Documents Reveal Cops Chasing Absurd Antifa and BLM Tips
George Floyd’s killer cop is guilty, but we’re still learning about just how weird police got when protests exploded in his name.
The graffiti on a port-a-potty in a gravel pit was, in the opinion of one Washington state resident, a sign that anti-fascists might blow up a nearby dam. Another local was convinced that a young man reading signs was actually an “Antifa or BLM scout.” A third person warned, via an anonymous email tip, that her ex-husband was part of an anti-fascist group that was coming to burn down the town.
All these complaints were forwarded throughout police ranks in Washington, where officials urged vigilance against the leftist threat.
As racial justice protests flared across the country in summer 2020, so did conservative fears of leftist protesters. From Oregon to Virginia, social media lit up with rumors about anti-fascists (“antifa”) or Black Lives Matter participants, who were allegedly coming to terrorize small towns.
Anacortes, a scenic city of 17,000 in coastal Washington, was no exception. From June to August 2020, the city’s police department received repeated tips about supposed antifa threats, according to police documents obtained by the government transparency nonprofit Property of the People and shared with The Daily Beast. Even some of the most absurd claims found their way up to state-level law enforcement, those documents show.
Ryan Shapiro, executive director of Property of the People, reiterated that the complaints came amid a summer of rumors and innuendo about antifa and Black Lives Matter. After fresh fears circulated in some conservative channels and law enforcement warned about the potential for mass unrest in the wake of the verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder case in Minnesota, it’s safe to say that chatter has not subsided.
“Conservative and law enforcement panic about antifa and BLM hasn’t gone anywhere,” Shapiro told The Daily Beast. “These documents aren’t even a year old, and we’ve had an attempted coup in the interim. It’s not like tensions have cooled. We now have tens of millions of people collectively consumed by manufactured paranoia about social justice movements, who also believe the presidential election was stolen with the aid of antifa and BLM. We’re likely to see a new round of mass protests against police violence, and I expect the right-wing response will in some ways be even more ferocious than last year.”
The documents, obtained via Freedom of Information request, reveal the absurdity of some of last year’s complaints.
In mid-June, an Anacortes resident contacted the local Skagit County Sheriff’s Office via the neighborhood-based social network NextDoor. She and her neighbors often held tailgates where “we all fly the American Flag. We are very peaceful. We have signs like Support your Local Police, Support our Troops, Defend the Police, Proud to be an American, Home of the Free Because of the Brave etc,” she wrote.
But on a recent weekend, she continued, “there was a young man with very short bleached blond hair who walked around in the street right in front of us and read every one of our signs. Paticularly [sic] the Support your Local Police. He had a mean look on his face and looked inside my Jeep where the tail gate was up and he could see more of our signs and American Flags.
“Then he ran across the street and got in a car with someone else and drove off. I have never seen him before. I thought it was odd but one of our group is a retired school principal and very astute. He, with all confidence said that the young man was an Antifa or BLM scout. When he said that to me it immediately rang true and I was quite sure he was right.”
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She said she hoped “Antifa or BLM does not come to Anacortes to harass us or put people in danger. Is there any way you can check up on their plans?”
The Skagit County Sheriff forwarded the message to the Anacortes Police Department. The sheriff’s office told The Daily Beast they’d forwarded the message because the tipster lived in Anacortes.
Mid-June was a popular time for rumors about the left. The following day, the Anacortes Police Department received its own tip, this one anonymous, from someone who claimed that “my ex husband is in a group with antifa. He called me and said do not go anywhere. stay home on Sunday because they are coming to Anacortes to break up a group on Commmercial [sic] street on sunday. I love Anacortes. I left Seattle to live a better life here with my kids. And I do not want anacorte burned up and people hurt and cops hurt.”
Anacortes Police Chief John Small then forwarded both tips to sheriffs, chiefs, and detectives at five local law enforcement agencies, plus a commander and a sergeant with the Washington State Patrol.
“I received the below e-mail from Undersheriff Clark yesterday which was interesting,” Small wrote, adding, “Today I received the attached anonymous letter alluding to Antifa coming to Anacortes this Sunday to wreak their havoc... We will be increasing our staffing on Sunday, but in reality it’s still not many people. If we start to yell for help on the radio I didn’t want it to be a surprise.”
Contacted by The Daily Beast, Small said none of those supposed threats were ever substantiated, but that it wasn’t unusual for police to forward tips among law enforcement agencies.
“I can’t speak for all law enforcement in our state, but all the agencies in Skagit County are small agencies and we commonly share this type of information since we rely on each other for ‘mutual aid’ in response to a significant event,” Small told The Daily Beast.
Washington was not the only state to see law enforcement bombarded with antifa rumors online. In Coquille, Oregon, last summer, a sheriff helped fan antifa fears when he posted on Facebook that “3 buss [sic] loads of ANTIFA protestors are making their way from Douglas County headed for Coquille then to Coos Bay.” The fabled buses never appeared. And when a hoaxer publicized a fake antifa flag-burning event in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in July, police arrived at the scene that was overrun with far-right groups who had come to oppose the left.
The following month, another alleged antifa threat, even wilder than the others, found its way to the Skagit County Sheriff, documents show. In this case, it involved two overturned port-a-potties in a gravel pit near a boat launch in Concrete, Washington.
One of the port-a-potties had been spray painted with the acronym “ACAB,” short for “all cops are bastards.” The other was tagged with an A in a circle, an anarchist symbol. But where some observers might have seen common vandalism symbols, the tipster who photographed the port-a-potties saw something more ominous—maybe even part of a plot to blow up a dam.
“Looks like Antifa has been up to Lake Shannon,” the tipster wrote in an email that was forwarded to the Skagit County Sheriff. “That’s incredibly worrisome. The anarchy symbol, ‘ACAB’ (all cops are bastards)... that’s an Antifa signature. Too close to town, for sure... but really worrisome when you consider Antifa is now using explosives in cities, organizing with firearms, and... by being at the lake, they were right next to the dam. Just sayin’. Can'tbe [sic] too careful, you know? Not in these times.”
A sergeant ordered the area to be monitored, claiming that anti-fascists might have previously used the gravel pit as a “training area.”
“Please be aware that there have been some antifa type graffiti at the Lake Shannon boat launch and surrounding area,” the sergeant wrote. “Please monitor the area and be careful. A few years ago we had information that some of them were using the pit for training purposes.”
When reached for comment, a Skagit County Sheriff spokesperson told The Daily Beast the department did not have any information about incidents at the gravel pit.
Shapiro stressed that, while the complaints were far-fetched, they indicated a populace on edge about vague threats, and police departments receptive to those fears. And that has ominous implications as protesters once again take to the streets in large numbers—and police show signs of harsh tactics.
“When individuals and law enforcement have been whipped into such a paranoid frenzy that they’re primed to see ‘antifa’ or ‘BLM’ terrorist conspiracies literally in the toilet, the situation is a powder keg,” Shapiro said. “There’s a direct line from this sort of deliberately induced political hysteria to violent, repressive crackdowns on progressive dissent.”