Police Captain Mark Kruger Update: 80 Hours Unpaid Leave for Nazi Memorial

On the same day as Portland Police Chief Mike Reese and Mayor Sam Adams announced that Officer Ron Frashour would be dismissed from the Portland Police for shooting and killing an unarmed Black man this January, news also broke of minor discipline against Portland Police Captain Mark Kruger. As Maxine Bernstein of The Oregonian reported this Tuesday, November 16, Police Chief Mike Reese placed Kruger on 80 hours unpaid leave, required him to take a “Tools for Tolerance” training, and tied him to an unspecified “mentorship arrangement” lasting from between half a year to two years. This internal discipline is related to Kruger’s placing of a memorial to five WWII German soldiers in Rocky Butte Park approximately a decade ago. Rose City Antifascists recently released a statement about Kruger, the accusations of Nazi sympathy that have been swirling around him since 2003, and the complicity of the City Attorney’s Office and previous Police Chiefs in covering for Kruger.
In our statement on Mark Kruger published November 13—before news of Kruger’s discipline was released to the public—we argued: “While we are interested in seeing how this situation develops, we are not holding our breath for Kruger to face meaningful consequences for his actions.” While we do not consider that Kruger’s brief unpaid leave is substantial discipline for his Nazi hero-worship, institutional forces did move quicker than we expected, in fact before we even published our analysis. Furthermore, we suggested that the Portland Police Association (PPA) would leap to Kruger’s defense. While it is possible that there will be words from the PPA on this issue, Kruger has in fact waived his right to arbitration regarding the imposed discipline, probably because it is little more than a slap on the wrist. The PPA has instead focused its outrage on the dismissal of Ron Frashour and the discipline of three other police regarding the killing of Aaron Campbell earlier this year: “Today we can say that the rank and file of the Portland Police Bureau have lost faith in their leaders.” Inasmuch as our analysis differed from the actual turn of events, this seems due to an underestimation of the current crisis of policing in Portland, which has proved deep enough to lead to some surprises. (This crisis is not just within the corridors in power, but is also a factor of pressure brought on the City—highly visible and politically embarrassing responses from Black community organizations plus allies following the Campbell killing, efforts such as the Fire Frashour campaign, and even street disturbances such as the near-riot that followed the Police killing of Jack Dale Collins in March, as well as subsequent anarchist sabotage.) Given that Kruger was neither demoted nor fired, our analysis was nevertheless not too far from the mark.

On November 16, Mark Kruger also issued a public letter of apology, stating yet again that his interest was purely “in military history,” that he has no “admiration for Nazism,” and that his actions were subject to “misperception”—all claims that significantly stretch the bounds of believability. The November 12 memorandum confirming Kruger’s discipline—also made public on Tuesday—provides further information about the German soldiers memorialized by Kruger. As well the already-known names of Waffen SS member Michael Wittman, and Wehrmacht leader Harald von Hirschfeld (involved in a massacre of thousands of prisoners) the names of the three other German soldiers on Kruger’s plaques are now also public information. These names are Erich Bärenfänger, a Wehrmacht officer who took part in the Battle of Berlin and who was briefly Hitler’s deputy; Wolfgang Luth, who destroyed dozens of vessels as a U-Boat commander; and Walter Nowotny, at one time the Luftwaffe’s greatest killer. Kruger’s apology letter absurdly claims that he did not know that Hirschfeld was involved in war crimes, because there were not “the internet’s research tools of today” a decade ago. Within this letter, Kruger does not discuss Wittman’s membership in the SS. Now that Bärenfänger’s name has been released, we know that another of those memorialized by Kruger was part of the NSDAP (Nazi Party) machinery. Bärenfänger joined the SA (“Sturmabteilung” or “Stormtroopers” in English, popularly referred to as the “brownshirts”) in 1933. The SA was at one point the primary paramilitary force of the Nazi Party, although it was eclipsed in this role by the SS following the “Night of the Long Knives” of 1934. Bärenfänger was therefore another ideologically committed Nazi honored by Kruger.

Materials from the Police internal investigation on Mark Kruger’s activity have not been released to the public.