As tensions flare over Oregon’s proposed permanent mask rule, a local opposition group is ramping up demonstration efforts.

Organized Patriots, a national coalition fighting against mask and vaccination mandates, has a stronghold in Columbia County, with over 70 members and counting.

Spreading the word

Glenn Curt McKinney, the Facebook administrator for Organized Patriots of Columbia County, posted a picture of the organization’s newly acquired billboard near the Knife River weigh station on Highway 30 leaving St. Helens in late December. The billboard came with a price tag of $3,000, paid for by the organization.

Mask Mandate Opposition Photo

The Organized Patriots of Columbia County voiced their opposition with this billboard near St. Helens.

“It should be your choice!” the billboard proclaims in bold red lettering, overlaying a graphic of a surgical face mask.

“I can tell you that most of the people in Columbia County now know of us,” McKinney said, acknowledging the sign’s impact. “We haven’t gotten any negative responses from the billboard itself, just people that are wanting to get involved.”

The billboard is one of multiple strategies the organization hopes will be a catalyst for change in one of the last standing states with heavy COVID-19 restrictions.

Public demonstrations

Demonstrators will go a step further on Saturday, Jan. 15, by shedding their masks indoors in defiance of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s indoor mask mandate.

Under the Organized Patriots’ upcoming events page, the group listed a “maskless shopping event” from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Walmart on 2295 Gable Road in St. Helens.

According to McKinney, a dozen people are already confirmed for the event, and news of the event is spreading rapidly on social media.

Charles Crowson, Director of Corporate Communications at Walmart, responded to news of the demonstration by affirming the corporation’s policy for employees on mask mandates.

“We follow CDC guidance, which includes fully vaccinated people wearing masks in public indoor settings in counties with substantial or high transmission,” he said. “In these counties and where there are state or local mask mandates, associates will be required to wear masks inside our facilities, including stores, clubs, distribution centers and fulfillment centers.”

“We also strongly encourage customers to follow CDC guidance and properly mask, as well,” he added.

McKinney founded Organized Patriots following the first few weeks of COVID-19’s initial outbreak, and more than two years later, the mission remains the same.

“Our goal is to get people to take the masks off, and stop complying,” he said.

McKinney said he is a defender of free choice on both sides of the aisle.

“We don’t care if somebody wants to wear their mask because that’s all a part of America, right?” he said. “You have the right to choose but we just don’t want it to be forced, (or) to be forced on anybody else. Same with the vaccines.”

Demonstrations over the use of mask mandates also have been held by local protest groups near Scappoose High School and Hudson Park Elementary in Rainier.

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