SALEM, Ore. -- Around 200 supporters of President Donald Trump gathered near the State Capitol building in Salem for what they hoped would be a peaceful rally.
Less than 30 minutes into the event, about 50 anti-Trump protesters, many of them wearing all black with their faces covered, arrived. Less than half an hour after that, a fist fight broke out. The crowd swarmed the fight, only backing away when an officer with the Oregon State Police and other witnesses yelled, “He’s got a gun.”
One man was quickly detained. He was later identified as Matthew Curtis Heagy, 31, of Terrebonne. Oregon State Police said Heagy pepper-sprayed a trooper and also had a concealed firearm. Heagy was charged with felon in possession of a firearm and carry concealed weapon.
Organizers of the original rally, who work with the newly founded Northwest Trump Alliance for Change (NWTAC), were disappointed.
“We are really looking to work with everybody and not just people on our side,” said Frank George IV.
He added members of the group knew counter-protests were planned. He and other organizers had encouraged people to debate or engage if they wish, as long as they did so respectfully.
“I’ve been encouraging people to be outwardly kind and not just passive and try to refrain from meeting the opposition on their level,” he said.
Photos: Pro-Trump rally in Salem
George adds NWTAC wants to build ties between supporters of President Trump and the larger community, adding they're working with nonprofits that help veterans and the homeless. At Saturday’s event, they held a food drive.
They also want to promote the president's politics. Many at the rally said they were disappointed about the GOP's decision Friday to pull the bill aimed at replacing the Affordable Care Act.
“I’ve had friends who went from paying a couple hundred dollars a month to almost $3,000,” said George. “And they’re on limited incomes, so that’s hurt people.”
Beyond that, other members had a personal message.
“We're not the racist, hating people that everyone makes us out to be,” said one woman. “That's not us at all. We love everybody from all walks of life.”
It was a point they wanted to make after a pro-Trump march in Lake Oswego earlier this month.
Headlines surfaced that members of the Ku Klux Klan were there, preaching white supremacy. Members of NWTAC were blunt about their feelings.
“There's a lot of horrible people in our country who are genuinely racist and genuinely hate people. That's not me, that's not Brittany. That's not who we're promoting,” said George.
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