FILE – Salem police crowd control

Salem police dressed in tactical gear deploy at the Oregon Capitol building on January 6, 2021 to quell an "unlawful assembly" started by Proud Boys and supporters of President Donald Trump on the Capitol mall where various counter-protesters and anti-fascists gathered in opposition to a pro-Trump rally.

(The Center Square) — A demonstration orchestrated by far-right agitators who gathered in support of President Donald Trump at the Oregon Capitol on Wednesday was declared an "unlawful assembly" after groups clashed and several people were injured.

The day began with a protest on the Capitol mall in Salem during which speakers spent their time bashing China, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, and the 2020 election.

Among them was GOP candidate Michael Cross, who floated conspiracy theories about mass voter fraud in the state related to his failed bid for Oregon Attorney General last November.

“I should be the next AG getting sworn in on January the 15th,” Cross said. “This lockdown bulls**t would stop now. The businesses would be open now. Kate Brown would be shut down now."

Cross lost to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum by 330,359 votes in the 2020 general election, which was overseen by now former Secretary of State Bev Clarno, a Republican.

A number of Oregon Republicans like state Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, condemned their party for being complicit with Democratic "elitists."

"I am a Republican, but I am an American first, and there are some Republicans that need to go, frankly," Heard said. 

Right-wing talk show host and former state representative Jeff Kropf voiced similar sentiments.

"There are a lot of people in my party that don’t get it," Kropf said. "They don’t understand how close this country is to falling over into the cliff. We’re right on the edge. We’re staring into the abyss."

The crowd of at least 300 Trump supporters at the Capitol grew more restless as the day wore on and saw demonstrators burn a crude effigy of Brown, drawing criticism from prayer leaders. 

Throughout the day, Trump supporters could be heard screaming, "This is war" in regards to their exuberant expectation of a second American civil war. 

Their stated enemies included new and old suspects: China, bankers, socialists, and the police.

Speakers at the protest told the crowd to not engage with counter-protesters, but that did not pan out by the end of the afternoon.

A live video address from President Trump broadcast on a big screen set up on the Capitol mall failed to calm the crowd, which included up to 10 uniformed members of the far-right Proud Boys group.

In it, Trump made unsubstantiated claims about the 2020 presidential election and told his supporters to go home.

His address was in response to a violent mob of his supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday as part of an event he promoted.

President-elect Joe Biden, who will be sworn in on January 20, won 306 electoral votes to Trump's 232. All states, Democrat and Republican, certified the results along with a bipartisan majority of Congress.

The Trump supporters gathered in Salem opted to stay, singing and reciting Bible verses until a group of counter-protesters began assembling across the street.

No police officers were present at the event beforehand despite alerts sent by the city over previous days warning citizens to avoid the area.

As Trump supporters moved in for a shouting match with the counter-protesters, which included a number of uniformed anti-fascists, the two groups converged at the Capitol building after Proud Boys crossed the street dividing them.

For up to five minutes, Proud Boys pelted counter protesters with pellet guns and hurled smoke canisters before Salem police, Oregon State troopers, and Marion County Sheriff's officers arrived to separate the two groups.

Officers declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and spent no more than 20 minutes pushing heavily armed Proud Boys and Trump supporters out of the area as counter-protesters dispersed.

The scene served as a striking contrast to Portland's responses to Black Lives Matter protests which have seen police use immense—and often indiscriminate—force against unarmed demonstrators, according to lawsuits.

Oregon State Police reported late on Wednesday that one man, David Willis, was arrested for harassment and disorderly conduct. Another man, Cody Melby, is accused of an attempted break-in at the state Capitol building and was arrested for trespass while in possession of a firearm.

According to a counter-protester named Tuesday, Black Lives Matter activist Gary Floyd was hit in the eye with a pellet and was taken to the ER.

Floyd, who is the cousin of Minneapolis's George Floyd, spoke at a BLM protest last Friday during which Proud Boys harassed a Black Salem business owner. 

Several other counter-protesters were hit and tackled by gathered Proud Boys.

The Salem Police Department applauded its own efforts Wednesday, claiming it "met its objectives to address/stop stop violence while respecting individuals' right to free speech & assembly."

More right-wing protests are scheduled in Salem, including one on Saturday at a South Salem WinCo to protest face mask rules.

Oregon State Police also sent out an alert regarding rumors of "armed groups" planning takeovers of state capitols following Wednesday's events in D.C. and are seeking tips from the public. 

Oregon authorities are looking for a seventh man accused of participating in a mass break-in at the state Capitol building on December 21 while lawmakers were gathered for a special legislative session.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.