Hundreds of Maskless Protesters Gathered in Salem to Decry the Oregon Governor’s Stay-Home Orders

“I don’t think it’s any worse than the flu. I think it’s ridiculous that people are having to wear masks.”

Approximately 300 protesters gathered at the Oregon Capitol in Salem on Saturday afternoon to protest Gov. Kate Brown's stay-home orders.

The event, called the ReOpen Oregon Rally, was hosted by a newly created group called Oregon Uniting for Liberty, which describes itself as a grassroots organization. Few protesters wore masks.

The rally reflected other events being held by right-wing protesters in states across the country, who believe that stay-home orders preventing the spread of COVID-19 are wrecking the economy and undermining the White House.

In Oregon, Brown has resisted calls from rural counties to immediately reopen the state for nonessential business. She says some counties can begin a cautious return to business by May 15. Polling shows her orders are overwhelmingly popular across party lines—but they've drawn intense resentment from conservatives who think rural Oregon's economy is being sacrificed to Portland concerns.

Despite organizers' billing the Oregon event as a bipartisan display of economic frustration, this was a nakedly political event—indistinguishable from a rally for President Donald Trump. Dozens of attendees held "Trump-Pence 2020" signs and wore signature MAGA hats. Others held signs featuring the conspiracy theory QAnon, which alleges without evidence that leaders of the Democratic Party run a child sex-trafficking ring.

The majority of attendees directed their disdain specifically toward the governor.

Shannon, a protester who declined to give his last name, said he showed up at the event to demand that the state reopen. He said he thinks Brown is to blame for the recent economic downturn.

"She should be in prison," Shannon said of Brown. "She's a bad lady. She's wicked. She should listen to the people in the state, the people who have businesses in that state. She's trying to dominate it and rule the state and do everything she wants to do."

Asked why he wasn't wearing a mask, Shannon said: "I don't believe in that. I don't think it's any worse than the flu. I think it's ridiculous that people are having to wear masks. If you want to by personal choice that's fine, but it shouldn't be pushed on people."

Meanwhile, on the Capitol steps, a wall of health care workers stood stoically in scrubs and masks to counterprotest the event.

"We don't want people to die," said Zoe Rain, a nurse who was counterprotesting. "We feel like social distancing has been working. We need to keep doing that and open safely. If we open things now, people will die."

As Rain spoke, an elderly man wearing a red "Make America Great Again" hat leaned his face against her umbrella.

"It's a little uncomfortable having somebody a foot away from my face," Rain said.

As the event drew on, protesters crowded around the health care workers, pushing them toward the corner of the building's portico. At one point, an argument broke out when a protester demanded to see one of the health care worker's credentials.

G. Shane Dinkel, a Republican candidate for the state's 5th Congressional District, gave a speech into a bullhorn at the Capitol's steps while carrying a yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag.

"Who's afraid of the big bad Wuhan flu?" Dinkel said to the crowd. "This is not Red China, this is America!"

Faces familiar to Portland's far-right rallies were in attendance.

Patriot Prayer protester Joey Gibson gave a speech to the audience during the rally. "We as the people together, we got to open up shop together. That's what I'm talking about: unity!" Gibson said to the crowd, who cheered him on.

Throughout the rally, a caravan of vehicles streamed down the street in front of the Capitol steps. Horns honked as onlookers waving American flags and "Flush Brown Down" signs cheered. A dump truck repeatedly drove down the street, honked its horn, revved its engine and lifted its trailer, to much fanfare.

Attendees ranged in age from infants to the elderly. A handful of attendees open-carried assault rifles. Some protesters walked with the assistance of canes and walkers. One woman was breathing from an oxygen tank.