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Far-right rally moves from Redmond to Salem amid pandemic rule controversy

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A controversial conservative conference called the Reawaken America Tour scheduled for the beginning of April in Redmond has been canceled and moved to Salem.

The event features high-profile conservatives known for spreading false claims that President Joe Biden did not win the 2020 presidential election, as well as misinformation on the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines and safeguards.

Clay Clark, the organizer of the event and host of the conservative podcast ThriveTime show, confirmed on Tuesday that the conference is being moved to The River Church in Salem. It was originally scheduled to be held at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo center.

Tickets to the Redmond event, which were $250, will not be refunded, which is the event's usual policy, Clark said.

Clark said that statements about Deschutes County intending to enforce the state’s mask mandate did not play a part in the decision to move it.

"I try to have all of (the Reawaken America Tour events) at churches,” Clark said.

The decision comes days after the tour made headlines after emails showed Troy Smith, a planner of the event, claimed two Deschutes County commissioners assured the event organizers that the state’s mask mandate wouldn’t be enforced.

Deschutes County officials and Commissioner Tony DeBone denied making any kind of assurance, and Commissioner Patti Adair in a text assured that the mask mandate would be enforced, but did not elaborate on her communication with event organizers.

Clark said he had no knowledge of any conversations between event staff and the venue.

Many of previous Reawaken America Tour events held around the country have been held in churches because they are considered “revivals” rather than a traditional event, Clark said. He said The River Church reached out to him and offered to host it there.

The pastor of the Salem church, Lew Wooten, has vocally opposed vaccines, according to reporting from The Salem Reporter.

The event includes numerous high profile supporters of former President Donald Trump.

The Redmond event headliner was Gen. Michael Flynn, who was pardoned by then-President Donald Trump after his conviction for lying about connections to a Russian diplomat.

Roger Stone, who was convicted of obstructing a congressional investigation and later pardoned by Trump, is also associated with the tour. A high-profile political operative with a tattoo of former President Richard Nixon on his back, Stone was the subject of a the documentary "Get Me Roger Stone" on his "black hat" political operations against candidates.

Stone was the featured speaker at a 2018 Oregon Republican Party meeting in Salem, where members of the far-right group, the Proud Boys, acted as Stone's bodyguards.

In a photograph widely circulated on the web, Stone and the Proud Boys are pictured drinking beers in the bar of the Salem Grand Hotel, flashing a sign that civil rights advocates say means "white power."

The Redmond event drew attention when The Bend Bulletin published emails from the public record of the event booking from tour planner Troy Smith.

In the emails, Smith told Reawaken tour organizers that he “personally talked at length with 2 of the 3 county commissioners, both of whom sit as Republicans” and was assured that the state’s mask mandate would not be enforced.

Adair and DeBone are the two Republicans on the three-member county commission. Phil Chang is a Democrat.

Smith claimed the event would receive special treatment from the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office.

"I also asked the commissioners about the Deschutes County sheriff’s office on two points and confirmed (1) They will be at our call in the unlikely situation of ANY trouble developing to disrupt the event (2) They have made it known they will NOT enforce the governor’s mask mandate,” Smith wrote.

Smith also said in the email he received assurances that the commissioners and facility manager of the fairgrounds were “comfortable with the event managing their own decisions on masking.”

“They are not going to police this,” Smith wrote in an email from October of last year.

DeBone denied any deal had been made with the Reawakening tour.

“Those are pretty bold statements — it’s nothing I would say directly,” DeBone said. “Like, ‘Oh yeah don’t worry about the rules we’ll go around it.’ This was not stated by myself.”

DeBone said he received a call from someone from the event, though he could not remember who, who asked him whether as a commissioner he would be in a position to cancel or block the event from happening at a county facility.

DeBone said he said no, as he saw it like any other facility rental at the fairgrounds.

“The expectation is that they’re just like anybody,” DeBone said, with regards to following COVID-19 regulations.

Hinds said the fairgrounds expects and requires all events to comply with all COVID-19 related rules, and suggested Smith’s statements could be a misunderstanding about Oregon’s mask laws. For example, people are allowed to take off a mask indoors when eating and drinking.

Hinds said the fairgrounds works with every event to adhere to a safety plan, which can mean working together to provide face masks, sanitizer and signs outlining rules.

“No event is an exception to be different or above the law,” Hinds said.

In a statement on behalf of Nelson issued last week, Deschutes County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Jayson Janes said the sheriff has not spoken with anyone from the Reawaken America Tour.

Janes said Sheriff L. Shane Nelson's focus is on "education" about masking rather than "enforcement" when it came to the state pandemic mask rules.

In a text message on Friday, Adair said, “Of course the mask mandate will be enforced. Our fairgrounds follow OHA rules. Hopefully by April 1 our county and country will be in a better position regarding COVID-19.”

Smith, the planner, did not respond to a request for comment.

Gary A. Warner of the Oregon Capital Bureau contributed to this story.

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