Though subsequent reports would focus exclusively on a gunshot that injured a man later in the evening, the crowds that massed on Friday to either attend or protest a lecture by the medium-talent pro-fascist gay blogger Milo Yiannopoulos at UW's Kane Hall were generally well-behaved.
Two long lines of ticket holders to the sold-out event stretched across the large, riot-proof, brick-paved concourse of Red Square. Surrounding them was a roughly equal (maybe slightly smaller) assortment of demonstrators holding signs that said all the usual things—"No Unity with Bigotry," "America Is an Oligarchy," etc. Of course, the Milo people had signs, too. "Celebrate Patriarchy," read the most astonishingly brazen one, and "Reject the Fascism of the Left."
No surprise, then, that "Repeal Newton's Laws" might have seemed like the most promising avenue for discussion. I asked the kid if he was willing to talk to The Stranger for a minute, and he demurred. "There are probably other people who feel more strongly that you should talk to," he said. I pressed him, suggesting that the wit of his sign indicated that he might have a slightly more absurdist slant on the protest than the others. "Yeah, I guess," he allowed, shyly.
Then the anarchists showed up, their faces masked, and pushed right to the front of the crowds, though no one tried to stop them. One of their signs said "Antifascist Aktion." Their chants—"No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!"—were met intermittently with "USA! USA! USA!" and "Build the Wall!" counter-chants from the people in line. None of these lasted for more than a few seconds before being drowned out by the battery of news and police helicopters circling above.
At one point a handful of line-waiters sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." Immediately after they'd finished, the antifascist faction became belligerent, pushing through the line of people waiting to get in. One of the men who'd been singing a moment earlier pepper-sprayed one of the protesters who was trying to shove past him.
A more persistent sound came from little clusters of boys in line, who would burst into mocking laughter at protestors. One woman was laughing uproariously, entertaining a couple of other people in line by repeating the words "white privilege" over and over, as though they were the most absurd, meaningless syllables she could imagine. As she did this, she was capturing a phone video of a woman with a sign that said "Fight Sexism." In response to something the protestor said, the woman in line barked, "I'm a descendent of settlers, not immigrants; learn your history!" Later, in the familiar tone of hateful sarcasm that has come to define all political discourse in this country, she said, "I'm pretty sure Trump's your president. Yep, pretty sure. Last time I checked." When the people she was antagonizing finally gave in and walked away, she added, "Bye, fascists."
The loudest, longest sound by far came when the ranks of Seattle police, in riot gear, armed with extra-long nightsticks, assembled at the top of the steps to Kane Hall. The Milo supporters cheered wildly for every cop they saw.
Later, after about two-thirds of the crowd had been let in, the masked protest contingent formed a human wall in an effort to block any further access to the lecture. A few small skirmishes broke out as a result, but the police, despite standing only a few feet away, and despite being heavily armed and ready to rumble, didn't step in at all. The result was a long, undramatic stalemate, with one side chanting "Let Us In! Let Us In!" and the other chanting "Shut It Down! Shut It Down!" while the cops and bemused demonstrators looked on.
It was an increasingly common spectacle of political opposition, in which neither side had an especially good point. The idea of not allowing people into an auditorium to hear someone talk—especially a loathsome, phony right-wing polemicist who will say anything to please his masters—is anathema to any American value worth preserving. The American response to Milo Yiannopoulos is not to bar the gates, it's to demand he be allowed to speak. "Shut It Down" vindicates and validates Donald Trump's entire platform.
But on the other hand, fuck these clowns. For a while, I was standing near a man whose sign read "Feminists say they hate patriarchy but they love Fifty Shades of Grey and Islam." A succession of women approached him to ask him to elaborate. His response was vague and always included the explanation that he was a libertarian. The more inflamed the women got, the more bemused and justified his attitude became. Then a woman who couldn't have been older than 20, unsatisfied with his logic, grabbed the sign from his hands and tore it into a few pieces right in front of him.
After about an hour, the stalemate was broken by the dramatic arrival of a huge contingent of protestors bearing "Black Lives Matter" signs and chanting "He's racist! He's sexist! He does not represent us!" Hundreds of people streamed in, filling Red Square. The "Shut It Down" chant was soon replaced by "Nazis Go Home," which was, frankly, a bit more like it.
It was rousing enough that, unless you were standing right near it, you didn't even hear the gunshot.
Read an update on Friday night's shooting here.