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June 1

What Happened Here? The Events in Olympia on the Evening of May the 30th

On May 21st police officer Ryan Donald shot Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson, two young African American men accused of attempting to steal beer from a local supermarket.  One of them had apparently menaced him with a skateboard.  Ryan shot him.  They fled to nearby woods then reemerged and were both shot by the cop.  Chaplin ended up in critical condition in the hospital and Thompson in serious condition.

While the circumstances remain cloudy, it was abundantly clear that the lack of proportional use of force placed the shooting within the spectrum of systemic police violence that leaves hundreds of young black men dead- dead from police shootings at a rate 22 times higher than whites.  #BlackLivesMatter protests supported by white allies in our overwhelmingly Caucasian community started immediately.  The first night the protestors were attacked by drunken counter-protestors supporting the police. Disturbingly, the following night the counter-protestors were joined by Nazi skinheads and other openly racist supporters.

The sentiment among many in the radical community was, “We can’t tolerate Nazis in our town.” A rally was called for Percival Landing at 9:00pm on the evening of the 30th via a Facebook event.  An hour or so later the event disappeared.  The reason was that organizers had learned that the Nazis planned on attacking the event and were concerned that people who had ‘joined’ might be targeted.  It turned out the anti-Nazi protest was going forward.  A meeting was called for White and White passing allies to discuss possible responses with people of color (POC) and people from other targeted groups in the community who were organizing in response to the impending Nazi threat.

Organizers from the POC community expressed two distinct desires for help from the White activists.  First, there was concern that individuals in the targeted communities not involved with the rally would be at risk.  A plan had been worked out for safe areas at two local businesses and people were needed to do foot patrols to escort people who might be targeted, provide rides, and to keep an eye out for trouble.  Secondly, there was a group of people of color identifying with #BlackLivesMatter that desired to go to the landing and hold space in face of the Nazis.  They wanted bodies to step up help them hold the space.

Saturday the 30th was the kind of beautiful day we get in Washington in May when we are fortunate.  The temperature was in the mid-seventies at Percival Landing, which sits on the very south end of Puget Sound.  The sun was starting to set over the Olympic Mountains in the background behind the group of several dozen #BlackLivesMatters folks and supporters who had arrived by around seven.

Word on the street was that a car club that follows an Olympia band called Black Top Demon were supporting the Nazis. Their lead singer, Joe Ty, had been involved in supporting the Olympia PD at #BlackLivesMatter protests had been seen acting pretty cozy with the Nazis at protests.  Many known Nazi skins in the area were friends with Joe Ty on Facebook.  Members of the club were overheard talking about heading down to mess with the protest at nine.

Over time the crowd continued to grow until around 200 protesters were on the scene.  A few suspicious looking folks seemed to be scoping out the protesters.  A freelance reporter with a camera had set up across the street.  There was a fair size crew of anarchists kitted up in black and masked up or ready to mask up.  Most of them were from Olympia, but there were people from antifa in Portland and Seattle that had heeded the call for support against the Nazis.  It is worth noting that several of them, both the locals and out of town folks, were people of color, women, or transgender.   Several people on the landing expressed that they were happy to see this crew, when the imminent prospect of getting pounded by a bunch of Nazis with no police intercession seemed really likely.

Everybody seemed to expect that the Nazis and their supporters from the Demons were going to hit the protest right at nine.  The police were nowhere to be seen and it kind of felt like they were hanging the protesters out for the Nazis.  Nine rolled around and the fascists were nowhere to be seen.  Thirty or so minutes later the rally became a march down 4th Street headed for City Hall.  At this point a few Olympia PD SUVs and some bike cops had showed up and moved into crowd control mode.  Along the way to City Hall, a fairly large, long-haired blond, drunk man came out and seemed intent on picking a fight with anybody willing to oblige.  People at the scene reported that he punched a man in a wheelchair. Several marchers expressed the sentiment that there were people in the crowd who were on the other ‘side’ keeping tabs on the march.

The protest made its way to City Hall in fits and starts.  When it arrived everybody stopped and started chanting, “Black lives matter!”  This lasted for about five minutes and then the march changed directions and headed back towards Percival Landing.  As the march headed down towards Jefferson some marchers encountered a clean cut group of three or four guys from the South Sound Citizen’s Defense Group.  They had goatees and were wearing golf shirts and hats and kind of looked like somebody’s dads (which some of them said they were). At least one of these men was engaged in open carry, with a .45 strapped to his hip.  One of their wives or girlfriends was involved in a heated argument with some of the protesters.  The men seemed pretty relaxed.  They were insistent that they weren’t racists and that they were the last people who would be helping out the Nazis.  They also said that they were there to prevent property destruction, which seemed a little ominous given that they were packing guns and where the evening was likely to go.

