[The following is a report from our sister publication, The Stranger. Follow them for the latest in political news from Seattle and across the state.—eds]
Though some feared a large right-wing mob might attempt to disrupt lawmakers as they voted on new rules for the upcoming session at the Washington state Capitol on Monday, only about 20 protesters showed up to air their grievances at the heavily guarded fences that now surround the campus.
Cops ultimately only detained two people throughout the day; one woman who appeared to use her RV to block the road early in the morning, and a guy named Thomas Hughes, who crossed a yellow police line with his hands up at around 11:00 a.m.
Otherwise, protesters mostly milled about in the pouring rain and complained about their inability to access the legislative buildings, which have been closed to the public due to the rapid and global spread of a deadly respiratory virus.
Though the crowd ostensibly gathered to protest the Legislature's decision to hold a mostly remote session this year, a group of protesters who ducked under an awning to avoid the rain for a while told me they had never testified on a bill at the statehouse before. They said they came out to protest because it was their "Constitutional right" to enter the buildings.
Aside from a few anti-vaxxers, many protesters wore tactical gear and carried rifles, shotguns, and/or sidearms and knives. Some were a little more...dramatically attired than others. One person carried a sword he described as a gladius hispaniensis, which sells for four easy payments of $42.00 at the Franklin Mint. Another guy carried what looked like a stiletto or some kind of long dagger. The man who cops arrested wore a suit and a broad-brimmed hat.
Another protester who introduced himself as Philip Anderson said he lived in Texas but came to protest in Olympia "to fight for the country" and against "communism." As he lifted his shirt to show a scrape wound on the side of his stomach, he said he attended the riot at the Capitol in D.C. last week and ended up getting trampled. Anderson, who mostly travels around to protests now that he's lost his job at a family services center outside Dallas due to COVID, said "many" of his friends also attended the demonstration in Oly, including "Reggie and Andrew Duncomb 'Black Rebel,'" whose Twitter account has been suspended.
As the group randomly yelled at the cops and at one lefty counterprotester, lawmakers inside the legislative buildings carried out a more staid debate. In their arguments against adopting rules to hold the session remotely, Republicans cited the special magic of constituents meeting in-person to testify on legislation while Democrats calmly reminded everyone that we're all still in the middle of a pandemic.
Republican state Sen. Mike Padden, whose nose poked out of his mask and who claimed to be wearing Ronald Reagan socks, spoke out against limiting in-person activity in the legislative buildings. "Governor Inslee, tear down this wall," he said, equating the Berlin wall to the fence outside separating hundreds of cops from a few right-wing protesters. Rep. Jim Walsh had used the same line at a small rally the day before, so the phrase must be a talking point the GOP is passing around.
In response, Democratic Majority Leader state Sen. Andy Billig said, “I wish we could enjoy that special energy that comes from all of us being together...." but we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and we gotta listen to guidance from public health officials.
The Senate ultimately decided to hold a hybrid session, with a few politicians from both sides on the floor for debates. The House decided to hold the session more remotely, with only leadership running votes and debates from the floor.
It's unclear how long the Capitol campus will remain so heavily fortified. The Governor's office said they have "no timeline" for calling off upwards of 750 activated members of the National Guard and dozens of Washington State Patrol officers. A spokesperson for the Guard said "they'll remain as long as the State Patrol needs them." The State Patrol didn't respond to a request for comment.
With violent protests planned at state Capitols across the country next week, I imagine the phalanxes will remain in place at least through the inauguration.
As for local interest among the self-described patriots in continuing to protest outside the Capitol? At one point I noticed a young protester standing beside me soaking wet and shivering in the cold. He carried a rifle and wore a somewhat gauche chest rig with eight high-capacity magazines. I asked why he didn't just leave now and come back Wednesday or Thursday, when the weather would be nicer. He told me he had to work down in Vancouver, WA both of those days. Another protester nearby, who was also wearing tactical gear, said they had paid for parking until 2:00 p.m., so they'd stay at least until then.
So the prospect of long drives, increased parking costs, and the weather might ultimately dampen enthusiasm for right-wing protests at the Capitol. But we'll see.