(The Center Square) – A weekend gathering billed as a Second Amendment rally in Salem led to far-right groups tied to the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion taking control of a public park.
The Saturday event, promoted online as "May Day 2A Rally," saw 100 to 200 attendees at Salem's Riverfront Park in a show of support for their Second Amendment rights. The Proud Boys, a "western chauvinist" group who have violently clashed with members of the anti-fascist movement, provided "security" and co-sponsored the event.
Some carried semi-automatic pistols or rifles and "closed" the public park to media, though they had no authority to do so. The armed attendees threatened reporters, forcing them to leave the immediate area and report from a distance.
Salem's municipal code requires community events such as public protests to obtain a city permit save for those planned less than 48 hours in advance. Organizers previewed the event online for five days or more. Others sold food and merchandise, both of which require short-term concessionaire permits under local law. The city permit office was not available for comment.
Even though the event included members of a group that sparked violent episodes in Salem, no police were present. The exception being one police helicopter circling the area.
In a statement, Lt. Treven Upkes said the Salem Police Department committed "numerous resources" to Saturday's event.
"Our approach to protests and rallies has remained consistent," Upkes said. "Regardless of anyone’s political affiliation or ideology, we make enforcement decisions based upon the neutral interests of public safety."
A series of guest speakers took the stage bearing the mantra "One Nation Under God" in the shadow of the bridge named after Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem.
Sam McAllister, a Mapleton-based firearm component manufacturer, took shots at the state's gun control laws.
"Our founders rightly understood that restricting the means of defending one's life is tantamount to taking away the right to life," McAllister said. "Restricting weapons is equal to taking away that right."
Other guest speakers included failed U.S. Senate candidate Jo Rae Perkins. She told the crowd putting "good, solid people" on local school boards should be their chief concern this year. The GOP, she said, can afford to take a page out of Sun Tzu's "Art of War" and win the culture war "quietly and slowly."
"We're not going to do it by force," Perkins said. "We don't need to do it by force. I do not believe we will end up in another bloody civil war, but we're going to fight this, and we're not going to quit."
She referred to COVID-19 vaccines as a "bioweapon."
Perkins reaffirmed her intent Saturday to run against U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, in 2022. She was also among the pro-Trump crowd that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 but claims she did not enter it or commit violence.
Absent at Saturday's event was state Rep. Mike Nearman, who was scheduled to appear hours after he was criminally charged with aiding another Trump mob storm the state Capitol on Dec. 21. A recent Washington Post report suggested the Polk County Republican may have contracted COVID-19. He has not responded to The Center Square's requests for comment.
The Proud Boys also announced its intent to have its members run for local office. One woman speaking on Saturday floated the idea of its affiliated groups patrolling public schools.
While speakers railed against Oregon Democrats, few shared enthusiasm for the Oregon GOP. Some blamed the party's old guard such as Sen. Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Lyons, for passing up opportunities to walkout on the Democratic majority. Oregon GOP chair, state Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, was the only Republican to draw consistent applause.
Saturday's Riverfront event drew condemnation from The Western States Center, a progressive social justice group, which issued a letter decrying the event.
"The far-right actors behind the May 1 rally do not speak for Salem and they do not speak for Oregon," the letter states. "Hate and intimidation has no place in our community, and those who explicitly or subtly encourage violence should be held accountable."
Twenty-seven Oregon community organizations signed the letter in addition to a dozen state lawmakers, five Salem City Councilors and Gov. Kate Brown.
A left-wing protest is planned for May 6 at the Oregon state Capitol building to protest the state's logging industry practices. No counter-protests are expected.