(The Center Square) – A Planned Parenthood clinic in Salem drew street violence on Tuesday night during an anti-abortion protest led by the same actors behind a series of far-right Portland rallies.
For months, the clinic has been the destination for anti-abortion protesters in the area who have held services across the street in opposition. The events are billed as "The Church at Planned Parenthood" and hosted by Ken Peters, who pastors a church in Spokane, Washington. The group has described abortion as a holocaust and calls its events as a "worship service at the gates of Hell." Their events have grown in size and notoriety among anti-fascists bent on fighting far-right groups who have acted as security for the events.
Salem clergy are here witnessing against Pawlowski's Proud Boy-flanked sermon. pic.twitter.com/eNA73IVizn— Tim A. Gruver ☕📰 (@T_TimeForce) August 11, 2021
On Tuesday, the event's guest speakers included Artur Pawlowski, a Canadian pastor who led an event in Portland that descended into violence days prior. Pawlowski, who has espoused anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ views, was flanked by members of the Proud Boys, a "Western Chauvinist" group that attacked the U.S. capitol on Jan. 6. They are regarded as a "terrorist entity" by the Canadian government.
For the first few hours, some 50 anti-fascists gathered across the street in front of the clinic, trading insults with the two dozen churchgoers and the dozen Proud Boys at the scene. Several uniformed Salem-area clergy were also in attendance, with the anti-fascists gathered for the first time as were several local militiamen.
Among the people who instigated last weekend's street violence in Portland was Tusitala "Tiny" Toese. A regular at Proud Boy rallies, Toese was convicted in Oct. 2020 on assault charges dating back to 2018 for punching a counter protester. He was released from prison in December and is no longer on probation.
The scene acted as a stark contrast to July 16, which drew over 100 anti-abortion protesters to the clinic. Most of the Proud Boys were unmasked and some shook hands with clergy gathered before fighting between the two sides started. A few also carried marked pellet guns days after a gunman pointed what Portland police claimed was an air-soft rifle at a photojournalist.
More footage of the mace attack at Planned Parenthood in Salem last night.Keep forgetting Twitter cuts videos at under a minute. pic.twitter.com/vbLSdAVOOt— Tim A. Gruver ☕📰 (@T_TimeForce) August 11, 2021
As the two sides inched closer to one another, the Proud Boys were first to mace anti-fascists armed with shields and batons. Ensuing events saw Proud Boys fire pellet guns and smoke canisters as they fled the scene. Some 40 Salem police officers and a cadre of sheriff's deputies dispersed the crowd but didn't attempt to pursue the retreating groups as incensed residents shook their heads.
By comparison, four members of the far-right groups in attendance of a "Church at Planned Parenthood" event on July 16 were arrested on assault charges. Police apprehended one anti-fascist protester on Tuesday night. No one from the event on Tuesday was booked on charges.
Tuesday night's events underscore the growing tensions in Oregon's capital city. Though the Salem City Council issued a resolution condemning white supremacy in January, residents have criticized it for not banning rallies of Tuesday's type as other cities have done. Earlier this summer, Oregon City denied a city permit for an event organized by Proud Boy and former statehouse candidate Daniel Tooze. While sidewalk protests like those seen on Tuesday night are generally permitted under Salem's city code, a May 1 gun rally at Riverfront Park was not.
Based on emails obtained by The Center Square, city officials speculated as early as May that far-right rallies in Salem could be a "reoccurring" event. Various 911 calls also obtained by The Center Square allege attendees of the May 1 rally hurt and threatened park visitors, but no accusers have come forward.
Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett has faced criticism for his public response to similar events over the past year, shrugging off far-right rallies as harmless fanfare.
"I recall rock concerts where you got great music and the Hells Angels for security (I know, not the best analogy ever but it's the only one I could think of this early)," Bennett wrote in an email at 10:18 a.m. on Tuesday, May 4.
The Salem Police Department makes up around $53.4 million of the city's $662.6 million 2022 budget. In October 2020, it opened the doors to its 104,000 square foot police station, which cost taxpayers $74 million.