The Oregon Capitol building's windows were boarded up in anticipation of expected protests leading up to the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)
Salem police expect protests in Oregon’s capital city next week in the run-up to the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday. But as of Friday afternoon, police still weren't sure how big the events will be and what to expect.
Earlier this week, an FBI memo sent to law enforcement agencies across the country warned of armed protests at state capitols. The warning follows a deadly riot last week in Washington D.C. where far-right groups stormed the national capitol while Congress was finalizing the results of the 2020 election. In December, a group tried to force their way into the Oregon Capitol during a protest, injuring several police officers in the process.
The Salem Police Department and Oregon State Police said in a statement Thursday that demonstrations at the state Capitol could begin this weekend and continue into the week. The protest times vary between 9 a.m. and noon.
“We stand ready and equipped to guard our community and will work to minimize any adverse impacts to our neighborhoods and streets,” said Police Chief Trevor Womack at a Salem City Council meeting on Monday.
Residents are encouraged to avoid the capitol. Traffic flow may also be impacted.
But as of Friday afternoon, Salem police weren’t sure about the scale of the protests. Salem police spokesman Lt. Treven Upkes said law enforcement are assuming there will be an event on Wednesday to coincide with the presidential inauguration in Washington D.C. He said there might be another protest on Tuesday.
The Legislature officially convenes for its 2021 session on Monday. However, legislative leaders have delayed meetings until at least Thursday because of the possible unrest. Upkes said there might be another event Thursday as legislators resume their work.
Social media companies have made efforts to remove conspiracy theories and potentially violent groups from their platforms. Parler, another social media company with looser content standards favored by right-wing groups, was effectively shut down. On Monday, Amazon removed Parler from its web hosting service for hosting content that advocated violence.
Removing platforms used by extremists has complicated efforts to track their activities, the New York Times reported earlier this week.
Oregon’s U.S. Attorney put out a call on Friday for citizens to volunteer information about “real or potential threats of violence at any upcoming demonstrations or events throughout the state.”
Upkes said the social media crackdowns have made it harder to get information on groups planning demonstrations.
“It’s a catch-22,” said Upkes. “People can’t organize. But we don’t know what they’re doing.”
Even with the uncertainty, Oregon’s capital city is bracing for the possibility of days of confrontational protests.
The windows on the Oregon Capitol have been boarded up. The National Guard was activated at the request of Oregon State Police on Wednesday to help control events at the Capitol. The National Guard will be deployed “as necessary,” according to a statement from Oregon State Police.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.
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