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Gun-toting far-right protesters try to force their way into Oregon’s Capitol

Protesters spray Mace at police as they attempt to get into the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Monday.
Protesters spray Mace at police as they attempt to get into the Oregon State Capitol during a special session of the Legislature on Monday.
(Abigail Dollins / Statesman-Journal)

Far-right protesters opposed to coronavirus restrictions attempted to force their way into Oregon’s Capitol building Monday during a special legislative session, with some demonstrators toting guns and others attacking authorities with bear spray.

State police declared an unlawful assembly to bring the situation under control. At least two people were arrested.

Inside the Capitol in Salem, Ore., lawmakers passed four bills Monday evening, including $800 million in relief to people struggling from the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires, extension of an eviction moratorium through June and the allocation of funds for renter and landlord relief.

“Make no mistake, if we do not pass this bill, thousands of families will lose their homes in January, and it will be on us,” Rep. Julie Fahey, a Democrat from Eugene, said to her colleagues.

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The scene inside the Capitol was much different earlier in the day when far-right protesters tried to force their way in and used chemical agents and bear spray against officers.

Lawmakers, including Senate President Peter Courtney, said the chemical agents lingered in the hallways, causing them to cough as they discussed bills.

The unrest roiling Portland, Ore., and other cities this year has been a powerful recruiting tool for organizations like the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer and the Three Percenters. But not everyone who supports them is draped in camo and AR-15s.

Outside, the demonstrators banged their fists against the doors chanting, “Let us in.” The state’s Capitol is closed to the public as part of COVID-19 prevention measures. However, virtual testimony on the legislation approved Monday was allowed during hearings Thursday and Saturday.

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Police blocked off streets surrounding the Capitol building, but by midday Monday people were shouting, “Arrest Kate Brown,” referring to the Democratic governor, who has extended coronavirus restrictions in the state.

One person climbed atop a 20-foot-tall relief sculpture next to the front steps of the building and waved an American flag as people cheered.

Other protesters walked around with rifles slung across their bodies as state police, inside armored vehicles, repeatedly announced that people must leave the area.

The protesters defend the nightly taunting of police, along with vandalism and destruction of property, as a strategy to draw officers into clashes and expose them as fascists.

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By 2 p.m., the crowd’s agitation heightened as people attempted to break glass doors leading into the Capitol building. Reporters from Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Statesman-Journal posted videos on Twitter of themselves being assaulted by protesters.

House Speaker Tina Kotek described the violence and damage to the Capitol as “disconcerting and frightening.”

Courtney, who is Oregon’s longest-serving lawmaker, said Monday’s protests “shook” him.

“It was sad today,” Courtney said. “There was a lot of anger — real anger — a lot of meanness and a lot of open division, and I can’t find a way to stop it.”

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There was tension inside the Capitol as well.

On the Senate floor Monday morning, Republican Sen. Dallas Heard stood before his colleagues accusing Democrats of joining Brown’s “campaign against the people and the children of God.”

Heard called the special session “illegitimate” because the public was not allowed inside and described it as an “unchecked assault” on Oregonians and their freedom.

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He also decried the state’s mask mandate.

“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. “But you commanded it, and therefore I declare my right to protest against your false authority and remove my mask.”


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