For a number of years, the RV Saltshakers have used their bully pulpit to go after healthcare providers and the LGBTQ community. Some are pushing back.
Top: The RV Saltshakers placed signs with hate messages on a church lawn. Below: Saltshaker Jon Peterman is caught on video as he hurled racial slurs. Photos courtesy of RV Pepper Shakers.
By Brad Smith
GRANTS PASS, Ore. – For the last few years, a hate group have disrupted life for some here in the Rogue Valley as they harass and bully those they disagree with or challenges them.
They have targeted events and individuals from Ashland and Talent to churches in Grants Pass. They have caused problems at Boatnik, the Pear Blossoms Parade, Talent’s fall festival and even Ashland’s holiday parade.
They are called the RV Saltshakers and they’ve weaponized religion to suit their agenda, their critics say.
Newman United Methodist Church’s Rev. Ryan Scott expected some cultural differences when he came to this part of southern Oregon in July 2019, having served in United Methodist churches in Eugene, Springfield and other communities. “Before being assigned to Grants Pass, I was at a church in Toledo, just outside of Newport,” he said. “I’ve been exposed to both conservative and progressive mindsets over the years. The congregation was very welcoming and I felt at ease here. I love it here.”
However, over the past few months, his church has had some issues with the Saltshakers. Scott said a small number of Saltshakers have appeared on Sunday mornings, standing on the sidewalk along the church property. They first appeared in February – not long after the church displayed a Pride flag.
Scott said he had heard about the Saltshakers disrupting a number of local events over the years. There were some incidents in which Saltshakers verbally assaulted congregation members and even attempted to block access to the church.
“Police were called and (the Saltshakers) were told to stay off church property,” he said. “Since then, there haven’t been any incidents. We did have our flag and Black Lives Matter signs stolen. They were replaced and it got to the point no one bothered them again.”
Scott has tried “extending the olive branch.” During hot weather, he has offered the protestors water to drink. It was, he added, the Christian thing to do.
“They always refuse the water,” he said. “And they don’t seem too communicative, either.”
The RV Saltshakers claim to be “evangelical Christians who are doing God’s work.” Spearheaded by a man named Jon Clement, the Saltshakers can be found picketing women’s health clinics and displaying very graphic pictures of aborted fetuses. They also have signs with trans- and homophobic messages on them.
The Saltshakers are abortion abolitionists: From the Abolish Human Abortion website, it’s stated that “. . . . Abolitionists reject the idea that you can effectively fight evil by allowing it in some cases or do away with it by planned out incremental steps which preserve it along the way. Abolitionists reject the notion that you can ever commit evil in order that good may come. Abolitionists cry NO COMPROMISE!!! Pro-lifers cry “get the best that you can get when you can get it,” and consistently support the ‘lesser of two evils.’”
Abolitionists advocate more aggressive tactics and the use of graphic signs and posters. They also have animosity to the Catholic Church (Catholics pray to angels, for instance) and the LGBTQ community. More information can be found here: https://abolishhumanabortion.com/
Some have joined the Saltshakers and spent time with them – only to later leave. Growing up in Ashland, Gabriel Macias would watch the Saltshakers in action. In 2015, Macias saw the Saltshakers protesting and he decided to check it out. During an earlier interview with The Rogue Free Press, he opened up about his experiences with the Saltshakers.
“It was in the fall. That’s when it happened,” he said. “I was at the Ashland High School and one day, right across the street, I saw these people – they had signs, megaphones, they were chanting. I was curious, very curious. So, I went over to talk to them.”
That’s when Macias first met Jon Clement, the Saltshakers’ leader, and Mason Goodknight of the Community Outreach Evangelism or CORE, based out of Roseburg. Both men took an interest in him.
“They were very friendly, welcoming,” he said. “They asked me a lot of questions, they started talking to me about God, Jesus, things like that. They seemed like they wanted to be my friends.”
And, Macias said, that is part of the trap.
“Many in the Saltshakers, especially Clement and senior members, are predatory,” he said. “I mean, they find your weaknesses and target them, that’s how they get your guard down and get you to join. They knew I didn’t have a strong support system, they knew my father wasn’t a part of my life. Clement and Goodknight, along with the others, acted like they were more than friends, like surrogate family members.”
Macias said he was not the only one targeted that way.
“There were other kids and the same thing happened to them,” he said. “And adults who were targeted because they didn’t have much of family themselves. They were lonely and felt a need to be wanted, liked. Saltshakers filled that void for them.”
Clement, Goodknight and others in the Saltshakers/CORE group were “aggressive,” using megaphones to scream at people and provoking others to argue. Macias watched as women walked up to a Planned Parenthood clinic and “were swarmed by Saltshakers who yelled and screamed at them.” Saltshakers would also follow women down the street, waving signs and picture of aborted fetuses in their face.
“It was all very intense and very intrusive,” he said. “Looking back at it now, it was wrong and sickening. How can you treat people like that?”
According to a young woman who wants to be identified only as “Crystal,” Saltshakers have no qualms about “verbally assaulting and terrorizing women.” She claimed that she has had “terrifying encounters” with the Saltshakers, the most recent one while at the Grants Pass Growers Market.
