by Renee Raketty
Conspiracy theorists, hate groups, and members of the conservative media have all descended on the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), formerly known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). The six-block area claimed by Black Lives Matter protesters more than a week ago was the scene of violent clashes between protesters and Seattle Police. The SPD subsequently abandoned its East Precinct in the wake of the encounters. While Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan described the area as a “block party atmosphere” bordering on a “summer of love,” during an interview with CNN, many argue that there is a darker side to the CHOP that is not apparent to the public.
Jack Posobiec, an American alt-right political activist famous for spreading conspiracy theories and posting highly edited content, claims to have spent three days and nights in the CHOP. He described a lawless area run by a “tinpot warlord,” adding that he has “plenty of sources” and to have “built out” a network of people local to Seattle.
“It is the post-modern Babylon& you got to shut it down folks, you have to shut it down,” he said. “This place is a disgrace. An absolute disgrace&there is no rule of law here whatsoever.”
Posobiec referenced drug use and the use of weapons by the John Brown Gun Club and Antifa, which he says is “all over the place” in the CHOP. Posobiec pointed to a favorite target of those on the right, local rapper and activist Raz Simone, as a source of the violence.
“The media is completely lying to you when they say there is no armed security. There is armed security,” added Posobiec. “There is no autonomy. The ‘de-escalation’ is getting guns pointed at you…or having members of the crew run over and beat you down.
“Let’s be clear,” stressed Posobiec. “This is still the United States of America. There are still laws here and all of this is being documented.”
State Senator Jamie Pedersen (D-43rd), who lives just seven blocks from the CHOP and attends Central Lutheran Church, which borders the area, painted a different picture for Seattle Gay News. He stated that he walked through the CHOP on Monday to pick up bagels for his family without incident. He added that he believes much of the concern is based on misinformation, and took to Facebook to address the concerns of friends and legislative colleagues.
“In the last few days, I have had calls from friends around the country and legislative colleagues worried about my family’s safety, because of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” he wrote on Sunday. “When I return those calls, I like to walk a few blocks down to the CHOP and describe what I see: a lot of passionate people gathered to try to figure out how to make the world better… One thing I am sure of: my neighborhood is a lot safer since the police stopped trying to dominate peaceful protestors.”
However, unlike Posobiec, some visiting the CHOP come to provoke and disrupt the work going on there. On Monday, this writer found herself standing next to an older man wearing a hat that read “Make America Great Again,” the popular campaign slogan of President Donald Trump, and carrying an American flag. The man’s intent seemed obvious: to elicit a reaction from the crowd. He got what he was looking for as a woman stepped forward and attempted to take his flag. A woman in the crowd said, “He came here looking for this. Let him have it.” However, CHOP security and myself helped the man to depart the area safely. Later that day, a man who called himself Max showed up wrapped in an American flag with an African-American street preacher and uniformed Proud Boys by his side. The Proud Boys have been identified as a “designated hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Max, who described himself as an Air Force veteran of seven years, a Seattle resident and martial arts instructor at a Bellevue gym, had first appeared in the CHOP on Saturday waving an American flag. He was accompanied by self-identified members of the Three Percenters, a far-right paramilitary militia group, and Katie Daviscourt, a self-described “freedom fighter” and conservative citizen reporter. However, he denied any association with these groups.
During an interview on the conservative podcast “Republic Keeper,” Max explained that his intent was to gather support for his new organization, Seattle Police Council: “After researching Antifa& that is what led me to brainstorm and come up with my own group of unified minds, which seems to be what we all have in common when you take away the Proud Boy and you take away the ‘Republican’ or ‘Conservative.’ As humans we all agree to these liberties, right?” he said. “I agree things need to be fixed on the blue side, within the police force. That doesn’t mean be racist against the police now. That is what I feel is happening and that is what I am working on preventing – even if that means we have to create something new that stands between the people and local or federal government, that polices the police.”
During his interview Max discussed how he met Katie Daviscourt: “I definitely did not know Katie prior… I just stumbled across her profile as someone who was very active in the community… she’s engaged,” he said. “She is definitely not biased. She’s open-minded. That brought me to message her on Twitter as someone who can contribute.”
Daviscourt has been critical of the CHOP on social media. On Twitter, she has called on her supporters to “LIBERATE CHAZ” and said that it is time for “Patriots to come out and defend our country from Antifa terrorists.” In an Instagram video filmed on the state Capitol grounds during a protest of the Governor’s stay-at-home order, she introduces members of the Proud Boys and Three Percenters to her followers. “Love it,” she says after a member of the Three Percenters speaks.
