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Far-right demonstrators disrupt Oregon legislative session

Dirk Vanderhart

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 that attracts white supremacists and has engaged in violence.

The Legislature is meeting in a one-day special session to consider five bills related to wildfire and COVID-19, including a proposal that would extend the state’s eviction moratorium by six months and offer financial help to landlords.

But even how to meet has been a topic of controversy. Some lawmakers wanted a remote session. Others wanted to meet in person without abiding by the COVID-19 restrictions Gov. Kate Brown has implemented.

While meeting in the Capitol, lawmakers are being asked to follow strict regulations. That includes limiting their numbers in elevators, walking in only one direction down some hallways and wearing a face covering 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 ear 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.”

Outside the building, demonstrators staged their own rally against COVID-19 restrictions and demanded to be allowed inside. The Legislature has been closed to the public because of COVID-19.

Copyright OPB 2020.

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