“I was helping at a booth when I’d noticed the Saltshakers were close by. I politely asked them if they could move away, because their presence was making most people uneasy,” Crystal said. “The next thing I know, they proceeded to yell at me, calling me a ‘whore of Satan’ and said I had dead babies in my closet.
“Yes. They said that. I was so upset I was shaking for almost an hour. Those people are disgusting.”
Crystal said she walked away and believed that security or police had been called in. It wasn’t her first encounter with the hate group.
“One time, I was walking downtown and (Saltshakers) were protesting at the health clinic. They saw my tattoos and started yelling at me,” she said. “They chased me back to my car. There was no reason for that attack.”
Clement has been vocal about Saltshaker tactics over the years. In interviews, he admitted that intimidation was a “valuable tool.”
“It’s how we get our message across and let others know that we’ll never back down,” he said.
To the Saltshakers, what they perceive as “God’s law” overrules actual laws.
“Rules and regulations mean nothing to them,” Macias said. “They’ll push everything to the limit, just enough to get their message across. Now, when I was with them, they never talked about doing anything violent. It was just getting in people’s faces, yelling, screaming, harassing. Things like that.”
What bothered Macias the most was how Saltshakers “weaponized their kids.”
“Parents would bring their kids to these protests and it was very disturbing,” he said. “Kids would be holding these signs and pictures, saying things they didn’t understand – it was wrong. It bordered on child abuse; I feel. And, then they exposed other kids to those awful pictures and they felt it was the right thing to do.
“It was sickening.”
Meantime, Macias was also dealing with another secret: Being a closeted gay teen.
“Looking back at it, that was a big thing,” he said. “I was living this double life and we know how that will eventually tear people apart. I thought I could fill this void by being with the Saltshakers and it did not last long. I wasn’t being myself, I was not a nice person. I lashed out at my grandmother and others close to me. I didn’t like who I was.”
A year after being with the Saltshakers, Macias said he knew things had to change.
“It was time to come out, to come clean with myself and everyone else,” he said. “I had to do it before I imploded. So, I posted everything on Facebook. It felt good but there was a backlash from the Saltshakers.”
Some Saltshakers told Macias that he needed to repent or he would “burn in hell.”
“People I thought who were my friends said that I was a horrible sinner and some even called me ‘Judas,’” he said. “See, in their view, Jesus is all about hellfire, damnation and brimstone. A vengeful wrath of judgment and it just went against everything I believed in. There’s no love or mercy. It’s all about hellfire and damnation.”
It's apparent the Saltshakers have no compassion or understanding for Macias and others like him. However, the United Methodist Church has been very inclusive regarding the LGBTQ community for many years. According to the official website, the church states:
The United Methodist Church affirms that sexuality is “God’s good gift to all persons.”
This affirmation begins the denomination’s statement on Human Sexuality. It is one of several statements describing the church’s teachings on sexuality.
The Church affirms that all people are of sacred worth and are equally valuable in the sight of God. It is committed to be in ministry with all people. The Church “implores families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.”
Underlying this is the constitutional principle of inclusiveness of the church. Everyone is welcome to worship and actively participate in the life of our churches. Laypersons may become members and live out their faith through their local church without respect to sexual orientation or practice.
The Church deplores acts of hate and violence against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and believes human rights and civil liberties are due all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
Scott himself is gay and is married – he and his husband had their ceremony last September.
“There are a number of gay couples in the congregation,” he said. “Our church accepts and welcomes them. That will never change and the Saltshakers haven’t deterred them from attending services. In fact, those signs they use have become free advertising for us. We’re seeing new faces during our services. I’m good with that.”
Scott said he avoids directly engaging the Saltshakers – however, some have a different view.
Toren McKnight and Samantha Clum are the RV Pepper Shakers. Together, they have had several face-to-face confrontations with a number of the Saltshakers, particularly Jon and Cassandra “Casie” Peterman, group leader Clement and members such as convicted child abuser Trevor Emptage and Ben Steers.
McKnight, a recent high school graduate, remembered watching the Saltshakers protesting events in Ashland and throughout the Rogue Valley.
“It angered me,” he said. “What they did was wrong and I always wanted to do something about it. Finally, one day, I did do something about it.”
He finally did.
If the Saltshakers were picketing Medford’s Planned Parenthood clinic, McKnight would show up with his own signs. Alone, he would stand there, no matter, the weather, standing his ground despite the heckling and taunts from Saltshakers. Then, one day last year, Clum appeared on the scene.
“I was driving by and saw Toren there and the Saltshakers. I stopped my car and got out, stood there with him,” she said. “I had seen (Saltshakers) protesting and wanted to do something, stand up to them. That day, I finally made the choice.”
The RV Pepper Shakers were born.
Over the last year, Clum and McKnight have had several confronted the Saltshakers on several occasions. A few times, they have helped escort women to the clinic doors and have earned the ire of Casie Peterman.
