Police in Salem, Oregon blamed officer ignorance for a conversation captured on video on June 1, 2020.
The video, first aired live by Joe Smothers on his Facebook account on June 1, 2020, chronicles a local protest against extrajudicial killing as well as the moments after local police arrested Black Lives Matter demonstrators for violating a local 11pm curfew instituted by local officials.
The video has since been shared more than 46,000 times on the platform and reproduced on other sites — Reddit, Tiktok, YouTube, and Twitter — as attention centered around an encounter between local police and a group of armed men standing near a local business, the Glamour Salon.
“My command wanted me to come talk to you guys and request that you guys discreetly remain inside the buildings or in your vehicles, somewhere where it’s not a violation,” the officer can be seen telling the two men. “So we don’t look like we’re playing favorites.”
3️⃣0️⃣2️⃣ Salem, OR: cop tells armed white supremacists that police are about to teargas the protestors, and “requests” them to “discreetly” stay inside so the supremacists aren’t hit too. The cop is asking so protestors don’t see them “playing favorites”
— T. Greg Doucette (@greg_doucette) June 5, 2020
Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore addressed the officer’s remarks in a video posted to the department’s YouTube page two days after the encounter.
I know the officer involved. Like me, he has dedicated his life to this department and this community. The impact the interactions captured on the video had on our community has been discussed with the officer. Unfortunately, he had not been fully briefed about enforcement of the curfew before he spoke with the group. Moving forward, all officers tasked with enforcement of the curfew will be properly educated before deployment.
A local outlet, the Salem Reporter, noted that the video was released “after his agency said earlier in the day that it would respond to an interview request from Salem Reporter.” The department has also failed to respond to a request for comment on our part.
Smothers told us that at the time he filmed the officer advising the armed group:
I kind of was like, ‘Why are you telling them that and not telling the protesters that?’ [Police] didn’t really tell the protesters, they immediately started yelling when it became unlawful
Many iterations of the clip spread with captions identifying the two men as “Armed Proud Boys,” making reference to the white nationalist group as well as “white supremacists.”
Toward the end of his entire video, which spans more than three hours, Smothers says that the Proud Boys were guarding the salon. But he walked that statement back when we reached him for comment, saying that the group in front of the business was comprised of friends and family of the salon owner, Lindsey Graham (not the lawmaker.)
Graham attracted coverage — as well as the support of another far-right group, Patriot Prayer — when she defied a state order and reopened the business amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which remains an ongoing health concern:
Graham has for the past week been defying the governor’s stay-home order, in an effort bolstered by right-wing figures, including Vancouver, Wash.-based protest organizer Joey Gibson.
“I’m being threatened and intimidated and bullied daily by the government,” Graham said during a press conference Friday. “I’m sad that I can drive 20 minutes down the freeway, and that person’s job as a hairstylist is essential, according to Kate Brown. But my job, 20 minutes up the street, is nonessential.”
Smothers also walked back remarks he made during the livestream regarding “Antifa,” a catch-all right-wing term attempting to paint people opposing fascism as an organized group.
“I’ve been getting updates they’re coming down here with bars, bats, machetes,” he can be heard telling one of the men at the salon prior to his encounter with the unidentified officer; the man responds, “I heard bars, bats, machetes, and guns at this point.”
Smothers told us that he mentioned “Antifa” based on information passed along to him. Among the rumors he heard, he said, was the claim that “two busloads from Portland” were headed toward the area. The claim was most likely a regurgitated variant of disinformation pushed online that led Chicago police to shut down highways and dispatch a helicopter to the state border with Indiana on May 30, 2020 looking for “3,000 Antifa on 12 buses.”
“It wasn’t confirmed,” Smothers told us of the local rumor. “I’m mainly going by what I get information-wise.”
Even though there is no sign of any “attack” against the business, an unidentified man in the video draws on the term again in addressing the group and repeating the unidentified officer’s advice, telling the group, “If they let us out here, Antifa will say ‘We can be out here.'”
“Make yourselves not obvious,” he adds.
Smothers does say at the conclusion of his video that “Antifa” is nowwhere near the salon. He also told us later that when broadcasting, he tries to make sure to specify when he is relaying rumors, as opposed to verified information.
Smothers told us that he will continue to film protests in not only Salem but other cities in Oregon.
“More or less at this point I’m doing it for my community so they are able to see what’s going on and stay safe at the same time,” he said.