As a violent mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol Wednesday, a smaller, but equally agitated group of right-wing protesters gathered in Salem to support Trump’s false claims of election fraud and decry Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions.
"We're not going home, we're just getting started!" yelled the crowd of 300, who met outside of Oregon Capitol at noon Wednesday.
The rally, which drew members of far-right nationalist group the Proud Boys, featured speeches from local right-wing figures like Republican state legislator Dallas Heard and state lawmaker-turned-talk radio host Jeff Kropf. Attendees also burned an effigy of Governor Kate Brown, in protest of her response to COVID-19, and watched livestream videos of the attacks on the US Capitol.
Shortly before 2 pm, a group of 50 left-wing demonstrators gathered across the street from the right-wing rally, shouting "Black Lives Matter!"
A number of protesters wearing Proud Boys insignias fired smoke grenades and paintballs at the group, actions that quickly escalated to physical fighting. The left-wing counter-protesters responded with fireworks and smoke bombs. At least one counter-protester was taken to the hospital for injuries sustained during the brawl.
Officers with the Salem Police Department (SPD), Oregon State Police (OSP), and Marion County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) poured out of the Capitol to break up the sparring groups, firing pepper balls at the crowd as they approached. When the officers appeared, the counter-demonstrators retreated.
An OSP officer arrested one of the right-wing protesters at the scene for harassment and disorderly conduct. The man was later identified by OSP as David Willis, a fixture at local right-wing rallies led by the Proud Boys and Vancouver, WA, far-right group Patriot Prayer. Willis was involved in both the right-wing brawl outside Portland’s Cider Riot pub in May 2019 and the violent right-wing protest in downtown Portland in August 2020.
Following Willis’ arrest, the remaining crowd of right-wing protesters stood in the rain, calling the officers guarding the Capitol "traitors," "cowards," and "commies." But the event avoided the kind of escalation witnessed in DC or in past right-wing rallies at the Oregon Capitol. Several attendees reminded their fellow protesters to “keep our image clean!”
As one man pulled a man back from confronting an officer, he said, "Our image is nonviolent!"
State police made a second arrest Wednesday evening of a protester attempting to “access several doors at the Oregon State Capitol,” OSP reports. The protester, identified as Cody Melby, was charged for trespassing while in possession of a firearm.