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Right-wing protesters, including many armed with AR-style rifles, angrily faced off with riot police in and around the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Monday morning, as lawmakers gathered to consider extending a moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event was billed as an anti-lockdown protest, and intended to coincide with the lawmakers’ presence for a special legislative session. Right-wing activists, including Joey Gibson, who leads “Patriot Prayer,” a far-right group, seized on the closed-door event as an opportunity to protest ongoing lockdown orders and drum up complaints about transparency.
Protesters started gathering at 8 a.m. local time and by 9 the crowd had swelled to about 300-strong, judging by livestreams at the scene.
Some of the protesters were able to enter the building, and were seen on video walking around heavily armed. When riot police arrived, tensions escalated quickly and police deployed pepper spray, forcing protesters who were inside to leave. Meanwhile, protesters identified alternative entrances to the building.
Armored police vehicles were on scene, and by about 9:30 a.m., Oregon State Police announced by loudspeaker that they had declared an unlawful assembly outside the Capitol. At least two protesters were arrested at around 10:00 a.m., the Statesman Journal reported.
"At one point we used pepper balls,” Lt. Treven Upkes, a spokesperson for Salem Police Department, told the Statesman Journal. “I don’t know what else."
Other groups of protesters who made their way into another part of the building faced off angrily with riot police who blocked them from proceeding further.
Some in the crowd were seen holding pro-police Blue Lives Matter flags, but many protesters quickly became hostile towards law enforcement who were preventing them from making their way further into the building. “Fuck you you pieces of shit” one person shouted while ramming a door with a flag pole. “Stand down” someone else shouted. “My family fought and bled for our freedoms.”
“You aren’t Americans, You’re fucking working for the Chi-Coms,” shouted another, a reference to simmering conspiracy theories about the Chinese government infiltrating U.S. government agencies. One person in the crowd urged people to burn their Blue Lives matter flag, Jedeed reported on Twitter.
Earlier on, a livestreamer with the name Villain urged “antifa” to come join them.
“Show up in black bloc, get on your apps,” he said. “Are you guys really standing against tyranny? Come stand with us. If you really are trying to make the world better and make citizens more free, and stop a tyrannical government from taking your rights, stand with us. “
CORRECTION Dec. 21, 2020, 6:09 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that police did not use teargas on protesters.