Oregon Democrats end candidate forum over racial slurs, graphic images
Flyover shot of Yamhill County’s wine country. (Oregon Department of Transportation)
Democrats in Yamhill and Polk counties ended a candidate forum on Saturday after attendees began spamming the virtual meeting with graphic sexual images and racial slurs.
The county parties hosted a Zoom forum Saturday night with state Rep. Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, and Newberg City Councilor Elise Yarnell Hollamon. Neron is running unopposed in the primary for the 26th House District, and Yarnell Hollamon and Kriss Wright, chair of the Newberg planning commission, are vying for the chance to take on Rep. Anna Scharf, R-Amity, in the adjacent 23rd House District.
A press release sent by the chairs of the two county Democratic parties said people in the meeting used “false names, racial slurs and alignment with marginalized communities to further their bad-faith actions.”
Yamhill County Chair Omar Sandoval didn’t return a call or text message, and the email address Polk County Chair Beth Vaughn provided on the press release does not exist.
The forum was scheduled to run 90 minutes, but it couldn’t be readily determined how long it actually lasted.
In a statement, Vaughn said she didn’t know who was responsible but understood the intent was to “weaponize supposed alignment with marginalized communities for malicious purposes.”
“These actions harmed everyone who came together to participate in the democratic process, and the parties are collaborating to prevent interference in future events,” she continued. “At the end of the day, the Polk and Yamhill County parties are committed to democracy and will not be deterred.”
In their own joint statement, Neron and Yarnell Hollamon said the event was “Zoombombed by people using explicit language and imagery and weaponizing identities of marginalized community members under false names.”
“Councilor Yarnell Hollamon and I condemn racism, misogyny, and bigotry in all forms,” Neron said. “We believe everyone has a right to a safe and open discussion, free from people who are simply trying to destroy an event.”
Neron said via text that they didn’t want to perpetuate harm by describing the incident in detail.
Incidents of “Zoombombing” were prevalent early in the pandemic, when schools, government bodies and organizations quickly pivoted to video-based communication without using security features like requiring passwords or manually approving attendees. Internet trolls would find unsecure video meetings and take over, often showing lewd images or saying racist, obscene or otherwise offensive things.
New security features and greater familiarity with video conference tools have made this much less common, though it still occurs. A meeting of the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation was canceled last fall after someone began posting racist and homophobic slurs and committee members’ home addresses in the meeting’s chat.
This article was updated after publication to include new comments from Courtney Neron and Elisa Yarnell Hollamon
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