On Sunday, June 10, members of an organization noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim group organized a rally at City Hall Plaza. Several hundred locals marched in protest, making noise to drown out the speeches on the inside of the rally and deliver a clear message: not here.
Fewer than 100 people, many sporting pro-Trump or alt-right paraphernalia, listened to speakers rail against Muslim practices. Over a barrier and past a wall of police in riot gear were hundreds of counter-protesters, some engaging with traditional signs and chants — “No hate! No fear! Muslims are welcome here!” — and another contingent going full cacerolazo, banging on pots and pans, blowing horns and drowning out the orators inside.
In terms of crowd size, it was no contest — it would take Sean-Spicerian-level gaslighting for the rally organizers to claim that support for their cause came anywhere close to that which showed up to drown them out.
As speakers inside pointed to incidents of female genital mutilation and cited a 2014 report from the Department of Justice highlighting the 23 to 27 honor killings that take place in the United States each year, not mentioning the 1,388 women murdered by a man they knew in 2014 according to a study by the Violence Policy Center, Ayan Abdulahi and Ubah Haaji looked on from the street.
The ACT for America group took its religious beliefs and twisted them — the Islam described by the mostly White, mostly male crowd in front of them had nothing to do with their own beliefs and practices, the women said.
“My religion teaches me to check every day on my neighbors to see if they’re hungry or sick,” Haaji said. “It doesn’t teach me to kill or hate them.”
Abdulahi said she was upset that the rally attendees, many of whom traveled there from different parts of Washington, would bring the event to her community.
“I’m feeling sad,” Abdulahi said. “At the same time, many people are supporting us.”
Things remained mostly peaceful, even as the rally itself came to a close around noon. Attendees exited out the north end of City Hall Plaza, exchanging heated words with rally attendees, but little else. It seemed it might stay quiet, and that the protesters could make their point and Seattle could show them the door.
But the day would end in punches, pepper spray and three arrests. The violence had little to do with the rally and more to do with a core group of right-wing organizers and enforcers — notably the Warriors for Freedom and the Proud Boys — that has made it their mission to antagonize liberals in deep-blue cities.
The rally, based on ideas some find ideologically odious and intellectually inconsistent, became a Trojan Horse for violent members of the alt-right, who hide behind dumbed-down versions of free speech and civil rights causes, while attempting to execute their wider strategy: gaining ground in the culture war between those who want to make America great again, and those who believe its best is yet to come.
Anthony Parish, the organizer for ACT for America in Seattle, began setting up two hours before the rally began. Two Oathkeepers, former law enforcement, military and search-and-rescue professionals, looked on while another man who would only go by Scott helped out.
Their rally would start and end without incident. The city granted a permit for City Hall Plaza, a small space with only a single street on which counter protesters could effectively organize. This was unlike Portland, where a pro-free-speech rally gathered on Sunday, June 4, and thousands of other protesters flooded the sidewalks around the gathering and the adjacent park. That action ended in several arrests.
On Saturday, a group led by Joey Gibson, who organized the Portland event and May Day rally in Seattle, left the main rally and approached the north end of the protest and later, after being doused with silly string and glitter, circled around to the south. Both times Seattle Police officers blocked them.
They walked west on Cherry Street and cut down Second Avenue eventually turned away by police because they’d neared a group of protesters who were marching back to Occidental Park, where the counter protest had begun. Eventually, they wandered through Pioneer Square — at which point a group of Proud Boys broke off to grab a beer, according to reports from local photojournalist Alex Garland — and circled back up onto Second Avenue, as several of their own members asked where they were going and if the final destination would involve food or shade.
Despite requests from the police, who attempted to leverage the respect the group purports to afford law enforcement, the group turned down Main Street, nearer to a bunch of protesters in Occidental Park. They knew that they’d located the other side as the police informed them that they shouldn’t walk further west down Main Street and one member noted that he could hear a cowbell being played by protesters.
“This protest needs more cowbell,” he joked, referencing a Saturday Night Live skit featuring Christopher Walken.
At that moment, the crowd near Occidental Park grew violent. Video taken by an Oregon-based reporter named Mike Bivins shows a Proud Boy getting glitter-bombed, throwing a punch and then getting taken down by the crowd around him.
The police unleashed pepper spray, hitting protesters and Proud Boys alike, and drove people back to Occidental and Jackson, demanding that they disperse or be subject to arrest or further use of chemical agents. The group led by Gibson left the area and walked north up the waterfront trailed by a dozen police on bicycles, ending their march at Red Robin.
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