SALEM, Ore. (Reuters) - Police broke up scuffles between supporters of President Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter activists and arrested two people in Salem, Oregon, on Monday as protests in the region turn increasingly violent.
More than 100 Trump supporters, including members of the all-male, alt-right group the Proud Boys, came to the capitol building in Salem, about 45 miles (72 km) south of Portland, in a caravan of vehicles on Monday afternoon, waving Trump 2020 signs and American flags and some carrying weapons. They were met by about 20 Black Lives Matter protesters.
The two groups fired pepper spray at each other, at least one Trump supporter beat a Black Lives Matter protester with a baseball bat and a Trump supporter sprayed a fire extinguisher.
About two dozen state police officers were present and initially stood by as Trump supporters charged and hit Black Lives Matter protesters. Police then tackled two people who had been punching Black Lives Matter demonstrators and arrested them, according to a Reuters witness.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Oregon State Police said officers with the state police and Salem Police Department responded at the scene across from the capitol when an “American Lives Matter Rally group” charged at counter protesters, chasing and pushing them.
Two men were arrested, charged with misdemeanor assault and subsequently released, the spokesman said.
Monday marked the 102nd day of protests in nearby Portland. Three months of nightly protests in the city and its surrounding area have at times turned violent, with demonstrators against racism and police brutality clashing with police officers and right-wing groups.
The demonstrations began, like others across the United States, following the death in May of George Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
Trump, who has made law and order the main theme of his bid for re-election on Nov. 3, has singled out Portland as one of several Democratic-led cities he calls “anarchist jurisdictions.”
His Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, says Trump’s rhetoric is stoking the violence.
The Trump supporters started their afternoon on Monday at a rally in Oregon City, with families playing loud music and vendors selling Trump merchandise.
At the same time, in Portland’s Cathedral Park, hundreds of Black Lives Matter activists participated in a “solidarity march” with a lineup of musicians and speakers, according to video on Twitter.
In recent weeks, tensions have escalated in Portland between Trump supporters, including those who align themselves with the pro-gun, pro-Trump group Patriot Prayer, and left-wing, self-described “anti-fascist” protesters.
The clashes resulted in the shooting death of a right-wing protester, 39-year-old Aaron Danielson, on Aug. 29. Federal agents later fatally shot a suspect in the killing, Michael Reinoehl, while trying to arrest him.
The U.S. Justice Department on Friday directly linked Reinoehl to the left-wing antifa movement, the first time it had drawn such a connection for a demonstrator facing federal charges in Portland.
Antifa is a largely unstructured movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist.
Police arrested 15 people in Portland after protests near a police precinct overnight on Sunday. On Saturday night, the 100th day of protests, police arrested more than 50 people and used tear gas to disperse protesters who threw fire bombs.
Reporting by Carlos Barria in Salem, Oregon, and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Howard Goller and Peter Cooney
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