No white supremacists or burning crosses showed up on Capitol Hill last night, contrary to information posted on racist website Stormfront and widely circulated on social media last month. But, apparently believing the white power threat to be credible, hundreds of antifascists turned up and marched on streets surrounding Cal Anderson Park.
We had tried over the last couple of weeks to figure out whether there was anything real to the rumor of a December 6 white supremacist rally, but had no success. As mentioned, that didn't stop antifascists—some of whom had traveled from Portland—from gathering in Cal Anderson on a Sunday night in case white supremacists did make an appearance. At peak attendance, my estimate is that roughly 400 to 500 protesters gathered in Capitol Hill.
One person going by the name of "Tony Gonzo" on Twitter and Facebook claimed the original rally information was a white power hoax. Gonzo also faked an identity as an antifascist supporter, according to the Rose City Antifa, and in a Facebook post made ambiguous threats to people who marched last night.
Regarding the vandalism "Tony Gonzo" brought up, KIRO 7 reporter Graham Johnson used Periscope to show that windows of a TV news van had been smashed during the antifascist rally. He broadcast footage of a van that had been tagged with the words, "Fuck the news" and "anti-semitic." Capitol Hill Seattle Blog also wrote that they had received reports of tags on the Seattle Central campus as well as a Metro Rt 49 bus.
The Seattle Police Department has not yet returned questions about the reported vandalism, and two SPD police officers I spoke to last night said they hadn't heard of any white supremacists making an appearance elsewhere in the city.
So what did we get out of this exercise?
The antifascist protesters Ansel Herz and I spoke to last night felt that the white power rally wasn't a hoax—though we still don't know if they actually held a rally, and if so where. The antifascists also noted that white supremacists often retreat from plans after protesters organize a significant response. There's no way to confirm that theory at the moment. The other possibility is that hundreds of people from Seattle and Portland really were pranked by white power types who gained publicity for their cause without actually having to show up anywhere with a burning cross. (Another mystery we're left with after Sunday's events: Does breaking the windows of a media van comport with the antifascists' vision of antifascism?)
All in all: another lesson to file away for a future college course on social media in the early 21st century.
UPDATE: Despite the white supremacists’ failure to show up on Capitol Hill, Dave Neiwert, a local correspondent for the Southern Poverty Law Center, says that the Northwestern Hammerskins did hold two events on Sunday: one on Whidbey Island, where they’ve historically gathered, and one at a “Seattle-area private residence” where they listened to white power bands. Neiwert writes that a few dozen neo-Nazis attended the show, but didn't share more specifics. “Ultimately yes, we’re very confident the gathering (with attendant rock show) took place,” Neiwert wrote in an e-mail.