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In Oregon, the statehouse in Salem is boarded up this weekend and the governor has called up National Guard troops. NewsHour Weekend’s Mori Rothman spoke with Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Sergio Olmos about far-right extremist groups and homegrown white supremacy in the Pacific Northwest, and how the groups organize and act.
In Oregon, the statehouse in Salem is boarded up this weekend and the governor has called up National Guard troops. NewsHour Weekend's Mori Rothman spoke with Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Sergio Olmos about far-right extremist groups there.
So you've been reporting on far-right extremist groups for a while now. Take us through how you've seen the actions of these groups escalate over the past couple of years
Since the election of Donald Trump these groups have gotten more kinetic. So they're out in the streets and a lot of their rallies have ended in violence, either brawls or isolated events outside of a hotel or something with paintballs, things like that. If you go to last year, August 22nd, there was a huge rally with right-wing groups standing outside of the Multnomah County Justice Center — it's like a jail for processing inmates — and they fought with left-wing activists for hours out there.
And some in the crowd, and you can see this on videos I recorded and others, would go on to storm the Oregon statehouse. You saw right-wing protesters draped in American flags and Donald Trump flags bear macing Oregon state troopers. And many of the people who went inside that statehouse faced no consequences. And, you know, you draw a direct line from then to two weeks later when you can see on video some of those same people standing outside Nancy Pelosi's office.
You've written about how some of these groups have grown specifically in the Pacific Northwest and in Oregon, tell me a little about that.
Well, you know, Oregon is 87 percent white. And it– it was it started, billed as a kind of white utopia. There were Black exclusionary laws built into the Constitution. You know, the language in the Constitution, some of it said Black people can't own land. That language wasn't removed until 2002. And even then, 31 percent of people voted against removing that language.
So there's a, there's a racist history to Oregon, but there's racist histories to every state. There's reasons why people would join these far-right extremist groups that apply kind of everywhere in the United States. You know, some of them being that people are looking for identity, meaning and purpose. And if, if you're living online and you have no nobody, no community, no tribe, no group that will kind of vouch for you, hang out with you, sacrifice for you, these groups will invite you to come hang out with them. So I think there's, there are structural reasons that push people towards extremism, and that's something that, that we can all look at.
What kind of preparations are being made in Oregon for potential violence? And does it look like people are being deterred by the greater police presence?
The Oregon State Police has requested the Oregon National Guard to be at their disposal this weekend. So the Oregon National Guard is in Oregon, there in Salem at the statehouse. And together they will protect the statehouse against planned right-wing protests. As far as you know, whether there's going to be, crowds are going to be deterred from coming to protest, you know, the disruption of the social media platforms like Parler and things like that. They've really made it hard to gauge larger trends. So, you know, a lot of these far-right groups have moved to Telegraph where it's smaller chat rooms where they're split up and then fractured. And it's really difficult to gauge what is a common agreed-upon idea.
And looking forward, what's the discussion around what these groups are thinking after this week?
A lot of these people are no longer on social media platforms. They're not on Facebook, they're not on Twitter. And so you're not going to be seeing this kind of stuff anymore. And you might be lulled into thinking that it's gone, that the problem has been fixed. But, you know, when you cover these groups, you realize something very quickly. This is not just an idea, it's a lifestyle. These people have changed the way they live. This is their friends group. They buy gear. They watched YouTube videos. They spent a lot of time investing in this. And it's inconceivable to think that they're just going to walk away after this weekend.
Sergio Olmos from Oregon Public Broadcasting, thanks so much
Thank you Mori.
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Mori Rothman has produced stories on a variety of subjects ranging from women’s rights in Saudi Arabia to rural depopulation in Kansas. Mori previously worked as a producer and writer at ABC News and as a production assistant on the CNN show Erin Burnett Outfront.
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