Far right demonstrators kicked in a door to the Oregon State Capitol during a special legislative session Monday. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)
Far-right protesters on Monday attempted to forcibly disrupt a legislative session at the Capitol, where they smashed windows, blocked streets, assaulted journalists and sprayed unidentified chemicals on police.
Roughly 200 protesters gathered outside of the Capitol as lawmakers convened for the year’s third special session to address issues created by the Covid pandemic. As a health precaution, legislative leaders closed the building to the public for the one-day special session.
The crowd of protesters that arrived Monday morning was mostly maskless. Many were decked out in Donald Trump hats and waved flags from the president’s campaign. Some carried long rifles and sported body armor. One man wore a shirt calling for the imprisonment of Gov. Kate Brown.
Many yelled angrily at lawmakers gathered inside.
“What they are doing in that building right now is illegal!”
“The Chinese have taken over!”
“Vaccines are not effective!”
“I do not consent to a new world order!”
Protesters chanting “let us in” packed into the Capitol’s west entrance area on Court Street, setting off the building’s fire alarm. The group of about 30, carrying American flags and a sign reading “Politicians are the virus. Revolution is the cure,” was pushed back outside by state and city police in riot gear.
The Oregon State Police said in a subsequent statement that protesters had entered the Capitol building at 8:30 a.m. Police did not state how protesters gained access to the building but could be heard pounding on doors inside. State police responded with pepper balls, a less-than-lethal projectile. Two unidentified individuals refused to leave the building and were taken into custody by police.
The state police statement said that after state troopers and Salem police officers had “enough resources,” they pushed the crowd out of the building at 10:30 a.m.
Police later arrested Ryan Lyles, 41, (whose city of residence was not given) for using bear spray against officers. He was lodged at Marion County Jail on charges of trespassing and assaulting a police officer, according to the statement.
Protesters stand in front of armored police vehicles approaching the Capitol. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)
Outside the Capitol, an armored police vehicle pulled up and an officer inside declared through its megaphone that the protest was “an unlawful assembly.” The officer ordered the crowd to leave or face arrest. Those gathered remained defiant.
“The Oregon Legislature is an unlawful assembly!” one man shouted back.
Joey Gibson, the leader of right-wing protest group Patriot Prayer, yelled through a megaphone that protesters should peacefully resist arrest.
The crowd sang the national anthem after being pushed out of the building's entrance by police who stood guard. A scuffle broke out between police and protesters and a cloud of blue vapor filled the air. Mindy McCartt, spokeswoman for the state police, said in an email that the vapor – an unknown substance - came from protesters.
The state police said that troopers didn’t use CS gas (commonly called “tear gas”) and that they had been sprayed twice during the protest with “some kind of chemical agent” they did not identify.
By noon, the police still hadn’t begun making arrests. The crowd shouted “USA!” at police as they drove the armored vehicle in reverse to the corner of Court and Capitol streets. Protesters, some on megaphones, continued to rail against the Legislature and pandemic restrictions.
“This is America!” one man shouted through a megaphone.
“This is Salem police,” came the periodic announcement from the police vehicle telling the crowd to disperse or face arrest.
Police still made no moves to arrest the crowd. Protesters stood in front of the armored vehicle. They parked a bus and a truck sideways on Court Street to block police from advancing. A man affixed a flag used to show affinity with law enforcement (often called the “thin blue line” flag) upside down on a poll and waved it at police.
“We stand with y'all!” he yelled. “Why are you standing against us?”
People from the crowd pushed past fences blocking access to the front of the Capitol and pulled down tarps covering statues of pioneers and the Lewis and Clark expedition. A woman climbed on top of the statue depicting Lewis and Clark and affixed an American flag. The crowd cheered.
After 1 p.m., the crowd started to thin out. A group broke away and headed for the west side of the building where they made offensive hand gestures at legislators and staff who gazed down.
Two men began kicking windows on the west side of the Capitol building. They picked up rocks and a metal pole to continue breaking the glass before backing off. The men, joined by others, shoved and threatened journalists from OPB, the Statesman-Journal and Salem Reporter.
After giving up on breaking into the Capitol, the men marched down Capitol Street toward where police had gathered. Police in riot gear stood in formation as the crowd yelled angrily at them.
“I have lost everything,” one protester yelled.
State police have not identified the men but said in a Tweet Monday afternoon that one had been taken into custody. By 2:30 p.m. police began clearing the street.
Underneath the aggression at Monday’s protest was real anger over Gov. Kate Brown’s expansive pandemic orders that have kept schools closed and imperiled livelihoods.
“Right now, they are being dictators,” said Diana Campbell of Salem.
Wearing a Donald Trump hat and a shirt declaring that Joe Biden is “not my president” she said the public has “every right” to be in the Capitol while the Legislature is in session. She also questioned the effectiveness of masks, which the governor has mandated be used in public settings.
Brennan Todd of Rickreall said he came out because he felt backed into a corner after state orders closed his business coaching kids to swim competitively. With police mace still on his clothes and face, he said he doesn't want a relief check from the government but to work again. In the meantime, he said he’s held yard sales to pay his bills.
“You’ve got to stand up at some point,” he said.
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Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.