an abusive ex-partner’s child, turned up covered in bruises after being beaten by him again. While she cried in the managers office, her ex raged on the sidewalk outside, screaming threats against her and my co-workers. Incredibly, he was still there when a cop showed up twenty-five minutes later. The responding officer then yelled at the woman for being too emotional and on his way out, actually gave her abuser a fist bump. The very next evening, her ex came back with a shotgun and was arrested attempting to break in.
Given the notorious connection between police officers and domestic violence, this camaraderie shouldn’t be shocking. It’s also worth observing the cop in question and the abuser were both White. The pregnant woman was Black. Of course, it goes deeper than personal anecdotes. There are countless other examples for why law enforcement has accountability problems, from Ferguson, Baltimore, Portland and everywhere in between.
During times where people distrust police, and Right wing terrorist sympathies originate from the president, it’s unsurprising marginalized communities are banding together around defense and mutual aid. Sometimes this involves training with arms.
Now, most sensational outrages by Fascist militants occur against relatively wide targets of opportunity, like the El Paso shooter who drove hundreds of miles to find a favorable location for slaughtering Mexican-Americans or the one who selected a particular Charleston church because of it’s Black congregation. As terrible as those events were, more dangerous are the less organized acts, a national pogrom occuring in plain sight yet receiving fewer headlines… the rising wave of violence against people of color, immigrants, Jewish and LGBTQ communities.
Against this background, the issue of Sgt. Shane Michael Kohfield presents many complications and deserves scrutiny. To sum up, Kohfield is a military veteran experiencing mental illness, substance abuse and PTSD who attended a 2018 Right wing rally in Portland. There, he claims anti-Fascist protesters assaulted him, yet without details of physical injury. Kohfield subsequently wrote a Texas politician demanding “Antifa” be condemned as a terrorist organization and declared if the government didn’t take action, he would orchestrate “genocide” against them. The FBI opened a file regarding this. Next he showed up outside the Mayor of Portland’s house while repeating his threats through a loudspeaker. This ostentatious display caused agents to temporarily confiscate his firearms using Oregon’s “extreme risk protection order.”
Kohfield’s case presents a unique political twist. Indeed, Kohfield’s own father testified he posed significant risk of committing murder.* Like many anti-Fascists, I’ve received my own share of death threats, so I’d be lying if the news such a person had been disarmed— no matter by who or how temporary, didn’t provide some satisfaction.
Then this September, Kohfield appeared on the Lars Larson show, a Northwest conservative talk radio program. Their recorded exchange is well worth hearing. Kohfield sounded confused and nearly incoherent at first. Despite everything, I immediately felt badly for him. It should have been obvious this was someone who needed help, not a person in any condition to make public commentary. Instead, Larson vacillated between chiding him for muddled statements and then goading more extreme directions. Kohfield seemed reluctant to restate his earlier violent outbursts, perhaps feeling understandably ashamed, yet Larson prodded him into specifics.
Kohfield: First veterans join Antifa social media pages and groups, and get names of most active members and social media, along with getting the arrest records from rallies and write down all the names they see. The veterans will use background check programs to get all the home addresses of Antifa. Using the intelligence they have gathered, the veterans will take maps of the cities where Antifa are known to live there, grid overlays will be placed over the maps of the cities, the veterans will be broken down into squads, each squad will be assigned a grid and given names and addresses in their assigned grid square. There’s an ap called Route4me that can be downloaded on a phone with the GPS, it is an ap that allows delivery truck drivers to enter more than one address, unlimited addresses and ap plot turn by turn the best route to deliver the packages. The veterans would use Route4me to find the most expedient route to hunt down the most violent members of Antifa in their beds at night until every one was gone in every city in America, if need be, in a single well coordinated night. The losses for Antifa would be catastrophic
Larson: So you are planning to hunt down and kill members of Antifa?
Kohfield: No. No.
Larson: But that’s what you just described!
Kohfield then attempted to backpedal and equivocate his statement, both denying this plan endorsed violence but also declaring anti-Fascists deserved death if they became a lethal threat, something he clearly believed was reality, having earlier claimed “Antifa” chased “conservative” citizens around with knives while being protected by the police. Larson made no attempt to correct his fanciful imagination, but only pressed for more details.
Larson: What do you plan to do to them when you get to their home and they’re asleep in their beds?
Kohfield: According to the plan, it would be kill.
Larson let him ramble on for another 15 seconds and suddenly ended the interview, not before thanking Kohfield for his service.
There’s a lot to be angry about here, and it’s more complicated than the fact an unstable man with military training openly contemplates slaughtering Americans in their beds. While Kohfield seems an obvious villain, Lars Larson more richly deserves that billing. It’s completely irresponsible allowing someone clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis to make murderous public statements that will follow them the rest of their lives. Larson blatantly exploited Kohfield’s disturbed state for radio sensation, without making any attempt to assist the man. Larson is someone with a widespread following who many on the Right take seriously. By not challenging Kohfield’s toxic social delusions, he reinforced the fantasy that “Antifa” represents some sinister organization bent on killing others.
But it’s only a relatively minor news story. One could imagine the national outrage if some progressive radio show let a Leftist militant describe plans for death squads around the country to assassinate sleeping bankers in their homes. Of course, in our consequence-free climate where the current president wantonly pardons war criminals, and the previous one authorized assassinating citizens without trial, perhaps Americans would accept that extrajudicial killings of anti-Fascists might be an extreme, but ultimately legitimate political stance.
This case also sets worrying precedent in firearms policy. Kohfield brought his threats to an escalated level by broadcasting them at the Portland mayor’s house, yet was convicted of no crime. The question for armed anti-Fascists becomes, at what point does this affect us? For some time there have been movements by powerful people in government toward declaring “Antifa” a terrorist group. After taking action against a figure on the Right, state agencies may feel political pressure to next target anti-Fascists with “extreme risk protection orders.”
Therefore, we must be very clear about what community defense means and make sure no excuse can be given for authorities disarming vulnerable populations during these fraught times. Everyone should agree:
It’s doesn’t mean assassinating people in bed at night.
It’s doesn’t mean preemptively shooting anyone, no matter their political affiliation.
It absolutely means firearms are for defending against immediate life dangers, not property.
It absolutely means keeping our friends and families safe through mutual aid, training for emergencies and with force as a clearly defined last resort. Guns have their place in the social justice toolbox, but only when all other means have been exhausted.
* Kohfield has disputed this aspect of the story and claims his father was misquoted in media accounts.