Tense scenes unfolded at the Oregon State Capitol on Monday as armed protesters attempted to force their way into the statehouse only to be met by armor-clad officers in riot gear, who deployed less-lethal weaponry to suppress the unruly crowd.
Members of a broad range of right-wing organizations, including the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, gathered in Salem, Oregon, to protest against ongoing coronavirus restrictions. Many of the protesters held “Thin Blue Line” banners and flags supporting President Donald Trump, while a number of demonstrators were armed with long-barreled rifles and pistols. One protester even carried a pitchfork with an American flag attached.
Lawmakers were holding a one-day emergency session closed to the public to discuss aid efforts related to the pandemic, including relief for landlords and tenants, vaccine distribution, and continued efforts to recover from the horrific fires that the state experienced earlier this year.
Protesters expressed rage over coronavirus restrictions, angry about the impact that lockdown measures have had on their jobs and schools. Members of the crowd called for the arrest of Gov. Kate Brown.
Tensions came to a boil early in the day as one woman attempted to climb through a window to enter the government building before Oregon State Troopers repelled her, reports Daily Beast. At that point, the troopers were chased off by the raucous crowd, including many who carried rifles.
“I’m here to support the constitutional rights of people and of Oregon business [owners,]” a protester who identified himself as Duane told the news outlet. “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.”
The crowd was eventually able to invade the lobby of the statehouse before Oregon State Police declared the protest an unlawful assembly, using mace and pepper bawls in an attempt to prevent them from taking the entire building.
“We’re not gonna give up this easily, everybody come in!” one protester who was armed with a knife and wearing a bulletproof vest screamed while entering the lobby. “This is our state. This is our building.”
Protesters also sang the national anthem while demonstrators with long guns ran around maneuvering and waving protesters over to what they believed were open entrances.
“We are now declaring this area a patriot autonomous zone,” one protester said over a bullhorn as they coordinated the pulling-down of fences. “If Antifa can do it so can we.”
Riot police eventually arrived in large numbers and were able to expel the crowd from the Capitol building, drawing angry responses from the crowd. Many yelled that they had once been fervent supporters of law enforcement at anti-Black Lives Matter counterprotests and “Back the Blue” rallies, but that this would no longer be the case.
“You are traitors to the American people,” one protester shouted at troopers and police.
Amidst the chaos, some enterprising vendors were still selling patriotic-themed merchandise and Donald Trump-branded items such as flags, MAGA hats, and t-shirts.
While chaotic scenes unfolded around the Capitol building, the legislature hardy fared better as it discussed relief efforts and whether restaurants and bars could serve cocktails to go.
At one point, Republican Sen. Dallas Heard denounced a proposed statewide mask requirement as being pushed by elected officials who had enlisted in a “campaign against the people and the children of God,” reports OPB.
“If you had not done such great evil to my people and had simply asked me to wear my mask, I would have,” Heard thundered after dramatically tearing his mask off. “But you commanded it, and therefore I declare my right to protests against your false authority and remove my mask.”
Oregon is currently facing the highest number of coronavirus infections since the outbreak of the pandemic. At least 1,341 people have died while roughly 103,00 have been infected in the state. Under the governor’s orders, many counties are facing mandatory restrictions including a ban on indoor dining at restaurants.
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