CRESWELL – Discussions and planning around a Fourth of July Celebration has sparked plenty of fireworks – just not the kind anyone expected.
Residents, public officials, a reconstituted Chamber of Commerce, local small-business owners, and event organizers made for a combustible mix when a flyer was posted on social media platforms announcing “The Largest Patriotic Independence Celebration in Oregon” would take place at TJ’s Restaurant, and included the note, “An opportunity to meet many of Oregon’s finest patriot groups.”
Bob Jensen, who is in the process of finalizing his purchase of TJ’s Restaurant, said his site would play host as a way to continue Creswell’s traditions. He said it was not a political event.
“The Fourth of July is a day for all patriots if you’re American,” he said, noting he wasn’t aware of social media discussions regarding politics. “It is a chance for all locals to participate and express their patriotism in whatever fashion they see. The main driver … is just seeing the tradition carry on. (This event) is in the best interest of those who just like to get out and feel like an American again.”
The organizers of the proposed parade did not respond to The Chronicle’s messages. Several people promoting the event on social media are using an alias online.
The political extremism associated with the event organizers’ online profiles, and use of “patriot groups” in marketing, has residents and local business owners concerned. Several spoke to The Chronicle and asked to remain anonymous for their personal safety and business viability.
Among the concerns they cited were near-term issues such as a potentially hostile rally that shuts down traffic on one of the busiest retail days of the year, to the longer term blemish Creswell could receive by association with extremist groups.
One of the promoters using an alias stated that they were part of the “We The People Oregon” and called for “thousands of patriots” to host a “massive rally to … light the fuse and wake up the rest of the lions” because they are “fed up with the bull—- here in Oregon,” in regards to the the state’s mask mandates, vaccination efforts and shutdowns.
Lane County Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Denham said that he is monitoring the posts and is developing plans accordingly. He is seeing a lot of posts both in support and opposition of the political display, but is not seeing much commitment to attendance.
It’s too early to tell, he said, but he is not anticipating “thousands.”
“It’s hard to know whether people would leave their local areas to come down here” for the parade, Denham said. “I haven’t seen a lot of commitment on the postings I’ve seen … I don’t know what other internal things they’ve got going on to see if they can get people to come to little old Creswell. But TJ’s is private property so if they do something there, there’s not really a lot that we can do about that, other than to monitor it.”
Jensen picked up the special-event permit for the parade on Tuesday, he said. The special-event permit is used for organized activities in the city that require exclusive use of public right-of-ways or city-owned property, such as sidewalks, streets and parking spaces.
The permit application states that all activities associated with these events can be covered under a special-event permit. The 45-day-out submission deadline has passed, but a $275 rush fee could be applied.
Organizers would be responsible for submitting plans for traffic safety, security, clean-up and recycling, and securing and placing barricades, cones and flaggers.
Jensen said that he would like to use the traditional parade route through town. There are hurdles for that, though, including clearance and permits from Oregon Department of Transportation road closures, which Denham said is improbable at this stage.
Angela Beers-Seydel, who oversees the Willamette Valley for ODOT, said there has been no request for a state permit. “If a parade is on any state roads, we require a permit. We have to arrange for traffic control, send notifications to the trucking industry about routing. Those sorts of things.”
They would also need permission from the railroad owners.
Still, Jensen remains optimistic, he said, based on 30 years of owner experience, notably of Good Times Cafe and Wild Duck Cafe in Eugene.
He has two partners; Patrick McCallum is the owner of Mac’s Custom Catering and Mac’s Restaurant and Nightclub in Eugene, and Mario Espinoza is a chef.
If the event happens as advertised, it would be the second time in six months that far-right groups rallied in Creswell. The first was Nov. 1, 2020, days before the presidential election, when a rally to support equity and Black Lives Matter in front of City Hall was overwhelmed by an opposing crowd twice its size in front of the town’s library.
Later, a caravan estimated at more than 200 vehicles put public safety at risk, congesting traffic to dangerous levels. “We were not going to stop (the caravan) from coming into town, so we facilitated a parameter to get them through town and back out. I am not gonna say it was a pretty scene,” Denham said at the time.
There is an unrelated fireworks show being planned by the Creswell Chamber of Commerce. Read about that here.