A group of armed Trump supporters say they will host a rally at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza Saturday, Aug. 10, regardless of concerns over time, place and recent gun violence.
Since organizers of the “God, Guns, and Trump Rally” posted the event on social media, two mass shootings have taken place in the U.S., with a death toll of 31.
But the group says they won’t be deterred by those shootings, nor by concerns the rally takes place the same day Eugene and Springfield celebrate Pride, as well as during Saturday Market.
“We’re going to have it anyway,” says organizer Andrew Allwander, 37, of Eugene. “I can’t plan or know when a mass shooting is going to happen. It happens a lot.”
Allwander adds that a mass shooting has never happened at a gun rally, and he believes if there were more guns, mass shootings wouldn’t happen.
The U.S. leads the world in private gun ownership. According to Small Arms Survey, there are 120.5 civilian-owned guns in the United States for every 100 citizens.
Data from the independent research institute NORC at the University of Chicago, however, shows the number of Americans who own guns has steadily declined since 1972, suggesting a relatively small number of Americans own large numbers of guns.
When asked about the timing of the rally coinciding with Pride, Allwander says he’s only been back in the area since 2016 and wasn’t aware Pride was happening.
“I just don’t pay attention to that scene very much,“ he says. “It’s just kind of not what I want.”
About holding the rally during Saturday Market, Allwander says he doesn’t see it as antagonistic, and that people who have held similar but smaller events at that time tell him the “hippies that frequent the area thought it was OK.”
Posts to the rally’s Facebook page have explicitly disinvited any forms of racism, asking rally-goers to not bring things like Confederate flags or other symbols of hate. Allwander says he made those posts, that they were intended to deter Antifa and that he didn’t see the need to make such a request as being problematic.
Allwander adds that he thinks people should be OK with the rally and all are welcome to attend.
Many, however, are less than OK with the event.
Cornel Hardiman, who performs in drag as Karress Ann Slaughter and will be attending Pride, says that when he heard about the rally he was disheartened, but also wouldn’t be deterred.
“When I first saw a screenshot of the page I kind of rolled my eyes. And there was a little bit of discomfort, but I just kind of settled into myself to focus on what we do every year,” he says. “It’s unnerving, but people have the right to express their feelings, stand up or rally for anything they believe in.”
Hardiman says he is disappointed the God, Guns and Trump rally organizers are continuing with the event, even with the knowledge it takes place during Pride. He adds he knows people who have expressed concerns about the coinciding events.
Rose Wilde, a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice Springfield-Eugene (SURJ-SE), says that after the May pro-Trump rally on Harlow Road bridge — which saw at least two altercations — the group decided to take action and host counter-events focusing on messages of possitivity.
Wilde says SURJ, among others, will gather on E. Park Street across from the rally near the Saturday Market food court. She says to look out for rainbow flags and T-shirts.
“We believe this event is scheduled at an incredibly inappropriate time, and is against the interests of the LGBTQ community,” she says. “Conservative Christians, especially evangelicals, have a long history of anti-LGBTQ actions, and that’s still fresh in a lot of people’s minds.
“That, with the open-carrying and Trump flag-waving, will be seen as intimidating by a lot of people,” Wilde says. “And it’s the busiest time of year. It’s dangerous, and people have told me they are terrified and angry.”
She adds that many may choose to stay away from downtown Saturday, potentially affecting vendors who depend on peak-season revenue.
“My father was a Farmer’s Market vendor for more than 20 years. If people stayed away and didn’t buy, he felt it,” Wilde says. “This event will be harming small businesses.”
When asked why continue the rally in the face of recent mass shootings, with a time and place many consider inappropriate and with the potential for violence in a crowded area, Allwander says, “Because we can.” ν