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Fans flock to North Plains to see Phil Mickelson and other star golfers perform.

PMG PHOTO: DILLON MULLAN - North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan addresses reporters at a press conference organized by 9/11 victims families to oppose the nearby LIV Golf event.Thursday morning in North Plains started in protest.

At Veterans Memorial Park, a dozen family members of victims of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks gathered under the big American flag on June 30, taking turns denouncing the Saudi-sponsored LIV Golf tournament under way at the other side of town.

The autocratic government of Saudi Arabia has faced widespread condemnation over its role in perpetuating ongoing mass starvation in Yemen, its persecution of women and homosexuals, and the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which was allegedly carried out on the orders of the crown prince.

On Thursday, however, the press conference speakers wore hats reading "9/11 Justice." They pointed to a FBI report released last year that outlined a Saudi official's role in aiding and abetting the hijackers in their planning and execution of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"To say that it's just a game of golf shows their ignorance. Some of these golfers have no idea that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia carpet-bombs Yemen, that they murder homosexuals, that they persecute woman, that they killed journalist Jamaal Khashoggi, that they sent government officials here to the United States, Saudi intelligence operatives here in the United States, years before to orchestrate and plan and support the hijackers. None of these golfers know that," said Brett Eagleson, whose father Bruce worked in the south tower of the World Trade Center. "It's our job to bring that message to the world and these golfers, and after they know all this and realize all this and still agree to take the Saudi money, then we've said our peace and done our job, and that is between them and their maker (to) let them sleep at night knowing what we know."

North Plains is an unlikely setting for international controversy. The city north of Hillsboro has a population around 3,000 and is locally renowned for its Elephant Garlic Festival.

On Thursday, North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan and Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax welcomed the victims' families.

In April, Lenahan, Truax and nine other Washington County mayors sent a letter to the owners of Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, Texas-based company Escalante Golf, opposing the tournament. They say they never received a response. The Sept. 11 victims' families also said their efforts to reach organizers and golfers have gone unanswered.

Some of the victims' families, whom Eagleson said all flew into Portland from the East Coast for the press conference, said they had been encouraged by the negative press surrounding the event and would also protest at the next tournament in New Jersey at the end of July.

"We've been fighting to get the information out for so long," said Sean Passananti, whose father Horace worked in the north tower at the World Trade Center. "9/11 is a big complex geopolitical event, it's got a million different moving parts, and it's tough to get the message out because there's so many other stories going on. This is something that happened 21 years ago, and hopefully we get our message out. I would love to see these golfers say, 'Hey, we can't be a part of this,' and the whole thing crumbles."

Under both Republican and Democratic presidents, the United States has continued to sell Saudi Arabia millions of dollars in weapons and other military equipment every year.

While the United Nations has called the ongoing civil war in Yemen "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world," as half the country suffers from extreme hunger and 2 million children are at risk of starvation, Saudi Arabia has received significant material and logistical support from the U.S. military and contractors for its operations there.

In November, President Joe Biden's State Department and Congress approved $650 million worth of missiles to sell to Saudi Arabia. Biden plans to visit the country in mid-July, facing domestic pressure to address record-high gasoline prices.

The cozy relationship between the American and Saudi governments, despite the latter's shoddy human rights record, was not lost on golf fans at the tournament.

"It's part of this, whether you like it or not. You do have to think about it as part of your decision process for coming," Clackamas County resident John Gaff said at Pumpkin Ridge Thursday. "But it can't be that bad if the U.S. government is working with them. Biden said last week he would be formalizing relationships and visiting with the Saudis, right? So if Biden can do it, why can't I? I guess gas prices are too high, so we're friends with them. We just want to watch some golf."

Gaff and his two sons were watching golfers warm up on a putting green Thursday morning. Like most, they were drawn by Phil Mickelson, whom Golf Channel reported is getting about $200 million for playing; Dustin Johnson; Sergio Garcia; and other professionals who left the PGA Tour to play in the LIV series.

A few fans remarked the LIV event was bigger than previous PGA and LPGA Tour events they had seen at Pumpkin Ridge.

A pair of Washington County Sheriff's Office cars parked at the club entrance while a few more patrolled inside. Security staffing every path was from Illinois-based Andy Frain Services, whose website boasts covering state fairs, the Kentucky Derby and Beatles concerts. Little kids asked for autographs.

Tickets ran between $70 for a one-day pass to $10,300 for a three-day pass to "Club 54 Premium," where one can walk inside the ropes with players and caddies. Fans bought $5 light beers, $10 glasses of wine and $15 sandwiches. A group called Friends with Trees invited fans to pitch a golf ball into a LIV-branded kayak.

Some locals just hope the show isn't back next Fourth of July. North Plains' traditional fireworks show, which would have been Monday, July 4, isn't being held this year because of the tournament this weekend.

"I'm proud we were able to offer the space to the families to speak out," Lenahan said of the protest Thursday. "It's very American of us to stand by these families."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained a typographic error in one reference to Forest Grove's mayor. His name is Pete Truax. The story has been corrected.

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