Some of Oregon’s leading Republicans gathered with conspiracy theorists and vaccine skeptics this week on the State Capitol lawn. Speakers declared the prevention of COVID-19 was “worse than the disease” and any attempt to check vaccination status was a form of “state-sponsored discrimination”.
The June 9th rally in Salem drew GOP state Sen. Dallas Heard, who told the crowd that others call them “extremists”–and he included himself in that description–“not because we are extreme, but because we are not willing to go sprinting in whatever direction they are herding us in.”
Billed as “Oregonians for Medical Freedom”, the event drew advance attention for the announcement that Naomi Wolf, a celebrated feminist author, would be among the speakers. She did not in fact appear. Organizers said she had canceled at the last minute, and read a statement from her instead.
The sizable crowd was comprised of the usual vaccine skeptics like the parents opposed to childhood immunizations who have packed the Capitol rotunda during other protests in the past. But the inclusion of top local Republican officials demonstrated the degree to which vaccine resistance has become a new platform of conservative politics. The unifying theme of the rally was the assertion that efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus were just a pretext for restricting freedom.
The "Oregonians for Medical Freedom" is holding a rally in front of the Oregon State Capitol Building to protest Covid-19 regulations and vaccinations. Speakers are addressing the alleged dangers of vaccines and mandatory vaccine policies. pic.twitter.com/7UEr3DVlhP
— Justin Yau (@PDocumentarians) June 9, 2021
State Sen. Kim Thatcher, the 2020 GOP nominee for Oregon Secretary of State, also spoke at the vigil to criticize the closing of the state Capitol to the public. Her remarks came a day before the Oregon House expelled Rep. Mike Nearman for allowing armed protesters to breach the Capitol.
The crowd cheered at accounts of noncompliance with mask mandates, booed at any mention of Dr. Anthony Fauci or Gov. Kate Brown, and applauded calls for strong Republicans to stand up against the “tyranny” of lockdown restrictions.
— Tkeisha Wydro (@Tkeisha) April 24, 2019