On paper, this year’s Fourth of July parade planned for Creswell looks like a normal event put on by community members. It is advertised as a family friendly experience involving floats, a car parade and flag waving.
But local alt-right extremists and a Eugene restaurant owner are the ones planning this celebration, creating their own event after it was announced the Creswell Chamber of Commerce wasn’t putting on the popular annual parade due to COVID-19. The right-wing groups do not have a parade permit and have received pushback from some residents, but they are still moving forward with their celebration.
Much of the local concern for the event follows a Nov. 1, 2020, Black Lives Matter rally held in downtown Creswell, which ended in violence after a miles-long caravan of Trump supporters arrived with American flags and guns to counter-protest. The Trump supporters began yelling at the BLM rally attendees and shoved the group with their flagpoles, pushing them out of downtown.
“They’ve made my argument for me that the people that came in November are coming back, empowered and emboldened,” says Martha McReynolds, a Creswell resident and former city councilor. She adds that some of the organizers from the November counterprotest are involved in the Fourth of July activities.
The July 4 parade is marketed as the “largest patriotic Independence Day celebration in Oregon.” One of the groups involved, BLEXIT Oregon, is a state chapter of a national organization where people of color encourage other people of color to leave the Democratic Party. Yaneeda Brannigan, state director for BLEXIT, and another local right-wing organizer and Proud Boy Chris Tough, created the event page on Facebook.
Shortly after the event was first announced in May, a video produced by an Oregon-based patriot group named Flag Called Freedom began circulating around Facebook promoting the celebration. Members of Flag Called Freedom were present at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the day of the insurrection, according to its Facebook page. A video from that day shows group members holding up a large American flag and chanting, “Stop the steal.”
In the video promoting the Creswell event, dramatic music plays in the background while adults and children are filmed holding the same large American flag. With slow motion video of the flag rippling, text moves across the screen celebrating the victory over racist buzzwords like “China virus” and “masked invaders.”
McReynolds, who was present at the November BLM rally when the Trump supporters arrived, says some of the footage is from the November event and some is from a July 2020 Independence Day event. Some of the people shown in the Creswell video are also seen in another Flag Called Freedom video filmed in Huntington Beach, California.
“They used a Fourth of July sunset minutes before the attack video,” McReynolds says, adding that a previous version of the video did not have the Fourth of July video footage.
This year’s event was originally going to take place at TJ’s Family Restaurant and Lounge in Creswell, a restaurant owned by Tom Nelson located right off the interstate. Bob Jensen, who is in the process of purchasing half of TJ’s and is also the owner of several Eugene restaurants, including Wild Duck Cafe, applied for a permit on May 27 to serve alcohol in the TJ’s parking lot during the July 4 event.
In the permit application, Jensen wrote that he expected the attendance to be 150 to 200 people for the day.
A week after Jensen submitted the OLCC permit application, Sgt. Scott Denham, an officer with the Lane County Sheriff’s Department who is stationed in Creswell, wrote an email to the city saying that his only concern was that the event had been widely publicized by those involved in the planning and may exceed the expected capacity. Still, Denham recommended the council to approve the request.
After the permit was discussed and approved at a June 14 Creswell City Council Meeting, TJ’s owner Nelson spoke out, telling the Creswell Chronicle in a news story that he knew nothing about the permit, even though it was submitted under his restaurant license, Nelson Restaurant Corporation.
“I have never heard a bad word about Tom Nelson, and I’m happy to give him a pass right now, but I don’t believe that he didn’t know. These are sophisticated business guys, there is no way he didn’t have a clue,” McReynolds says. Nelson did not respond to multiple requests for comment as of press time.
According to the event website and multiple posts in Creswell Community Connection, a Facebook group for Creswell residents, the event is still taking place even though no one has secured permits for a staging area or a parade.
In a one Facebook post, organizer Julie Bivens, who shares far-right conspiracy theories on Facebook such as QAnon, wrote that the parade is still taking place. When someone responded asking if she had the proper permits, another person wrote back that they did have the proper permits and posted a photo of the U.S. Constitution.
“If they think an unpermitted parade, like what we had in November, if it’s that much or bigger, we’ve got a freeway interchange that’s blocked into a little town,” McReynolds says. “And that’s that’s alarming and that’s not OK.”
Now, Sgt. Denham says the application has been pulled, but he is unaware whether the group has found another main staging area for the event. He says the group does plan to start a car caravan at the nearby Tractor Supply Co. No other permits have been filed.
After the group was adamant about still holding a parade, Denham posted portions of the Creswell Municipal Code on his Facebook profile to remind people what is and isn’t allowed. The city code states that a parade that impedes traffic without a permit is illegal.
The city code also specifies that people can be fined $2,500 for attempting to coerce others into breaking city ordinances or working with others to violate city ordinances. Denham says no one has been cited yet but they are subject to fines if they break city ordinance. He says there are two deputies stationed in the area on the holiday, which is typical.
McReynolds says she has spent her time trying to make the community aware of the event’s origins, and letting organizers know that the town does not welcome their extremist activities.
“My job is done,” McReynolds says. “I’ve made it clear that they are not entirely welcome.”
The city of Creswell and the Chamber of Commerce are sponsoring the city’s actual Fourth of July celebration, offering contests for patriotic decorated homes and pets, hosting games and a military jet flyover at Creswell Airport and launching fireworks at the Bald Knob Mill property — but no parade.
For more information on the city’s Fourth of July festivities, visit CreswellChamber.com.