SALEM, Or.—A group of about 300 demonstrators attempted to force their way into two separate entrances of the Oregon State Capitol on Monday, outraged that lawmakers were holding a special session closed to the public.
The crowd was a loose collection of members of the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer and other far-right groups, many of them are armed with pistols and rifles. At one point during the demonstration, which began around 9 a.m., a woman tried to climb in a window on the west side of the government building. Oregon State Troopers, however, repelled her—before two more troopers showed up to insist that she get off the ledge.
Those troopers were quickly chased off by screaming protesters, many of them toting long black rifles.
Minutes later, the crowd moved to the building’s north entrance and attempted to push their way in. A dozen more troopers arrived at the door, declared it an unlawful assembly, and pushed the crowd back, using some kind of deterrent in a series of “pop” sounds, at which point the protesters swarmed back out again, their eyes watering and coughing.
Some 100 protesters soon entered the lobby anyway, and state troopers again attempted to compel them to leave. The Salem Police Department told The Daily Beast that the streets surrounding the Capitol building had been closed and residents were being asked to avoid the area if possible due to the ongoing protest.
“I’m here to support the constitutional rights of people and of Oregon business [owners.] These people are unemployed and their lives are being ruined by this situation and most importantly by a government that seems to have taken totalitarian views,” one protester who would identify himself only by his first name, Duane, told The Daily Beast.
Around 10 a.m., troopers from inside the building began to push protesters toward the north door. More than a dozen officers were also outside, fanning out protesters who tried to push back.
“You are traitors to the American people,” one demonstrator shouted at the troopers inside the building.
Protesters, however, quickly changed course. Three men with long guns moved to the west side of the building and encouraged everyone to open a door there. Once successfully opened, the protesters demanded to be let inside, but troopers forced everyone to remain outdoors.
Outside, a standoff between troopers in riot gear and the protesters began, as some people chanted “shame” while dozens sang the National Anthem. One woman was also seen holding a pitchfork with an American flag attached. Troopers eventually responded with pepper spray and blue gas—which dispersed some of the crowd. By 10:30 p.m., the protest consisted of about 50 people.
“We are now declaring this area a patriot autonomous zone. If Antifa can do it so can we,” one protester said over a bullhorn, before calling for help pulling down fences and tarps.
Despite the chaotic protest, some protesters managed to continue selling pro-Trump merchandise at a tent set up outside the Capitol—including “Stop The Steal” sweaters. The tent, surrounded by Trump 2020 flags, also offered USA and Trump hats.
The state government’s agenda dealt with pandemic relief and whether to allow restaurants and bars to serve cocktails to go, both touchy subjects for a crowd that calls restrictions enacted by local lawmakers and Gov. Kate Brown “tyranny.” The special session, which is the third to take place since March, would provide $800 million in relief to Oregon residents.
During the session, Brown was also expected to ask lawmakers to continue several protections for residents amid the ongoing pandemic, including relief for landlords and tenants, and a bill to protect schools from some lawsuits.
“We’re not gonna give up this easily, everybody come in!” said one protester with a knife on his belt and a bulletproof vest as he entered the lobby. “This is our state. This is our building.”
Tensions also ran high during the legislative session. According to OPB, Republican state Sen. Dallas Heard objected to a state-wide mask requirement—and accused his colleagues of being involved in a “campaign against the people and the children of God.” The stunning accusation came after Heard spoke to protesters outside the Capitol, where he also expressed his frustration with the mask mandate and insisted he is for the “people.” The lawmaker asked residents to vote out his Democratic colleagues.
“If you had not done such great evil to my people and had simply asked me to wear my mask, I would have,” Heard said during the session, after ripping off his face mask. “But you commanded it, and therefore I declare my right to protest against your false authority and remove my mask.”
To date, 1,341 people have died and about 103,000 more have been infected with the coronavirus in Oregon.