A riot at the Oregon State Capitol occurred when protestors were mad about election results. The riot happened as representatives aids were in the building, scaring many.
On Dec. 21, 2020, a pro-Trump rally outside of the Oregon State Capitol turned violent. Before the attack on our Washington D.C. Capitol in January, riots challenging the November Presidential election results had been erupting all over the country. Like many others from around the United States, these protestors sought to make their disagreements known. In addition, this group opposed COVID-19 restrictions and aimed to interrupt a special session of the state legislature that was discussing Governor Kate Brown’s proposal to distribute $800 million in coronavirus relief.
The locked doors of the Capitol kept the protestors at bay, but only temporarily. It was revealed through surveillance video that Representative Mike Nearman opened doors to allow a radical right-wing mob to storm the building. Despite police efforts, dozens of people made it inside the Capitol and began to damage property, attack officers, and disrupt the legislators working inside the building.
Following the release of the security footage, colleagues proceeded to strip Representative Nearman of all committee assignments and limit his access to the Capitol while investigations were undertaken. Nearman was also held responsible for the property damage inflicted by the group whom he allowed to enter. This event was major and caused many issues for those working within the realm of the Capitol.
When asked about the riot’s effect on Capitol staff, Miles Palacios, legislative director for Representative Winsvey Campos said, “That breach was not just of the Capitol, but a breach of trust. Non-partisan staff, legislators, executive electeds and partisan staff were all put in danger when the Capitol Police clashed with this violent group of insurrectionists.”
Justin Low, a legislative staffer in the Capitol, said, “For BIPOC legislators and staffers that I’ve had conversations with, most have felt worried and anxious about safety, even in a remote environment.”
Palacios also said, “While we do not work in the physical Capitol space at this time, how are we supposed to feel secure once we are able to come back on the grounds of the Capitol when sympathizers to the violent radical right are allowed to do whatever they want? This concern was felt throughout the Capitol.”
State Representative Karin Power was inside the building at the time of the event and witnessed the violent rally in an extremely direct way. Representative Power saw protestors attempt to lower the Oregon flag and raise a Trump flag in its place. When this action failed, Power realized they would find other ways to manifest their protest. In an insightful account, she said, “I was watching a group of people outside my window. A few of them grabbed a large, long metal pole, and headed towards one of our side entrances. Once they began to ram the door with the pole, I saw that they’d be able to break it. I kept my personal items close, in case we needed to evacuate from the building.”
In regards to recognizing privilege, Representative Power said, “I thought about my own safety versus some of my colleagues’ who could not so easily move through the crowd outside unnoticed if we had to get out quickly.”
Palacios, Low, and Power all admitted to not being shocked by the actions of the rally members. Low said, “Had you asked me 4 or 5 years ago, I would have never thought that such an event like the one that transpired in both Salem and Washington D.C. would ever happen…However, with the increasingly militant rhetoric that was being enabled in white supremacy and domestic terrorism groups in 2018-2020, I wasn’t surprised when it happened.”
Palacios agreed and said, “Unfortunately, the dialogue and rhetoric of the radical right in the last four years has made this a reality that I’m unsurprised by, even if I am deeply concerned.”
When Palacios was first informed of the proceedings of the riot, he said he felt “…saddened and fearful of the precedent this would set for a new generation of radical protest from the right here in Oregon.”
So, how do we move forward from this insurrection in Salem? What needs to change to prevent this from happening again – whether it be at the state or national level? Palacios’ said, “The firm classification of domestic terrorist organizations and having the state’s leaders take a no-nonsense stance on our electeds inciting violence and radical groups.”
On a final note, Representative Power said, “The white-hot anger mixed with entitlement from the people I saw outside was palpable. Political leadership and community leadership needs to set the tone that behavior like that is not acceptable.”