SALEM, Ore. — A special session of the Oregon Legislature was disrupted on Monday by protesters who appeared to oppose policies designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Protesters broke glass doors at the largely-empty Capitol building, tore tarps from the marble reliefs on the front steps and engaged in a brief standoff with Oregon State Police and Salem Police Department officers.
Police made at least four arrests during the six-hour rally that included more than 100 protesters, including members of the far-right Patriot Prayer group.
A search is ongoing for another man who attacked two reporters and tried to break into the Capitol building, police said.
“We’re standing up for our constitutional rights to be here for this legislative hearing and for our rights to reopen the state of Oregon,” said Crystal Wagner. “Why are they having a legislative hearing without the people? We are the people, we are the taxpayers. We’re here to fight for our democracy.”
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Aside from dozens of police officers, some staff and reporters were the only ones permitted inside the building on Monday.
At about 8:30 a.m., Oregon State Police said protesters entered the Capitol building and at least one used “chemical agents” on officers. OSP troopers responded with inert pepper ball, though it is unclear how many were fired.
An unlawful assembly was declared at about 9:20 a.m.
“At one point we used pepper balls. I don’t know what else,” said Lt. Treven Upkes of Salem Police. “When people attempted to come into the building, they actually used pepper spray and other things on officers. In return, we used those to separate ourselves and get them to hold that spot. So I don’t know what all was used but I know at least pepper ball was used.”
He added, “There may have been other chemical munitions used by the crowd as well on us that seemed to have acted similar to … a CS gas.”
Just before 11 a.m., a few protesters unlocked the gated fence surrounding the Capitol steps and began to remove the tarp covering the two marble reliefs that were defaced during the first week of protests this summer.
About 2 1/2 hours later, a group of protesters smashed glass doors on the west end of the Capitol while attempting to enter the building.
While protesters were swarming the doors, a photographer for the Statesman Journal of the USA TODAY Network was repeatedly shoved by a group of protesters. The photographer was capturing shots of protesters damaging the glass doors.
A short time later, there was a brief standoff between protesters and police department officers in SWAT gear at a nearby intersection.
“Do what’s right,” one protester said to the officers. “You can stand with us.”
Inside the Capitol, State Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, who will be sworn in as Secretary of State in January, passed through the hallway a short distance away from where protesters were confronting police.
“It’s unnerving,” Fagan said. “It doesn’t feel normal. And it feels really sad.”
The Oregon Legislature was meeting Monday to consider extending the state’s emergency eviction moratorium and provide funds to tenants and landlords amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.