Tensions rise inside and outside Capitol; anti-lockdown protesters arrested

By SARA CLINE

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — State police declared an unlawful assembly at Oregon’s Capitol building Monday morning as protesters opposed to COVID-19 restrictions attempted to force their way in during the third special legislative session.

Lawmakers are at the Capitol to consider measures that would provide $800 million in relief to people struggling from the COVID-19 pandemic and this summer’s massive wildfires.

Police said, while entering the building, protestors used chemical agents and bear spray against officers. At least two people were arrested after a smaller group of protestors were successful in entering a portion of the Capitol building. Outside protesters banged their fists against the doors chanting, “Let us in.”

Police blocked off streets surrounding the Capitol building, but as of noon people remained, shouting “Arrest Kate Brown.” One person climbed on top of a 20-foot tall relief sculpture, next to the front steps of the building, and waved an American flag as people cheered.

Other protestors walked around with rifles slung across their body as state police, within armored vehicles, repeatedly announced that people must leave the area.

“The Oregon State Police encourage people to exercise their first amendment rights, but it must be lawfully,” state police said in a statement Monday. “If you commit a crime you will be subject to arrest.”

The Capitol is closed to the public during the special session as part of a COVID-19 safety measure. However virtual testimony about the proposed bills that are expected to be discussed by lawmakers Monday was allowed during Thursday and Saturday hearings,.

There were tense moments inside and outside the Capitol.

On the Senate floor Monday morning, Republican Sen. Dallas Heard stood before his colleagues accusing Democrats and Senate President Peter Courtney of joining Gov. Kate Brown’s “campaign against the people and the children of God.”

The senator from Roseburg called the special session “illegitimate” as the public is not allowed inside and described it as an “unchecked assault” against people and their freedom.

In addition he decried the mask mandate.

“If you had not done such great evil to my people and had simply asked me to wear my mask, I would have,” Heard said. “But you commanded it and therefore I declare my right to protest against your false authority and remove my mask.”

During the special session lawmakers are asked to follow regulations including wearing a face covering, limiting the number of people in elevators, following one-way hallways and physical distancing while on the legislature floor.

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