August 13 in Seattle, just one day after the horrific events in Charlottesville, extreme rightwing “Christians” rallied in Seattle but were vastly outnumbered by anti-fascist protesters. The Seattle Police Department spared no effort to protect a handful of extremist supporters of “Patriot Prayer,” a Vancouver, Wa. based group that has rallied in Portland and Seattle and now plans to demonstrate in the S.F. Bay area at the end of August.
Patriot Prayer is headed up by one Joey Gibson. The group has organized rallies in Portland Or., one of which was attended by Jeremy Christian, the anti-Muslim racist who killed two men who were defending a Muslim teen and her friend on the Max train. Gibson was an endorser of the June 10 Islamophobic rally in Seattle that was met by thousands of protesters chanting “Say it loud, say it clear, Muslims are welcome here!” Now in the wake of Charlottesville, Gibson is trying to backtrack from his group’s connections to outright fascist elements. However, there is no backtracking from the group’s Islamophobic and anti-communist line, nor from their willingness to seek and provide “protection” to and from from elements like the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers.
No matter how Gibson earnestly swerves and sways, saying he opposes what happened in Charlottesville and blathering on about how he doesn’t “want people to get hurt,” there is no denying the role his group has played under the veneer of seeking “free speech” to paint the fascist right as “victims” of the left, in order to set up violent confrontations. At the very least, Gibson and his group serve as useful idiots, if not willing accomplices, for fascist organizations.
However, almost everywhere Gibson and his crew rear their heads, they have been vastly outnumbered by anti-fascists who see through their charade.
Aug. 13 in Seattle was no exception. At 1 pm, more than a thousand anti-fascists gathered in Denny Park, a few blocks from Westlake Park in downtown Seattle, where Patriot Prayer was scheduled to have their rally. After a few speakers at the Solidarity Against Hate rally, the march kicked off to confront Patriot Prayer at Westlake, which is considered the soapbox of Seattle, a center of First Amendment activity.
However, despite great bravery, most protesters who had gathered at Denny were unable to make it to Westlake because of a vast police mobilization that included several tank-like vehicles, platoons of riot-equipped cops (on and off bikes), and cases and cases of pepper spray. On more than occasion, police hosed down protesters with the noxious spray. They also deployed “flashbangs” one of which literally blew up a large banner. Street medics treated people on the spot for pepper spray and for those traumatized by the flashbang.
It appears that police were also deploying explosives loaded with a powdered pepper spray. Andrew Freeman of the Party for Socialism and Liberation was helping people who had been pepper sprayed. “I was helping one guy who was covered in a white powder, dabbing the powder off of him with lime juice and milk of magnesium. Another activist said, ‘Look at this, this is where the powder came from,’ and he showed me something, the bottom half of a round thing, a bit wider than a tennis ball, and there was residue of the same powder that was on the guy’s face,” Freeman said.
At one point, at 2nd and Pine, (just 2 blocks from Westlake) after deploying the flashbang, police declared an unlawful assembly and gave a dispersal order. Instead of dispersing, protesters filled in the space in front of the line of riot-equipped cops and chanted defiantly: “Cops and Klan work hand in hand” and “Ain’t no power like the power of the people, ’cause the power of the people don’t stop!” No arrests were made at that time, though this reporter is aware of at least one arrest that took place earlier in the day.
Some protesters did manage to get through to Westlake, either by going straight there and skipping Denny Park, or through breaking up to slip behind police lines. Liberation spoke with anti-fascist protester Consuelo Vega-Bockelie who was at Westlake Park; she had gone straight there on public transit because she knew she would be late for the march.
Vega-Bockelie described a scene in which a small number of Patriot Prayer supporters rallied while protected with a barrier by police; at least three times as many counterprotesters were in the park and across the street from the park. Police presence there was very high; they had the streets blocked off and were controlling entrance to the mall. At the end of their rally, she said the supporters of Patriot Prayer were escorted from the scene by the police. At that point, anti-fascist youth ascended the stage and chanted “Charleena Lyles-Say her name” referring to the African American mother of four who was killed by Seattle police on June 18.