A special legislative session at the Oregon Capitol got off to a chaotic start on Monday with far-right protesters storming the statehouse while calling on lawmakers and the governor to reopen the state economy and end the restrictions aimed at curbing the coronavirus.
The Oregon State Police declared an unlawful assembly as a growing number of protesters pushed their way through the Capitol doors chanting, “let us in” and “arrest Kate Brown.” Police officers donned gas masks as they squared off with protesters, some of whom carried firearms and bear spray, and many of whom were not wearing masks. Among the protesters were members of Patriot Prayer, a far-right group based in Vancouver, Washington, that attracts white supremacists and has engaged in violence.
Oregon State Police reported that officers were sprayed with “some kind of chemical agent” twice while trying to repel people from the building. Officers had arrested three people as of early afternoon, including a 41-year-old man who state police said sprayed bear mace at police.
Those arrests did not dissuade demonstrators, some of whom shattered glass doors into the Capitol while demanding to be let inside. Some members of the crowd harassed or assaulted journalists reporting on the event.
Despite the hectic backdrop, inside the Capitol lawmakers voted to approve relief for landlords and tenants, protect schools from lawsuits related to COVID-19 and to bolster bars and restaurants by allowing cocktail sales to go.
While meeting in the Capitol, lawmakers were asked to follow strict regulations. That included limiting their numbers in elevators, walking in only one direction down some hallways and wearing face coverings while on the floor.
That last rule led to tension in the Senate Monday morning, when state Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, objected to statewide mask requirements. Heard accused his colleagues of being involved in a “campaign against the people and the children of God.” Heard expressed anger at the mask mandate in the state Capitol, ripped his mask off and left the floor.
“If you had not done such great evil to my people and had simply asked me to wear my mask, I would have,” he said. “But you commanded it, and therefore I declare my right to protests against your false authority and remove my mask.”
Protesters demanding to be allowed into the Capitol for the session are squaring off w dozens of Salem officers and state police. Now chanting “arrest Kate Brown.” #orleg #orpol pic.twitter.com/rRC7E5oLX4— Dirk VanderHart (@dirquez) December 21, 2020