Armed Militia at Protest

As the march crossed the railroad tracks onto Jefferson, the Nazis seemed to spontaneously appear out of the darkness.  One of them had an American flag.  There were about nine or ten of them.  They were kitted out in the usual flight jackets, Nazi patches, and shaved heads.  Most of them were masked up.  Their leader was obviously Jascha Manny (1pariah on Stormfront), who had sent out the original call out to the fascists.  He had a small strobing flashlight that was intended to disrupt anti-Nazi protesters’ ability to photograph him.  Several of the Nazis were doing some sort of Bob Dylan thing with a series of signs that couldn’t be made out in the dark.  They took up a chant of, “White lives matter!”

The crowd moved forward with the black block crew, some of the unmasked antifa types, and a bunch of the Black Lives Matters folks in the lead.  Somebody shouted, “Congratulations, you’ve got a shitty strobe light!”  The crowd took up a chant of, “You’re not welcome! You’re not welcome!”  About then all hell broke loose.  An older gentleman from the march with long hair and a beard moved in between Jascha Manny and the protesters and started to try to de-escalate things.  Before he could really get a word out Manny punched him in the mouth, then everything went crazy.

Pepper spray was fired in both directions.  Somebody let off a fire extinguisher at Manny.   He appeared to think it was pepper spray because it seemed to faze him for a moment.  The skinhead with the American flag hit a woman that was charging him with the flagstaff.  Another woman in black, who was masked up, struck a guy with a golf club she had attached a black flag to.  People were exchanging blows everywhere.  A brick flew over from the Nazi’s direction. Rocks and bottles were flying both ways and glass could be heard shattering as the bottles impacted.

About that instant, the Nazis broke and ran, with most the crowd from the protest in hot pursuit.  While all of this was going on the cops were cruising on both side of the melee in their SUVs.  It appeared they would surround the crowd, but instead they faded off to the east and west.  The Nazis made it to the end of Jefferson where they were parked, and piled into a white truck, some of them leaping into the back as the truck was already roaring away.  People were all around them smashing the windows out and bashing bodywork.  Someone yelled, “They are smashing the hell out of that truck,” and laughed. The truck screamed away to the east, the crowd shouting, “Black lives matter!” as the Nazis fled into the night.

The crowd started to move back towards 4th Avenue, probably worried the police were going to move in.  As it moved by the Fish Tale Brewpub the manager stepped out from the curb and grabbed a chair from somebody who had taken it from the sidewalk seating area and used it as a weapon, shouting- “Give me that.”  Some wit in the crowd yelled back, “You should be proud of your chair!  It did some good service upside some Nazi’s head!”

The anti-Nazi protestors marched back to Percival Landing with much jubilation.   Everyone in the march seemed pleased with the outcome.  The condemnation of things turning to violence that might be expected was notably absent.  A lot of people seemed to have a different threshold for violence when it came to Nazis.  This was certainly the case with many of the spectators who came out of the bar to ask what had gone down.  When told that the protesters had chased the Nazis out of town the typical reply was, “Right on!” or “Fuck yeah!”

When the anti-Nazi march reached the Landing the crowd picked up chants of, “Black Lives Matter!”  A young twenty-something African American man who had been seen step out of one of the bars and overheard expressing some rather skeptical remarks about what the protesters were all about as they marched on City Hall, stepped out from the curb, raised his arms, and shouted the crowd down, asking to speak.  When everyone fell silent he said in a loud, clear, voice, “I want to thank you all for showing up and standing up for something!”  Everyone burst into cheers and picked up the chant of, “Black lives matter!”  The young man raised his arms, shouted down the crowd again, and spoke out again, “I see a lot of white faces out here.”  He paused for just an instant and then started to chant, “All lives matter!”  The crowd hesitated for a second, some skeptical, but then picked up the chant.

It would have been perfect if things had ended right there, but that isn’t how things work in the real world.  The crowd started to get furtive and restless.  A truck trying to make its way through the crowd hit a bicycle and a scuffle broke out.  The crowd started to disperse and then reports began to filter in from the police scanner that three trucks with about thirty Nazis had been sighted on the west side of town  and were headed downtown- and that a SWAT team had been deployed to intercept them.  People tried to spread the word, but there was no pulling the crowd back together.  The Nazis apparently continued to prowl around well into the morning spreading a lot of fear, but no other violence was reported.

At the end of the night our community had come together and run the racists off.  Groups that often don’t get on well, like the black bloc and some of the less militant parts of the activist community, came together and accomplished something.

Is what happened going to provoke more violence from the Nazis?  It’s hard to say.  Will the way things played out open up rifts over politics in the radical community? One can’t help but hope not because we are going to need all the solidarity we can get to stay sharp and prepared to act decisively once again as a united community in case the Nazis do come back.

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