After a week of lusting for conflict in a six-block activist zone in Seattle, far-right figures went and made their own trouble.
Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone—or CHAZ, although some newer stylings refer to it as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP—is a small protest area that emerged last week, after police vacated a nearby precinct and city leaders agreed to leave the streets open for Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Almost immediately, figures on the right looked for evidence that the loosely organized protest area was a den of violence and criminality, with President Donald Trump tweeting threats to send in law enforcement and Fox News editing a picture of a gunman into otherwise-nonthreatening images from the area.
Then, on Monday, people associated with far-right groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer entered the CHAZ, beating at least one man on camera nearby.
Footage from The Daily Caller on Monday night shows a group of men in Proud Boys gear—jackets with the group’s name, and the group’s trademark polo shirts—pushing and punching a man and smashing his phone before piling into a minivan with the license plates removed and driving away. The Proud Boys are a far-right ultranationalist group linked with overt white supremacists that has been implicated in violent brawls across the country, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the organization as a hate group.
The unnamed victim told documentarian Rod Webber that he’d been photographing a group of men in the Zone when its members attacked him slightly outside the CHAZ. “Their MO was to knock me around a bit, get my phone, steal the phone,” the man told Webber, adding that one of the men attacked him with a baton. The Daily Caller videographer who filmed the initial beating tweeted that the attackers were armed. Seattle Police did not immediately return a request for comment.
Seeking brawls with the left is standard practice for Proud Boys. The group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, described “fourth degree” membership in the group as consisting of “a major fight for the cause. You get beat up, kick the crap out of an antifa.” (McInnes, who said he was leaving the group last year, later appeared to qualify the statement, saying he “obviously doesn’t mean you go to someone’s house or even pick a fight with one at a rally. Fourth degree is a consolation prize for being thrust into a shitty situation and surviving.” He disputes the “hate group” label.)
Multiple police officers have previously been accused of being Proud Boys, making their appearance all the more glaring in the explicitly anti-police CHAZ.
Some Proud Boys in the Pacific Northwest, and members of the sometimes-overlapping Patriot Prayer group, routinely seek out fights. One of the men filmed in the area Monday appeared to be Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, who is affiliated with both groups and who is currently on a two-year probation for his role in a 2018 assault, during which he attacked a Portland, Oregon, man who accused Toese and a fellow Proud Boy of “yelling, ‘Support Trump, build the wall,’” at strangers from a truck. When the man shouted back, Toese punched him in the face. “They were calling me a faggot and slinging epithets at me,” the man told the Guardian. Previously, Toese was accused of—but not charged for—the alleged beating of a Black teenager at a mall. The minor had allegedly objected to a Confederate flag Toese and his acquaintances were flying from a truck.
The terms of Toese’s probation prohibit him from attending any rallies in the Portland area, though not in Seattle. He could not immediately be reached for comment. In an email, Joey Gibson, the leader of Patriot Prayer, said the beating amounted to “self defense” because the victim had followed the group.
Recently, Toese uploaded a video that appeared to threaten violence against anti-fascists. “If y’all don’t stop, the time to play patriot vs. antifa is around the corner,” he said, adding that, “If we can’t talk sense to you, we’re gonna smack it in.”
Some anti-fascists involved with the CHAZ would likely know that history, and recognize the Proud Boys shirts and jackets men wore as they entered the area on Monday. (Video shows opponents shouting at some Proud Boys by name, or chanting “fuck Proud Boys.”) But decontextualized video clips from Monday, circulated on right-wing Twitter accounts, portrayed the Proud Boys as peaceful “Trump supporters.”
“Watch what happens when Trump supporters with American flags walk into the CHAZ!” Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk tweeted alongside a video of people yelling at the Proud Boys. “Is this the tolerant, peaceful, ‘summer of love’ the Seattle Mayor told America it was?”
Right-wing movements have been cheering the potential for fights in the CHAZ. Last week, a number of accounts associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory promoted a hoax about Hell’s Angels bikers coming to fight. A Hell’s Angels leader appeared to debunk the rumor, although more explicitly far-right groups like “Super Happy Fun America,” an extremist-linked organization behind Boston’s disastrous “Straight Pride” parade, announced its own plans to move on the CHAZ.