reports from Seattle on a protest at the University of Washington against right-winger Milo Yiannopoulos that led to the shooting of an anti-racist activist.
THE POTENTIALLY deadly threat of the far right was thrown into sharp focus last week when an anti-racist protester was shot at a January 20 event at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle that featured “alt-right” figure and Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos.
Yiannopoulos–who has been permanently banned by Twitter for his bigoted attacks and whipping up of online lynch mobs–has made a point of touring college campuses in an effort to spread his hate.
At UW, demonstrators, including “Antifas”–anti-fascist protesters who sometimes adopt Black Bloc-style tactics, including covering their faces with bandanas–gathered against Yiannopolis in the early evening, following the end of a student occupation of Odegaard Library, which hundreds had participated in earlier in the day to protest Trump’s inauguration.
Most of the protesters who occupied campus earlier in the day made their way to another anti-inauguration event off campus, with a minority staying behind to protest Yiannopoulos.
Beginning in the afternoon, as Yiannopoulos supporters began to line up for his event, police put up metal blockades to narrow the access to Kane Hall, where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak.
As the sun began to set, a group of roughly 60 Antifas had gathered, along with other left-wing demonstrators, while the line of those waiting to hear Yiannopoulos speak had grown to more than 100 people. Police armed with batons stood shoulder-to-shoulder with menacing authority along the choke-point.
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INITIALLY, THERE was no chanting or confrontation, but the air was heavy with tension. Just before 5 p.m., Antifa protesters raised flags and began chanting “Ah, anti, anti-fasciste!”
The group marched in a half-circle around the line in front of Kane Hall before wedging itself between the police blockade and the line of Yiannopoulos supporters, effectively cutting off access to the venue. Those who could not fit in the wedge pooled to the east, and began mocking and heckling pro-Yiannopoulos supporters.
Also in the area were several dozen neutral onlookers and around the same number of more moderate anti-Yiannopoulos protesters. While many of them held signs expressing disagreement with Yiannopoulos, they largely stayed silent during the protest, while the Antifas raised a variety of left-wing chants. The Yiannopoulos crowd, meanwhile, attempted to raise the occasional chant of “USA, USA!”
Those on the front line of the Antifa section were sometimes engaged in physical confrontations with the more agitated and provocative members of Yiannopoulos supporters. There were several instances where individuals exchanged blows.
Tensions escalated through the evening, with a Yiannopoulos supporter firing pepper spray indiscriminately into the Antifa crowd at least twice. Some belligerent right-wingers were marked with blue paint by Antifa protesters.
For the duration of the evening, the majority of the crowd outside of Kane Hall was effectively held back from entering the building for Yiannopoulos’ scheduled talk, although a portion managed to make it into the building through access from a parking garage, which police had prevented protesters from occupying.
Just before 9 p.m., a loud crack rang out, and a large portion of the crowd stampeded back. Word spread that someone had been shot–it turned out that an Antifa activist had been shot by a Yiannopoulos supporter, reportedly after intervening in a conflict between the assailant and another person.
The injured anti-racist activist is a member of Industrial Workers of the World. Initially, he was in intensive care in serious condition, but his condition has reportedly improved since. His lawyer has asked that the media refrain from publishing his name out of fear of right-wing retaliation, and says the victim does not want charges filed against the man who shot him, but wants to engage in “dialogue and a restorative justice process” with his attacker.
According to reports, the shooter–who turned himself into police, but was released without charges “pending further investigation”–claims that he acted in “self-defense.”
But if any member of the Yiannopoulos crowd had wanted to walk away from any confrontation with Antifa protesters, they would not have found it difficult. Each time that fights were broken up between Antifas and Yiannopoulos supporters earlier in the evening, both parties were always able to move away from each other–even when it was a reactionary encroaching into Antifa “territory.”
As the Trump presidency continues to embolden the right wing, our side will need to stand up to such hate wherever it raises its head–and strategize and struggle collectively to determine how we can build movements capable of confronting and opposing them.
Donate to a fund established to help the shooting victim with medical expenses.