Daviscourt is also the 2020 campaign manager for State Representative Robert Sutherland (R-39th). In one Facebook post on June 9th, Sutherland described the role of a militia under the U.S. Constitution and asked, “Is the armed and violent takeover of sections of Seattle and their subsequent rejection of the USA an ‘insurrection’?” In another post on his campaign website on June 10th, he is pictured with an assault-style rifle along with two other individuals holding guns. Sutherland stated that “…with other US cities suffering violent attacks from protesters” he joined other Snohomish citizens to “…defend our little town…from destruction.”
One member of the Three Percenters who joined Daviscourt and Max on Saturday is a popular creator on the video-sharing social network TikTok. He was also seen later that day with members of his group who were armed with assault rifles and handguns near Central Lutheran Church. Under the moniker “BeardedTattedSniper54,” the member has 21,600 followers and 107 videos on his main channel. The channel profile states that he is a veterinary technician and combat veteran. His TikTok videos range from complaints about censorship on the platform to duets with others; videos with animals; and profiles of his vehicles, a BMW car and a Harley Davidson motorcycle. BeardedTattedSniper54 noted that he had a second channel planned that was going to be “offensive as fuck.”
A deep dive into TikTok reveals an app full of conspiracy theories, hate group members, and mentions of Seattle’s CHOP. Another user, IAmTheSaint, who claims to live in the Seattle area, said that he was fired three times in the last six months due to members of Antifa doxing him. The user was seen at the CHOP on Monday. Many of his videos show Proud Boys engaged in social activities; mocking Antifa, the John Brown Gun Club, and the CHOP. Comments on his TikTok’s include alarming language about bombing the CHOP and one that simply stated, “Kill the population of chaz.”
It was not immediately known if this individual took part in the brutal theft and beating of a CHOP protester on Monday. A video of the beating has been uploaded to Twitter. An interview with the victim has also been posted. The victim admits that he had been following and filming the Proud Boys on his cell phone as they left the CHOP. He stated that he took pictures of a white male and female who were driving a car with no plates and he continued to follow the other members of the Proud Boys further north.
“Some of them stopped at a bus stop and…more kept walking. They had a white minivan, like a Ford Windstar, parked. It had its plates removed too,” the victim recounted. “The back seats were out and there was a lot of stuff in the back. When I started getting closer, that is when they got aggressive. Up until that point I could just follow a half block away.
“I never struck a blow even after they started hitting me. There was the guy in the Mexican poncho. He struck first. There was the guy with the mustache and the gun in his holster. He was striking me. There were a couple people in the car. Some may have gotten out.
“The guy with the Proud Boys jacket and with his face exposed; he pulled a police baton out on me, which may or may not have been the cause of this (pointing to a welt forming on his forehead). It might have been a fist, I’m not sure. Their [modus operandi] was to knock me around a bit, get my phone – steal the phone – so I couldn’t get any footage.”
A spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department was unable to locate a police report by press time. However, he added that the SPD had seen the videos and urged anyone with more information to come forward and report it to the police.
It is not known what has caused the rhetoric surrounding the CHOP to escalate and result in violence, but some point to the president. Trump has continued to call for action against the CHOP and its inhabitants. In a tweet to Governor Jay Inslee and Mayor Durkan, he wrote: “Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped [sic] IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!” Trump followed that up with another tweet 38 minutes later in which he added that “Domestic Terrorists have taken over Seattle.”
Trump spent over four minutes of his remarks on Monday talking about the CHOP with White House reporters. “These people have taken over a vast part, a major part, a very good part of a place called Seattle,” he said. “These are violent people that are dealing violently and I think that what I’d like to see before we do something, I’d like to see the press get in there and cover it.
“The problem with what happened in Seattle is it spreads and all of the sudden they’ll say, ‘Let’s do some other city. And let’s do another one.’ And we’re not going to let it happen.”
Posobiec, who is based in Washington D.C. and flew to Seattle to surveil the CHOP, boasted about his White House connections during a Periscope broadcast on Monday from Capitol Hill. “The White House has known we have been there the entire time, just so you know,” he explained. “We are making sure the White House gets all this information.”
Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins asserted that she is deeply heartened by the work she sees going on as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. “So many more people in our community are lifting up their head and starting to understand; starting to do good work in this area,” she told the SGN by phone. “It is being led – as it should be – by Black people who are giving us a gift by telling us their stories. It is really time for us to not only hear them but then to follow their lead in terms of doing things to break down systemic racism.”
Due to COVID-19, she has not had a chance to visit CHOP but warns the president to stay out of her state. “We live in this Washington, he lives in the other Washington and he should stay there,” she said. “We are here and I feel good about what this Washington is going to do moving forward.”
The article originally appeared in the SGN