The far-right group Patriot Prayer, embraced by Proud Boys and a Washington III% militia group, held a noisy, mostly violence-free “Liberty or Death” rally in Seattle over the weekend.
The rally on Saturday on the Seattle City Hall plaza, and similar gatherings in Boston, Austin, Spokane and elsewhere, were billed as pro-gun, pro-free speech events.
But they basically ended up being loud shouting matches with counter-protesters while squads of police officers worked overtime to keep the two sides apart.
The rally organizers largely openly support President Trump and his hard-line anti-immigration policies, while counter-protesters from an assortment of groups expressed anti-Trump sentiment, even calling for his impeachment.
“This nightmare must end: Trump/Pence Must Go!” one large sign at the Seattle rally said.
All the rallies were largely peaceful, but likely will affect city budgets for police overtime.
The Seattle rally, organized by Washington State III% leader Matt Marshall, looked like a downsized rerun of a far-right gathering held two weeks earlier in Portland, just across the Columbia River from Washington state.
But there was a significant difference: Firearms, knives and even flagpoles were prohibited at the Portland rally, while in Seattle they were plentiful.
In Seattle, militia group members were armed with handguns and assault-style semi-automatic rifles — standing alongside riot-equipped Seattle police officers.
Across the street, some counter-protesters, some wearing black masks, also were armed with firearms.
Washington state legally allows everyone except felons to openly carry firearms.
The Seattle rally initially was organized to oppose a Washington state gun-control initiative, but that issue became moot when a state judge earlier in the week declared the proposed legislation invalid.
The Seattle crowd cheered that announcement, with some fist-bumps into the air and flag-waving under sunny and warm skies.
The City Hall plaza on Seattle’s busy Fourth Avenue was lined with portable, metal crowd-control fences and squads of billy club-armed police officers, watching both sides, augmented by roving cops on bikes.
The counter-protesters included members of Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party, the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club and self-described anarchists and anti-fascists.
“If the far-right is going to show up with weapons, we show up with weapons,” said a man identifying himself as Duke Aaron, who handed out John Brown Gun Club flyers.
“It gives people on the left freedom to speak their minds without intimidation,” said Aaron, who was armed himself with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle and a 9 mm Glock handgun.
At the Patriot Prayer/Proud Boys rally, organizers said “security protection” was being provided by armed members of the militia-style Washington III% group, headed by Matt Marshall. The pairing seemed to show evidence of strong, increasing ties between Patriot Prayer, its Proud Boys associates and the militia group.
Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the one of the nation’s largest anti-government groups, the Oath Keepers, was billed as the featured speaker for the Seattle rally, but he cancelled at the last minute, claiming he was ill.
Several of his Oath Keeper supporters were brought to the downtown rally site in a 2 1/2-ton former U.S. Army open-air transport truck, spewing its diesel smoke into the sky as the “Liberty or Death” demonstrators chanted “USA! USA!”
The counter-demonstrators used bullhorns to play piercing siren noise, augmenting that with a trombone, cymbals, cowbells and chants of “Nazis Go Home.”
One counter-protester held a homemade sign that read: “Remember Heather Heyer,” who was killed by an extremist at last summer’s violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Across the state of Washington at another rally on Saturday, ultra-conservative state representative Matt Shea told a gun-rights gathering at a city park that journalists — including those at the event — are “dirty, godless, hateful people,” The Spokesman-Review reported.
Those attending the Spokane rally included Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan, Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell and an aide to Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, the newspaper reported.
Earlier in the day, at Boston’s City Hall, only about 30 “right-wing activists” showed up for a “free speech rally” on Saturday, facing an estimated 300 counter-demonstrators, the Boston Globe reported.
In Austin, Texas, a 3 1/2-hour free speech rally at the state’s capitol also saw “insults and threats” hurled between opposing sides, leading police to detain several people, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
It appears the Seattle rally drew the biggest crowds on both sides.
With Rhodes and his Oath Keepers bandwagon a no-show in Seattle, one-time aspiring U.S. Senate candidate Joey Gibson became the featured speaker, telling the crowd Saturday that such “rallies are the gateway drug into politics.”
He encouraged those listening to attempt to weave their Libertarian, ultra-conservative, constitutionalist and Christian views into mainstream politics by running for public office. Two other speakers — Jered Gavin Bonneau and Joseph Brumbles — are Republican candidates for the U.S. House representing Washington.
In his speech, Bonneau told the audience they needed to “take back control and crush the opposition.” “They want to fight?” he continued, “Well let’s fight! But let us make sure that when we fight, we bring down hell upon them and wipe them from existence.”
Gibson was more measured and told the crowd they should “fight fascism with solidarity.” Then, with a police escort, he led 150-200 of those gathered on a short march around the city hall building before returning to the plaza.
Squads of Seattle police on bicycles provided a moving screen of protection, and those teams later used their nose-to-nose bikes to establish temporary barricades to keep the two sides apart.
There were three misdemeanor arrests, according to the Seattle Police Department, whose officers were augmented by others from the nearby communities of Bellevue and Redmond, Washington.
In a follow-up Facebook video post, Gibson, who lives in Vancouver, Washington, near Portland, claimed that many “first-time” rally-goers showed up for the Seattle City Hall event.
At one point, a man wearing a pro-Trump shirt snapped photos of his two young sons on the plaza.
“It’s so much fun, you build family,” said Gibson, calling himself a “libertarian and conservative constitutionalist.”
“The key is to get antifa out of the way … and get people to understand that we’re not enemies,” Gibson said.
“Really, at the end of the day, the enemy is at the top. Okay? It’s the elitists, it’s the government. The true fascists are the people who are in power,” said Gibson, offering up a seeming contradiction to his followers who largely idolize Trump.
While Gibson has been the moving force behind several rallies in the Pacific Northwest — some of them violent — they haven’t provided the hype he needed to make the cut for the U.S. Senate race in Washington State.
He got only 2.3 percent of the vote, slightly more than 24,000 votes, in the state’s primary election earlier this month.
But that limp showing doesn’t appear to have dampened Gibson’s desire for attention in far-right circles, and he now may be hoping for a larger presence on the national stage.
He’s scheduled to be a “featured speaker” on September 29 at an “open carry” pro-gun rally at Kent State University in Ohio, event organizer Kaitlin Bennett says in a new Facebook posting. The rally’s backers include “Liberty Hangout, Infowars and Triggered Millennials.”