Far-right protesters hold up an American flag outside of Mahonia Hall in southeast Salem as part of a demonstration opposing Covid restrictions on Friday, Jan. 1. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Salem and other state capitols across the country could see more armed protests starting Saturday, according to an FBI memo that warns they could continue through the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday next week.
In the wake of a deadly insurrection in the U.S. Capitol last week and a violent demonstration at the Oregon Capitol last month, Salem City Councilor Vanessa Nordyke has called on city leaders to summon the National Guard.
Nordyke asked city leaders to request assistance from the National Guard at the city council’s Monday night meeting. She reiterated her request in her email sent Tuesday to Mayor Chuck Bennett, City Manager Steve Powers, Police Chief Trevor Womack and city attorney Dan Atchison.
She referenced the disturbances at the national and state capitols, as well as assaults on Salem residents, police officers and journalists by right-wing agitators.
“The mere presence of the National Guard may prevent loss of life, physical injury, and destruction of property,” said Nordyke. “It may even discourage individuals with no interest in peaceful protest from coming at all. Hate is not welcome in Salem, but words alone will not stop people from breaking our laws and terrorizing our city.”
She said that citizens have told her they feel unsafe and that Salem police and Oregon State Police shouldn’t have to bear the cost and risk of responding to the armed march.
On Dec. 21, a group of confrontational demonstrators attempted to break into the Oregon Capitol, which is closed to the public because of the pandemic, while lawmakers were meeting for a special one-day session. Members of the crowd maced police officers as they tried to force their way in the building and later assaulted journalists. Police made multiple arrests with some facing serious criminal charges, including assaulting officers and riot.
However, law enforcement agencies were unsure of what to expect as of Tuesday.
The Portland FBI office declined to comment on specific intelligence. But said in a statement that it’s “focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity” and passing along information to partner agencies.
“The FBI respects the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights,” the statement said. “Our focus is not on peaceful protesters, but on those threatening their safety and the safety of other citizens with violence and destruction of property."
Salem police spokesman Lt. Treven Upkes said in an email that the agency is still in a planning phase and is working with Oregon State Police and partner agencies on what the response might look like. That could mean increased patrols, crowd management or SWAT teams being activated, he said.
Oregon State Police spokesman Capt. Tim Fox said in an email that the agency is similarly assessing and monitoring information about potential protests and working with partner agencies to prepare accordingly.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @jakethomas2009.
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