“She’s very vindictive, very hateful,” Clum said. “She’s made social media posts calling me a ‘lesbian abortion worshipping witch’ and other despicable things. Casie is very fond of body shaming me and calling me ‘fat.’ Does it bother me? It’s like this: Casie is a bully, nothing else, nothing more. She has nothing good or positive in her life – so, she feels that she has to act like a spoiled brat in grade school, putting others down to make herself feel good. That’s pathetic, right?
“At the end of the day, I do feel good about myself. I’m out there, one way or another, helping people. Yes, even protecting my LGBTQ friends from monsters like Casie and her husband. At the end of the day, I can look at myself in the mirror and feel good about it.”
McKnight said it’s just the two of them taking on the “bigots,” referring to the Saltshakers.
“The ‘Shakers are inconsistent with the picketing, especially since Sam and I started our thing,’ he said. “It used to be they had a schedule of when and where they would picket – it made our job easier, knowing that and how we could respond. However, when Jon, Casie and the others realized we would show up, they changed their game.”
If McKnight or Clum are out driving and spot the Saltshakers protesting, both are quick to notify their Facebook group about it.
“If possible, we both try to be there and confront them,” he said. “Sometimes, a few others will see the post and come out to help. But, usually, it’s the two of us and it’s hard for others to take off at a moment’s notice.”
One time, someone offered to show up some with an airhorn and blast it at the Saltshakers.
“While I did like the idea, it would be too disruptive for others working in the area. I had to say no,” he said.
In the past, it was a common tactic for anti-abortion groups to find the addresses of those working at health clinics, then show up and picket their private homes. McKnight said he would never do that.
“It sounds good, right? But, no, it could lead to trespassing on private property and other conflicts,” he said. “No, we wouldn’t do something like that.”
Public reception varies. If the Pepper Shakers are in Ashland, the general public reacts positively, Clum said.
“If we’re in Medford, the reaction is rather mixed,” she explained. “Grants Pass – the reactions can be less favorable. It just depends.”
Aside from the Petermans, one of the more infamous Saltshakers is Trevor Maurice Emptage.
On March 4, 2012, Rogue Regional Medical Center ER doctors contacted law enforcement after seeing a 1-year-old girl with first and second degree burns to her feet. Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputies investigated and found that her foster father, Emptage, was angry after the child had defecated in the bathtub – there was evidence showing the child was held in scalding hot water by force.
It was later discovered that Emptage was arrested for domestic assault in 2008.
Emptage would later plead guilty to second-degree assault as additional counts of first-degree assault and first-degree criminal mistreatment were dismissed in a plea agreement. While second-degree assault is a Measure 11 offense, Emptage received a sentence of 34 months rather than the mandatory 70 months due to having no criminal record. Emptage’s wife and members from his church wrote letters asking for no jail sentence. He was ordered to turn himself in by July 2, 2013.
Emptage was seen on video recordings harassing people outside of the Medford Planned Parenthood clinic on Nov. 3. When Pepper Shaker counter protestors confronted Emptage about his child abusing past, he countered that he had “found Jesus and was saved.”
Evidently, while being in church, he hadn’t found Jesus before and it’s not clear if having a criminal record is a prerequisite for RV Saltshaker membership.
“I’ve talked to (Trevor) about that incident,” McKnight said. “He told me that God’s forgiven him – but he has no remorse for what happened.”
More recently – and disturbing – Keith “Biome Michael” Erickson, a neo-Nazi who has caused problems for many over the years, appeared at the Grants Pass Growers Market.
McKnight recorded the encounter and posted it on the Pepper Shakers’ Facebook page.
“It was a classic Biome moment,” he said. “He denied being a Nazi and then said Nazis were n____rs. And he was sticking up for the Saltshakers. I wouldn’t be surprised if showed up again and sided with them.”
Clum has video of Jon Peterman repeating “n____r” over and over again. Another video has his wife Casie pulling a small knife on a Black Jewish man.
“It does make you wonder about them,” she said. “What other agendas and beliefs are they hiding? What else will we see or hear them do? It’s disturbing.’
Clum does have a point.
It’s disturbing when those claiming to be Christians go after other Christians in a hateful manner. It’s disturbing when a group uses children as props to push their hateful agenda. It’s disturbing when innocent families are subjected to graphic, bloody pictures as they attend a Christmas parade.
It is disturbing.
Pastor Scott said he has no plans to directly engage the hate group. “I’m a Christian and my response will mirror those beliefs. As it is, thanks to them, I see new faces in church and I know they are there to support us. I find comfort in that.”
McKnight and Clum, however, are not backing down.
“From the first time I saw the Saltshakers, I knew they were wrong,” McKnight said. “I was a kid but I knew then what I had to do. Here I am, standing up for what’s right and standing up for others. I’m not stopping.”
Clum agrees with her friend.
“This is the right thing to do,” she said. “Someone has to take a stand and that’s what Toren and I are doing. Even if we’re the only ones out there, we will keep standing up to those bullies and bigots and we will not back down. Not one goddamned inch.”
For more information about McKnight and Clum’s group and how to support them, information can be found here: