ENTERPRISE — A crowd estimated by Wallowa County Sheriff Steve Rogers at about 200 people packed the Wallowa County Courthouse grounds and lined adjacent North River Street on Saturday, Aug. 22, for a Back the Blue rally.
The rally also included local members of the Proud Boys.
“We’re here to support law enforcement,” rally organizer Janet Furbish said. “Our police officers and community policing are key parts of our community.”
Furbish’s sister, Laura (Collins) Ledgett, said there are bad police officers that need to be weeded out, just like in any profession.
“But for the most part, they’re really good guys,” she said. “We’re a small town, a small community and if we don’t have their backs, who does?”
The rally started with a parade through downtown Enterprise and continued with a gathering at the courthouse. Attendees waved blue-and-white flags as passing vehicles, from Cooper Minis to log trucks, honked on their way by.
“The reason that I did this rally is that I was told to sit down and shut up every time I tried to open up any kind of dialogue,” Furbish said.
The rally had a family-friendly, celebratory air feel, providing free cookies and bottled water for participants. Many rally attendees also signed flags that Furbish presented to representatives of each law enforcement agency in Wallowa County — the Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office, Enterprise Police Department, Oregon State Police, and the U.S. Forest Service — at the close of the rally.
“When the BLM (Black Lives Matter) protest was going on right after the George Floyd thing happened, I wanted to talk with people and I tried asking, ‘How do we open dialogue? Where do we go from here?’” Furbush said. “I was told, ‘Sit down and shut up, you racist, you bigot.’ I could never get a dialogue started.”
Furbish said that she had gotten a lot of pushback when she first proposed the rally, and had even gotten death threats via Facebook Messenger, but declined to name the senders. Threats and negativity made her even more determined to do the rally.
“This was a way for me to do something,” she said. “To have my voice. And I’m so happy it’s turned out so well.”
The crowd was largely composed of local, Wallowa County residents. They were joined by three men who carried the flag of the Proud Boys clubs, and who said they lived in Wallowa County. Mason Walker, who is Black, said that he has lived in Joseph for about six years, and was heading up an effort to establish an Eastern Oregon Proud Boys chapter.
“Right now, there are only three of us here who are members of the organization,” he said. “So we are still officially part of the Portland chapter.”
Walker said the group has received negative publicity in the past.
“In the major metropolitan areas there’s been clashes with Antifa and BLM. But that’s not the agenda,” he said. “The agenda is to uphold the Constitution, protect the members of your community and be for freedom of speech. Our club stuff is mostly talking about how we keep our families safe, how we back one another, if there’s ever an issue, and how we can be more active in our communities.”
The Proud Boys organization was classified as a terrorist organization by the FBI, but was reclassified as a far-right nationalist group in 2018, according to the Washington Post. The Southern Poverty Law Center website designates them as “a hate group that spouts white nationalist themes, and are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric.”
“We’re not anti-anything anything, except that we are anti-racism, and anti-sexism,” Walker said. “It’s good for men to have something to fall back on. Masculinity is so masked nowadays that men are afraid to be men, and they are afraid to need support from other men.”
In Enterprise, only a single counter-protester was present and throughout the rally silently held a sign that said “Disarm, Defund, Disband” on the northwest corner of River and Main streets. He said that he preferred not to comment any further than what his sign said.
Sheriff Rogers said that he thought the rally was a great event.
“It’s nice to feel appreciated once in a while,” he said.