Demonstrations in Salem that devolved into tense confrontations downtown on New Year’s Day led to three arrests, the Salem Police Department said on Saturday.
After a similar demonstration less than two weeks prior, law enforcement agencies are expecting more unrest in the weeks ahead — including a nationwide protest on Wednesday.
“I’ve been doing crowd control with the Salem Police Department now about 15 years,” Salem Police Lt. Treven Upkes said of the Friday events. “For strictly just a Salem event, that was one of the largest we’d seen.”
Several hundred people gathered at the Oregon State Capitol Friday for a rally against Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 restrictions and the results of the presidential election. Upkes estimated at least 200 people attended.
Around 2 p.m. protesters marched from the Capitol to Mahonia Hall, the governor’s official residence. Police said many walked in the street, blocked intersections and splintered into different groups.
A group of Proud Boys, a far-right group that has attracted white supremacists and engaged in violence at other demonstrations, broke off toward Bush’s Pasture Park, where antifascist activists had staged a counter-protest. In an official statement Saturday, Salem police said both groups were armed.
“Many of the attendees at the state capitol were armed with various weapons, knives, chemical sprays, batons and firearms,” Salem Police said. “The event at Bush’s Pasture Park was organized by self-identified anti-fascists who were also armed with a variety of weapons including firearms.”
Upkes said police intervened to quell any violence, but he added that other groups, including the Proud Boys, traveled through downtown “more or less looking to instigate problems.”
Tensions flared at the corner of High and State streets in downtown. Video captured by an OPB reporter shows far-right protesters yelling at a line of police officers in riot gear. Police said they were separating the groups.
Right wing protestors stand off against police pic.twitter.com/DmHCJbKtag— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) January 2, 2021
“Neither group complied with initial dispersal orders and Proud Boys affiliates had to be forcibly moved back from the business by officers,” police said.
Soon after, police declared an unlawful assembly. Police used less-lethal munitions to disperse the crowd.
The three people arrested were Robert Davis, 31, of Springfield; Joshua Lindquist, 33, of Salem; and Max Damaskin, 33, of Salem.
Upkes said police are bracing for another demonstration Wednesday. Protests by far-right groups are planned nationwide that day when Congress is set to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Agencies near Oregon’s capitol — the Salem Police, Oregon State Police, and the sheriff’s offices of Marion and Polk counties — are planning to be ready.
“We’ve had to really bring in more resources and involve partner agencies that we normally wouldn’t need,” Upkes said.
The protest Wednesday is billed by organizers as an occupation of the Capitol grounds, Upkes said. The state Capitol is Oregon State Police’s jurisdiction, and an agency spokesperson did not respond to a question about their plans.
But a static, one-location demonstration is easier to police, Upkes said. Friday’s event included an unpermitted march through the city and stretched police ability to monitor.
Still, he said, those can get unruly. He pointed to a Dec. 21 demonstration, when protesters tried to halt an emergency one-day legislative session and to break into the capitol. Some attacked journalists.
“That was really a worst-case scenario,” Upkes said. “I think that’s (the level) we’re going to plan to, and then hope that things will be less like that — where people are breaking and attacking and trying to physically force their way into the capitol and do who-knows-what.”
Oregon lawmakers are set to return for a regular session, which could last up to six months, on Jan. 19. Upkes said it’s hard to predict how the swirling tensions of local and national politics will play out for law enforcement in and around the Capitol.
“It’s so multi-faceted,” he said. “It’s going to depend on what bills are being presented when they’re being presented, holidays, weekends, are there still going to be COVID restrictions — it’s so dynamic.”
“That’s the kind of the nature of police work,” he added. “We have to respond to that unknown, and that’s still a big unknown.”