The far-right’s free speech-killing stranglehold on much of Oregon claimed another victim this month: Keizer Pride Fair.
On May 6, organizers of Keizer’s Pride Fair announced on their website that this year’s celebration would be canceled. They cited both last year’s event—the city’s first—being disrupted by a far-right group and the community’s overall approval of right wing extremism.
Last year, a far-right group called “RV Saltshakers'' showed up at the Pride event shouting their anti-Queer beliefs while passing out cards. A counter-protest formed and guided the group back to their van. Instead of leaving, the “Saltshakers” returned, holding signs touting religious scripture and messages of hate. Confronting them again, the counter-protest, which had gotten larger, used their bodies in an attempt to eject the group from the event.
The confrontation became physically violent when one of the Saltshakers assaulted one of the counter-protesters, setting off a scuffle where counter-protesters ripped up the anti-LGBTQ+ signs.
The “RV Saltshakers” are a Rogue Valley, Oregon-based Christian-right group founded by Jon Clement in 2008. According to their website, the group “desire to unite, equip, and encourage those who have hearts to reach the lost in our area, especially through personal evangelism, tract distribution, and Gospel preaching.” On Facebook, they describe themselves as “Calvinists, Arminianists, and those falling in-between.”
Their “work” includes hosting a “booth ministry” at fairs, attending events with signs asking for people to repent, and “open air preaching.” The group is open about how they feel about the Queer community in their section titled “LGBTQ Outreach” which says:
“We go to a crowd that is hostile toward God and Christians, to proclaim the Law and gospel, praying God will grant them repentance and faith, knowing that His word does not return void, all to the glory of God.”
One ex-Saltshaker who originally joined the group as a closeted gay 15-year-old has called them “Hellish” and use predatory tactics to recruit vulnerable people.
Opposing the “RV Saltshakers,” though, are the “RV Pepper Shakers.” The antithesis of the Saltshakers, the Pepper Shakers aim to “spread acceptance throughout the Rogue Valley, raise awareness about the services Planned Parenthood provides, raise money for Planned Parenthood and educate people on the Intersectionality of oppression and help to overcome it.”
Chris Young, a local resident, was one of—if not the first—person to encounter the Saltshakers at the event. He had been at the event for a couple of hours already when Jon Clement, the founder of the Saltshakers, walked up and handed him a palm-sized card that had rainbow coloring. Unsuspecting, it wasn’t until a little while later when he looked at it and read the hateful anti-Queer messaging it contained.
“It was passages from the bible and, paraphrasing, that members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies need to stop or burn in hell forever,” he said. He ripped the card up, found Clement, and told him that he needed to leave, and walked him to his car. Young said a crowd formed because, separately, another Saltshaker was getting guided back to his car in the same area.
When they got to the cars, though, Young realized that there were others already getting their big “PVC pipe sign holders” set up while Mason Goodknight “turned on a PA system and started condemning everyone to hell,” he said.
The Keizer Police Department, according to Young, were called by the Saltshakers and, after speaking with them, suggested that they leave, which they eventually did.
Even before this incident, Keizer City Council wasn’t fully welcoming to the idea of a Pride event. In the lead-up to last year’s event, the council chambers had a heated argument over the Pride Flag. Councilor Ross Day asked if people could fly the Pride Flag, couldn’t someone who wanted to fly a Confederate Flag also do so.
“That’s not even a fair comparison,” Councilor Roland Herrera replied.
Doubling down, Day repeated his claims that the two flags are, essentially, equal because they both represent “viewpoints” that people “disagree with” and said that, in the end, “the problem is that we cannot pick sides.”
The final blow for Pride organizers came in April when Volcanoes Stadium hosted the far-right and their closely-aligned QAnon and Anti-vaxx friends for Clay Clark’s “ReAwaken America” tour. As LCRW covered, the event featured VIPs Michael Flynn and Eric Trump along with 38 speakers, mostly peddling anti-vaxx and other QAnon conspiracies to a sold-out audience of 4,000. On both days, a counter-protest formed outside alongside an Indigenous rally. Also outside the event were all the Proud Boys because they weren’t allowed in.
These incidents—plus being doxxed after last year’s Keizer Pride Fair—have led its lead organizer, Claire Snyder to cancel this year’s event.
“As the organizer of this event, a queer, Black resident of Keizer, the parent of two trans youth, I do not feel that I can in good conscience risk exposing my beautiful queer community to any possible harm or hate,” Snyder said in the announcement.
In a response to a DSM/LCRW inquiry, Snyder said that her doxxing was a large part of the decision.
“Last year, individuals took photographs from my personal social media, cropped out my children’s faces, and posted them on the Internet with my picture and information,” she said. “They labeled me a sick person, and commented on my status as a parent as well.”
Regarding the City Council, Snyder said her group has expressed their concerns and frustrations and, instead, “they (City Council) invite members of said hate groups to the City of Keizer Prayer Breakfast.”
Jerry Walker, owner of the Keizer Volcanoes Stadium, was at the Prayer Breakfast and previously spoke at the ReAwaken America Tour stop in Keizer, telling the crowd that the COVID19 vaccine gave his mother cancer, even if his mother doesn’t think it did.
Also present at the Prayer Breakfast was Pastor Lew Wootan, Pastor Andrew Perkins, and other individuals with The River Church in nearby Salem, Oregon — the very same church that hosted the ReAwaken tour stop where Wootan interviewed and presented a shirt to Michael Flynn.
In a “Lunch Hour of Power” stream on May 10, Wootan repeatedly referred to Snyder and those present at Keizer Pride Fair as “the devil.”
“The Devil, I’m going to tell you right now—the Devil is so lame that the enemy was threatened by us eating breakfast,” he said. Further, Wootan said it was the congregation’s presence, “the influence of the Holy Ghost,” that made them “such an influence, that you just being there, makes people so unnerved that they’ve got to shut it down.”
Ending the stream, Wootan said “I am just so excited that we were able to just sit down and the found Devil is so—intimidated—that they shut down the whole Pride Fair” before launching into what can only be described as a maniacal laugh.
“Several statements have been made about equity, justice, etc., but the behavior and actions of the council do not match what is on paper,” Snyder said. “In fact, in 1993, Keizer had a city charter that would not allow any City of Keizer official or leadership to support anything that had to do with the Queer community.”
Specifically, Section 44, as it was called, said that city officers “shall not make, pass, adopt, or enforce any ordinance, rule, regulation, policy or resolution that extends minority status, affirmative action, quotas, special class status, or any similar concepts, based on homosexuality.”
This city charter was, finally, amended in 2020.
“What I wish they understood more than anything else is that there are citizens in their own city who feel less than human, who feel vulnerable, unprotected, and threatened by the viewpoints of others that are wrapped up in hate,” Snyder said.
“I wish that they could understand what it’s like to be scared in your own home, to have to plan your weekends away to avoid white supremacists endangering your family, or what it is like to have someone stare at you simply because of the way that you live.”
Regarding future events, Snyder says that it will take the cooperation of the entire community. She said that city government “need to consider that words of welcome are different than a welcoming community” and that “performative allyship is no longer acceptable in the form of committees or declarations of equity.” She said allies of the LGBTQ+ community “need to step up, continue to apply pressure to our city council and community engagement committee,” and to demand more diverse representation.
“This was never a city-led event,” she said. “This was an event put on by one mom who was doing her best to make this world safe for her children.”
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