Last weekend, Oregon Republicans were making fun of national media for supposedly overplaying the level of support for their organized walkout in the state Senate by militiamen in the state. So on Thursday, the militiamen themselves turned out in numbers to remind everyone once again that the distance between their brand of “Patriot” extremism and the mainstream Republican Party in Oregon is very tiny indeed. It’s clear that not only are the two factions closely aligned and allied, they’ve practically become extensions each of the other.
In the state capital of Salem, the streets were jammed Thursday morning and afternoon with convoys of logging trucks and other vehicles out to protest the cap-and-trade climate-change legislation, HB 2020, that inspired the Republican walkout and subsequent exile by nearly the entire state GOP Senate delegation to nearby states, thereby evading arrest threatened by Gov. Kate Brown.
Accompanying the on-street protest by truck drivers, notably, was a large gathering of sign-bearing protesters on foot in front of the state Capitol building. And that contingent—which numbered in the hundreds—was at least partially led and coordinated by the very same Three Percenters militiamen who had threatened to come to Salem the week before. Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson photographed a number of them in their signature black sweatshirts apparently coordinating “security” at the rally and participating in the protests, as did Salem-based history professor Seth Cotlar.
These same militiamen—some of whom were notable participants in the January 2016 armed standoff by “Patriot” extremists at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon—had planned the Thursday rally as a show of support for the 11 Republican scofflaw senators who fled the state rather than give Democrats, who hold an overwhelming majority in the Senate, a quorum with which to pass the cap-and-trade bill. Those vows led to the media reports that were the object of GOP derision over the weekend.
On Sunday, state Republicans had tweeted out a sarcastic post with a photo of a contingent of mostly timber-oriented protesters outside the Capitol (in fact, the photo had been taken at an earlier rally for timber workers), with the mocking text: “Heavily armed militia lays siege to Oregon’s capital as Senate Democrats cower in fear.”
The Thursday event was originally organized by Bruce “B.J.” Soper, leader of a militia dubbed the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard, which is aligned with the Three Percenters militia movement, all credited as the event’s original organizers. Soper also ran a “Pacific Patriots Network” that organized the initial antigovernment rally in Burns that wound up being the springboard for the Malheur standoff.
Talking Points Memo reported that a Three Percenters Militia member claimed “more than 200 militiamen from 17 counties had mobilized within the state and around the Oregon-Idaho border.”
However, Soper later changed the Facebook listing for the event to last Saturday and Sunday—and protesters did appear in Salem supporting the scofflaw senators, but only in tiny handfuls. It was unclear whether militiamen would appear at Thursday’s protests.
Meanwhile, the log-truck protest organized by a group called Timber Unity on Facebook stepped up to take its place. It soon emerged that Timber Unity had corporate sponsorship with close Republican ties, particularly timber giant Stimson Lumber, whose CEO heads up the newly announced Timber Unity PAC.
As is usually the case when “Patriots” are involved, threats and intimidation have played large roles in the Oregon Republican resistance. Reddit, NPR reported, was forced to quarantine the popular far-right “The Donald” subreddit because of the violent threats against Oregon Democrats that erupted there amid the controversy.
However, Oregon’s Republicans have been developing a disturbing and unsavory record of forming up alliances with extremists who believe in far-right conspiracy theories and intend to enforce policy—including environmental policy such as the cap-and-trade bill—predicated on these theories’ usually afactual and often cockamamie versions of reality. As Dickinson reports in Rolling Stone, this is being done with the explicit support of such corporate oligarchs as the Koch Brothers and their allies.
These alliances began taking shape in rural Oregon earlier this decade through the auspices of radical “constitutionalist” sheriffs, some of whom eventually played a role in the Malheur standoff.
More recently, Portland’s top Republican Party official, James Buchal, employed members of the local Three Percenters militia organization to act as security for Multnomah County GOP events. Buchal also spoke at a rally organized by the far-right street-brawling Patriot Prayer group, and he publicly urged Portland police to provide protection for its leader, Joey Gibson, during his numerous forays in the city in attempts to provoke violence there.
Published with permission from Daily Kos.