Oregon’s statehouse shut down for safety concerns on Saturday after threats from right-wing militias who offered to help Republican lawmakers on the lam after walking out to stop a climate-change bill.
Eleven of Oregon’s Senate Republicans fled the state this week to avoid a vote on a bill that would cap greenhouse emissions. The group, believed to be hiding in Idaho, left the state senate with too few lawmakers to hold a vote. Meanwhile, militia announced they would join a two-day “Rally to Take the Capital.” Security concerns prompted Democrats to cancel Saturday’s session.
“Oregon State Police has recommended that the Capitol be closed tomorrow due to a possible militia threat,” a spokesperson for the senate president told the Associated Press on Friday night.
The trouble started this month, when state Senate Democrats advanced plans for a bill that would cut carbon emissions. Modeled after a similar policy in California, Oregon’s proposed cap and trade bill would restrict fossil fuel emissions, particularly for the industries that create the most pollution. The bill’s proponents say it’s part of a plan to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050. (Climate scientists and the European Union call for effectively eliminating carbon emissions by 2050, in order to prevent out-of-control climate change.)
But Oregon’s state Republicans weren’t on board, citing increased expenses for Oregon residents and businesses. This week, every Republican in the state senate walked out, rather than vote on the bill.
Walkouts are not unique to Republicans. Democrat lawmakers fled their states in 2003 and 2011 to prevent votes on redistricting and curbing union rights, The Daily Beast previously reported. Oregon has a long history of senate walkouts, including a four-day walkout in May, when Republicans refused to vote on a tax package that would fund schools. They returned to session with the agreement that they would not walk out again.
But this walkout also came with violent threats. Multiple senators are believed to have fled to Idaho, with militias offering to help. (A GOP spokesperson told the Willamette Week “they’re not interested.”) While leaving the statehouse before the walkout, Republican Sen. Brian Boquist implied that police officers who pursued them should be ready to die. “Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” Boquist warned police in a televised interview shortly before his walkout. “I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”
State police said they were aware of Boquist's remarks, but were not commenting on them. Boquist and his colleagues are supported by several right-wing militias that made more explicit threats.
After Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called on state troopers to return the lawmakers to the capital, the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers suggested violence against her.
“Gov. Brown, you want a civil war, because this is how you get a civil war,” the Oath Keepers wrote on their public Facebook page. Beneath the post, Oath Keeper fans suggesting hanging, arresting, or taking up arms against Brown.
Idaho militia insiders previously told The Daily Beast that paramilitary members in Oregon and Idaho had “mobilized” in defense of the Republican lawmakers, and that they were willing to die for the legislators. One leader compared the situation to the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation, in which members of a right-wing militia led an armed standoff inside a wildlife sanctuary building. The standoff ended with the death of a militia member.
But on Twitter, Oregon’s Republican party criticized state Democrats for cancelling Saturday sessions over the militias’ planned protests, tweeting, “Oregon senate Democrats canceled their weekend session citing a fear that Republican voters may show up.”
Editor’s Note, 6/24/19: This piece has clarified militia threats closed the statehouse on Saturday. A correction was also made to the year the refuge occupation took place.