A poster for the Reawaken America Tour conference in Salem
Organizers of the far-right Reawaken America Tour moved a conference slated for Redmond to Salem following a conflict with Deschutes County officials over enforcement of Oregon’s mask mandate
The conference includes guest speakers who have spread false conspiracy theories about Covid and the 2020 election. Among the event’s speakers are vaccine skeptics – including doctors – pastors and conservative politicians and commentators. First scheduled at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center, it will now be held at The River Church in Salem April 1-2.
Gen. Michael Flynn, the former national security aide for President Donald Trump who was pardoned after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with a Russian diplomat, is listed as a speaker at the event. Clay Clark, host of the conference and the Thrivetime Show podcast, said Flynn wanted to take the tour to Oregon. Also scheduled to speak is Roger Stone, a former Trump adviser who was convicted of witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding and five counts of making false statements related to a special counsel investigation into Russia’s potential involvement in the 2016 election.
Organizers moved the conference days after public records showed a planner of the event said two Deschutes County commissioners told organizers that the statewide mask mandate wouldn’t be enforced, according to reporting by the Bend Bulletin. County officials and Commissioner Tony DeBone said they made no such statement, and Commissioner Patti Adair said in a text to the paper that the mask mandate would be enforced.
Clark told Salem Reporter the event was not moved because Deschutes County officials said they would enforce the mask mandate.
“But I believe that the phrase ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’ is a dangerous phrase. I don’t like to have any events at anything related to government,” Clark said. “I want to be in private venues, particularly churches, which is why every event we’ve had has been organized with a church, and the only one that broke from that pattern was this one in Oregon because I couldn’t find a church that was willing to deal with the controversy. I had a few lines in the water, but this River Church, they really wanted to be a part of it.”
The announcement comes a month after Eric Coomer, former director of product strategy and security for Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems, filed a defamation lawsuit against Clark and the Thrivetime Show.
The complaint alleges that the Reawaken America Tour and its founder, Clark, regularly published lies about him rigging the 2020 election. It said the lies “all originate with a baseless and repeatedly debunked conspiracy” created by Joe Oltmann, a Colorado podcaster and conspiracy theorist also scheduled to speak at the event.
Clark said he started reaching out to churches in Oregon in September, and a recent event in Tampa, Florida was held at an affiliate of Salem’s River Church.
He said he initially booked the Redmond venue as a “placeholder” because he hadn’t yet found a church to hold it. “We were going to go to Oregon, but I didn’t know where we were going to have it,” he said. “So as a backup plan, we booked the event center.”
Lew Wootan, lead pastor at The River Church, said event organizers contacted him about hosting the conference.
“I’m having this event because it isn’t a matter of whether I agree with everybody or not, I think having opposite opinions is healthy for a community,” he said.
Wootan has been a vocal opponent of Covid restrictions and vaccination mandates in Salem, appearing at a protest with Salem Health nurses and other health care workers opposed to mandates last year.
“I want to give an opportunity for people to speak out against certain things that I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in the mandates, and I don’t believe that it should be mandated. I believe that as an American, and then underneath the constitutional rights, we have a right to choose what what goes into our body. I’m not an anti vaxxer, I’m an anti-mandate,” Wootan told Salem Reporter
In this screenshot from a March 29, 2020 service, Lead Pastor Lew Wootan preaches at The River Church to a socially distant congregation.
The church continued to hold in-person services early in the pandemic as other congregations around Salem started holding virtual and drive-by services following a state stay-at-home order.
Wootan said he has written around 500 religious exemptions for members of his church, and several have still been fired from jobs in health care, at the state Department of Corrections and restaurants because they were told their exemptions didn’t qualify.
“Having this event here is simply, we have a facility and they want to be able to do something, and I agree with the ministry or the message of freedom,” he said. “It’s not that I necessarily agree with what everybody has to say, same thing in church. If someone comes in, not everybody agrees with me and what I preach, and I’m okay with that. We all have a diversity of beliefs, and we all have a diversity of opinions. But it doesn’t mean we can’t be civil about it.”
Clark said the tour is “a war against the Great Reset,” a conspiracy theory – dubbed after the conference of the same name – that global leaders planned the Covid pandemic to take over the world’s economy.
Clark said ticket buyers can “name your price.” The average person pays around $50, and the lowest ticket they’ve sold is $6.39. VIP tickets are $200.
Following reports that Redmond ticketholders would not receive a refund for the rescheduled event, Clark said, “Anyone who wants a refund can have a refund. I’m not going to argue with people but we do tell people going into the events, you buy a ticket, the tickets are non-refundable, but they are transferable.”
Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.