On June 10, ACT for America held several Islamophobic “anti-Sharia” demonstrations in major cities throughout the nation. ACT for America is a recognized hate group dedicated to propagating Islamophobia. In Seattle, their rally was met with an overwhelming response organized by a broad coalition of community leaders and representatives from local organizations. Safety, maintaining positive messaging, and engaging community members in an educational way were the main goals set by the local Muslim community. Many members of the IWW Greater Seattle General Defense Committee took on the role of marshals for the event, ensuring the safety, cohesiveness, and communication for our event throughout the day.
Our job included facilitating the counter-protest march to and from City Hall Plaza, de-escalation, and maintaining a buffer between the groups to keep everyone safe. Two designated police liaisons arrived early and spoke with multiple SPD commanders in order to be transparent about our intentions and discuss how we could expect the police to react to various potential situations.
The liaisons informed SPD that the community march and rally were intended to be peaceful, and in order to minimize potential violence we wished to maintain a reasonable distance between the community rally and the anti-Muslim rally. The police had already constructed a barricade to separate the two groups and assured liaisons that their intention was to enforce spacing between them. SPD’s reputation for profiling protesters, using unnecessary force, and lacking accountability prompted a conversation with each commander in which they were reminded of the importance that their officers be aware of how their tone, posture, and wording have the potential to escalate situations unnecessarily.
When asked about maintaining space between protesters and police, unless there was an emergency, liaisons were told the police did not intend to interact or engage with protesters. SPD also agreed to refer any perceived potential risks within our group to a liaison or marshal so we could look into them and respond ourselves if necessary. SPD provided a concerning message in response, stating they were not worried about peaceful protesters, that they were concerned radical leftists might attempt to “hijack” our march to intentionally create a violent situation. They offered to remove people if we pointed them out as a threat to our safety, but apparently this didn’t apply to the right-wing thugs who continually attacked peaceful protesters throughout the day.
Last, but certainly not least, liaisons also asked about how we could expect police to respond if the members of the hate group rally wished to take to the streets and march in the name of spreading their vitriol. SPD made it very clear that they planned to protect any and all unpermitted marches that did not go onto I-5. The commander said that if they marched and we chose to, we would be allowed to follow them, but only at a reasonable distance which he determined to be at least one block behind or one block over. Unfortunately, the fascists were NOT held to the same standard by SPD.
While at City Hall Plaza, marshals escorted multiple groups of alt-righters, Proud Boys, Joey Gibson and his violent motorcycle club buddies through our crowd, helping them to get to their rally safely and without causing a scene. One particular group, mostly comprised of Proud Boys, crossed through our lines multiple times. We witnessed one of them unplug one of our speakers and violently push multiple people out of his way. During their last foray into our crowd, people moved to stop them from coming in, and were immediately hit in the face by two of the Proud Boys. When one of our marshals requested that the police keep them out, they were given the response from an officer, "If you aren't letting them march through your crowd, then we can't stop them from hitting you." The assailants were both pulled to safety by SPD and allowed to wander off. It's safe to say that if any group of counter protesters would have tried to shoulder their way through the fascist rally, SPD would never respond in such a manner. In fact, just a week before, Portland Police Bureau and DHS officers cooperated with far-right militia members in arresting peaceful anti-fascists for merely being in the vicinity of their rally space. It is clear that they have no actual interest in free speech or peaceful engagement.
At around 12-12:30, we began assembling to safely escort our community members from MAPS and CAIR who were running an "Ask a Muslim" booth at the rally to our dispersal point at Occidental Square, where we had a city permit to demonstrate for the day. As our march departed, SPD allowed a group of around 20 Proud Boys, Joey Gibson of Patriot Prayer, and "Tiny", a violent biker, to stalk our march. They attempted to drive their line into the side of our procession, but were turned away by the line of SPD bikes that flanked us. This group then went to the Central Saloon and began drinking.
We arrived at Occidental Square and had a few more speakers before we began dispersing. While this was happening, a group of about 10 of the fascists attempted to come into the park. During this situation, another group led by the same assaultive Proud Boys from earlier came from the other direction, escorted by SPD officers. They went straight into the park and began attacking people. SPD then proceeded to pepper spray and throw their bikes at the counter-protesters in front of them. During this altercation, three people were violently arrested while the same individuals who had already assaulted people earlier in front of SPD were allowed, again, to go free.
SPD needs to be held accountable. The individuals who assaulted our people at the beautiful, rowdy, yet very peaceful protest need to be held accountable. Please contact your City Councilors, Mayor Ed Murray, and Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole demanding accountability for allowing these assaults to happen. Help get the story of what actually happened on this day out to all available media outlets. We need to support the folks who were hurt by violent thugs from out of town, and arrested by the police while they let the assailants go free.
We did everything we could to send a clear and powerful message of solidarity with our Muslim neighbors. We also did not miss a chance to work together towards the common goal of delivering that message, and made some incredibly important community connections in the process. The intersectionality of our struggles will define our ability to resist the threats we face, and deny fascism, bigotry, and oppression a platform. The more we act, the more we learn, and the stronger we become.