On March 4th, racists, nazis, alt-right trolls and trump supporters convened at Heritage Park in Olympia WA for the Spirit of america rally. Despite a lot of internal conflict on the Spirit for america facebook event page, they managed to get around 250 people to come out, most sporting american flags and a huge number of people open carrying. The counter-demo converged at the park at the same time as the trump rally, with about 150 people at its
height. A caution tape barrier was set up to keep the counter-demo away from the stage but was quickly broken through, leading to scuffles between demonstrators and cops which led to 4 arrests at the very beginning before many other counter protestors had arrived. The arrestees have been charged with assault and at the time of this writing, three are still in custody.
After the arrests, a long line of riot cops formed a line between the two groups, keeping the demonstrators from the stage. The trump supporters had a loud PA that we were unable to drown out with our chanting and shouts. The speeches ranged from right-wing anti-migrant fear mongering to transphobic rants punctuated by spurts of feverish “USA” chants. The trump supporters antagonized the counterprotest in many ways. They threatened people of color, trans people and women directly with bigoted slurs and alt-right rhetoric.
The police were also highly antagonistic to the counter protesters, and one cop was even heard chanting “white lives matter.” Heritage park is part of the State Capitol Campus and is under the jurisdiction of the Washington State Patrol, who do not often deal with disruptive demonstrations. (Although a few months ago, WSP did violently repress demonstrations over the closure of public bathrooms, also at Heritage Park.) This protest was an escalation in numbers of police, as they brought out not only dozens of WSP riot cops but called in OPD bike cops as back up. Demonstrators who had been following the Spirit of america facebook event page in the days leading up to the rally saw posts about four “young friends” who would be dressed in black and mingling with the counter-demo in order to report activity back to the trump side. Luckily, these four infiltrators were spotted almost immediately and promptly kicked out from the crowd. It has proven useful many times to keep an eye on our enemies’ internet presence, as they often talk about tactics such as infiltration openly on their facebooks and other social media.
The counter demo was composed of a wide variety of folks many of whom wore masks. There were many signs and banners including “Black Lives Matter” and a banner reading “A brewing storm of hatred upon our enemies” written in Yiddish. One new chant heard was, “Every nation, every race, punch a nazi in the face!”
After the trump rally wrapped up (ending with a “god bless america” singalong that we drowned out with airhorns), many of the pro-trump people left the park, leaving behind a still significant number of aggressive racists and alt-right who swarmed towards the counter-demo, until the two sides were facing off with just the line of riot cops in between. Not wanting to leaving anyone behind in such a hostile space, we decided that the counter-demo would take the streets and disperse once we had marched through town and were not in front of the alt-right any longer. The march took all lanes of the street and marched to city hall, where people dispersed without further conflict to our knowledge.
What happened at Heritage Park on Saturday felt like a terrain on which we could not win: a broad-daylight demo filled with riot cops and an armed alt-right, threatening us with their open-carry weapons. These confrontations are going to become increasingly unsuccessful and dangerous for us as trump brings together various factions of the far-right especially the militia and patriot movements. As attacks on people of color and other targeted groups increase, we must increase our capacity to meet each other and expand beyond our current social circles in order to respond to this growing threat. Many people on our side are responding by training and arming themselves. We think these initiatives are important, but lets remember that an armed clash between two opposing open-carry demos is not a goal to aim for. There are many more ways of arming ourselves besides just military-type weapons and rather than specialized training to prepare for an armed clash, community self-defense can and must take many forms and spread outside the sphere of expertise.