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Occupation Supporters Try To Sway Broader Audience In Portland


More than 100 people protested outside the federal courthouse in Portland to air grievances with the federal government.

More than 100 people rallied outside the Portland federal courthouse Saturday, where Ammon Bundy and 15 others face conspiracy charges related to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The so-called patriot movement made efforts to broaden its message to connect with other activist groups like Black Lives Matter.

The Portland rally was among dozens held Saturday across the country invoking LaVoy Finicum, who was shot by Oregon State Police in January. That included a protest in Bend, which drew about 75 people.

In Portland, anti-federalist protesters called again for an independent investigation into Finicum’s killing. The protesters also demanded the release of Bundy and the other militants currently detained by authorities.

“These people that are in these cells up here, right now, they’re guilty of a community service act,” said Rich Morelan, an Aumsville, Oregon, man who helped organize the protest. “They came in and they cleaned that [refuge] building up. There was no violence.”

B.J. Soper, a co-founder of the Pacific Patriots Network, speaks at a protest outside the federal courthouse in Portland on March 5, 2016.

B.J. Soper, a co-founder of the Pacific Patriots Network, speaks at a protest outside the federal courthouse in Portland on March 5, 2016.

Amelia Templeton/OPB

People sang as they marched around a city block adjacent to the federal courthouse, waving American flags and yellow Gadsden flags bearing the motto “Don’t Tread on Me.” Protesters gathered outside Portland City Hall and lit candles around a photo of Finicum with a cowboy hat perched on top.

According to Morelan, patriot groups the 3 Percent, Pacific Patriots Network and Overpasses for America all participated. The 3 Percent and PPN are right-wing militia groups, while Overpasses for America seeks to have President Barack Obama criminally prosecuted. All appeared unarmed.

People from Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, California, and Arizona, as well as many from rural parts of Oregon attended the Portland rally.

Gavin Seim, an Internet personality who live-streamed the phone call to the last four militants during the occupation’s final hours, delivered perhaps the most radical message, denouncing the federal government and the American judicial system as tyrannical.

“We see news stories and we share Facebook posts about ISIS, and we say look at these terrorists,” Seim said. “Friends, have you ever noticed that these black-robed tyrants look very similar? The greatest terrorists in this nation sit in that courtroom down the street.”

PPN co-founder B.J. Soper spoke of the need for more collaboration and communication between protest groups. Gavin Seim’s brother Nate Seim called on Black Lives Matter organizers and on Native American activists to work with the patriot movement.

“We’re not separate, we’re not divided. They’re abusing the black community the same as they’re abusing the patriots,” Nate Seim said to a largely white crowd. “They’re abusing the Indians and stealing their land exactly the same.”

Those overtures were flatly rejected by Teressa Raiford, a leader of Portland’s Black Lives Matter movement.

“Their flag is my nightmare,” said Teressa Raiford. “What they stand for is not anything that I want anything to do with, ever.” 

A counterprotester holds a sign across the street from a rally in support of LaVoy Finicum outside the federal courthouse in Portland on March 5, 2016.

A counterprotester holds a sign across the street from a rally in support of LaVoy Finicum outside the federal courthouse in Portland on March 5, 2016.

Nate Sjol/OPB

Raiford said people from a group called “Laughing at Liberals” invited her to Saturday’s rally.

Burns Paiute tribal council member Jarvis Kennedy joined a group of about 35 environmentalists and counterprotesters there to show support for public lands, including the Malheur refuge.

Kennedy said he came to Portland to stand with those who have supported the tribe throughout the occupation. 

The Malheur refuge was found in a state of disarray, the manager calling it “one big mess.” The Paiute tribe is still reeling from the disruption of their sacred sites on refuge grounds.

“Imagine if I went to Washington, D.C., to the cemetery where all the military are and dug a hole and made a latrine out of it, like they did to my people’s burial grounds,” he said. “That’s the only way I can explain it to non-natives.”

Amanda Peacher contributed reporting from Bend.

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