On February 10, the notorious hate group Patriot Prayer was invited by the College Republicans to the the University of Washington in Seattle. They were joined by other hate groups such as the Proud Boys and Cascade Legion. An estimated 500 counter protesters united against the right-wing and marched into UW’s Red Square (named for its red bricks) to drown out the fascists and to show that fascism will not be tolerated on their campus.
In January 2017, during a speaking engagement featuring so-called “alt-right” bigot Milo Yiannopoulus that was sponsored by the Campus Republicans and attended by a diverse assortment of alt-right bigots, an anti-fascist demonstrator was shot by a reactionary while serving as a volunteer medic. The Patriot Prayer “Free Speech” rally on Feb. 10 took place in the very same location as that shooting.
A few days before the rally, Ana Maria Cauci, President of UW, sent out an email full of platitudes about “civil discourse” and “challenging” topics. In the interest of “safety,” she called for other events in the area on Feb. 10 to be cancelled or rescheduled, leading to the cancellation of a Black History Month event on campus. That’s correct: A Black History Month event had to be cancelled for fear that participants would be attacked by white supremacists demonstrating on campus. Yet the administration literally spared no expense to make sure the fascists would be able to hold their rally in safety.
The counter-protest included activists from a broad range of left organizations including Socialist Alternative, Revolutionary Communist Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Industrial Workers of the World, International Socialist Organization, Freedom Socialist Party, Radical Women, Seattle Clinic Defense, Young Democratic Socialists at UW, Anti-Capitalists of UW, CAIR at UW, Huskies for Food Justice, Huskies for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, Evans School Partnership for Community and Diversity, Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Solidarity Committee, Social Equity Educators, Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights at UW, United Students Against Sweatshops at UW, Veterans For Peace #92 and others. Ultimately, the fascists retreated into the barricaded corner that the police had provided for their protection. Chants such as “No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!” and “Tax the rich, feed the poor, kick these Nazis out the door!” drowned out the fascists to great effect.
The so-called “Freedom Rally” was hosted by UW College Republicans and featured the group “Patriot Prayer” led by Joey Gibson. Patriot Prayer is a right wing group based in Vancouver, Washington which, in spite of Gibson’s claims of anti-racism, consistently attract white supremacists and extreme right-wingers with their xenophobic and inflammatory rhetoric. They have gone out of their way to seek protection from other hate groups like the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers. At least one person attending on the fascist side, James Allsup, formerly the head of College Republicans at Washington State University in Pullman Wa. is known to have taken part in the events in Charlottesville, where anti-fascist Heather Heyer was martyred by a right-winger. Patriot Prayer has organized other Seattle events recently, including an anti-Muslim rally in June 2o17, counter-protesting the 2018 Seattle Women’s March and another “Freedom Rally” in August of 2017, only a day after Heyer’s killing and the brutal beating of DeAndre Harris in Charlottesville. Of course, on all these occasions these fascists were vastly outnumbered by anti-fascist activists as they were on on Feb. 10.
Seattle and University police were out in force as well, protecting the fascists with riot gear and steel barricades. Police had cordoned off two areas with barricades: one raised up area on the north end of the plaza and one on the south, lower end, with a “no man’s zone” in between which included the stairs connecting the two areas. Riot-equipped cops stood in this central area, facing out towards the anti-fascists. According to reporters Nathalie Graham and Steven Hsieh of local newspaper The Stranger, police strictly monitored the entrance TO the racist rally, only allowing in the people that the sponsors approved. However, on several occasions, cops allowed fascists to walk freely into the crowd of counter-protesters in an attempt to instigate violence. Because of this, at least five arrests were made (only one of whom was a right-wing instigator). The riot police used pepper spray, bikes, and wooden truncheons to push back protesters when confrontations began. The crowd chanted “The cops and the klan work hand in hand!” several times to highlight this cooperation between white supremacists and the Seattle Police Department.
PSL members, in collaboration with student members of Socialist Alternative, played an important role in helping to rally the flagging crowd at a moment when a significant number of demonstrators had moved to the the east side of the plaza in front of the Suzallo Library, away from the rally, circling the police as they arrested a demonstrator. By seizing the initiative at that point, PSL cadre refocused the crowd and enabled all to return to the main objective of protesting and drowning out the fascist gathering. Soon after this, the so-called “Freedom Rally” dwindled and left the scene.
Saturday’s protest shows how necessary it is for the people to unite against fascist and white supremacist groups. The “Freedom Rally” would not have left the area if it weren’t for the masses standing up and fighting back. It’s not good enough to stand in the middle and condemn both sides, because as we’ve seen in Charlottesville, Seattle, and everywhere else, it is the fascists who pose the threat to all workers and oppressed people, not the anti-fascists.