For the first time in recent memory—maybe ever?—Seattle's May Day protests had a right-wing presence today. At 4 pm, about 150 people gathered at Westlake Park for a "Stand Against Communism" rally hosted by the rightwing group Patriot Prayer. The group marched around the block, quiet for most of their brief walk, and then returned to the park for a standoff with cops and anti-Trump protesters.
Most of the marchers, decked out in camo hats and vests, stayed on the sidewalk. Trump supporters, unlike what feels like most people in Seattle, are not used to protesting.
"I'm out here to support my buddies—freedom lovers—to try and combat any violence that comes our way," Ethan Nordean, a Trump voter in a camouflage protective vest who lives near Auburn told me. "Aide police in any way we can and make sure everyone gets home safe is really our main goal. [We want to] make sure that people's voices are heard because that's what this day is all about."
Then I got into a discussion with a Bremerton man carrying an American flag on a bike. The man would only give me his first name as "Michael," and he believed someone or some group had paid Antifa to protest.
"I'm mostly here to throw another body against Antifa," Michael, who was also wearing an American flag shirt, said. "What I've seen on the news—just disgusting."
"Do you think the people here to protest are going to be paid?" I asked.
"Undoubtedly, there are people here—yes, to answer your question," he said.
"Who do you think is paying them?" I asked.
"Well you're here," he told me.
"Right, I'm a reporter," I said.
"All right then, I think that's going to wrap it up. I see my people. Have a good day," he said and rode away.
Two people from Kingston, Washington, refused to give me their names for an interview, but instead used the collective name "Zumil." (A cursory Google search on "Zumil" yielded absolutely nothing.) They wore Trump t-shirts, American flag bandannas, and said they were there "to show our support for Trump," particularly "his religious beliefs, his beliefs on family."
As the group walked back toward Westlake, Kathryn Townsend, a "grandmother of five" from Gig Harbor, told me she wanted "to stand for free speech, to support my brothers and sisters who are out here doing the same."
"I'm wearing knee pads and body armor because they'll knock old people down and rob them," she said of anti-Trump protesters, "and so I'm kind of prepared for that and that's kind of a sad day in America."
Townsend emphasized that she pays taxes, follows the law, and shouldn't be made to feel ashamed about her vote for Trump. "I've been told that my vote was a hate crime," Townsend said.
Townsend and I went back and forth for a little while about who is actually facing threats to their safety in Trump's America—immigrants, people of minority faiths, and people of color... or Trump supporters.
"I'd want to know specifics," she said about the prospect of vulnerable people feeling less safe with Trump as president. "I'd want to know what happened exactly. What is it who made you feel unsafe?"
When I mentioned hate crimes, deportations, and vandalism of mosques or synagogues, she said, "In front of me, that's not going to happen. I'm going to treat each person with respect because I believe that everyone deserves that regardless of who they are." She believes sanctuary cities like those in Washington state are less safe because of those sanctuary policies. When I said that's not supported by data, she responded in the same way I had seen Trump supporters respond in Lynden, Washington, during a Trump rally, in Cleveland, Ohio, during the Republican National Convention, and in Washington, D.C., during Trump's inauguration: she said she doesn't believe that data.
By 6 p.m., the two sides were back in the park shouting at each other across a line of Seattle Police officers with bikes and wooden sticks. (Another group of the MAGA-ers had made their way to the Seattle Public Library and then the International District.)
A man near me asked another, "Do you know Jesus as your lord and savior?" The man told him he thought religion was bullshit and asked how he could support Trump as a Christian. "Jesus would have been a socialist!" the religion-is-bullshit-man said, offering up another doomed argument for his opponent. "He would have voted for Kshama Sawant!"
Soon after that exchange, police made their first arrest. I didn't witness what happened immediately beforehand, but cops surrounded the person on the pavement and whisked them away toward Westlake Center. As of 8 p.m., the Seattle Police Department say two people have been arrested. One was a 26-year-old Olympia resident police say threw a rock; the department has not yet provided details about the second.
By 7:15, the two sides were sharing a "peace joint." The whole thing felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy, each side showing up because they heard the other would be there.
Follow Steven Hsieh for updates from the latest march, which began tonight at the controversial King County Juvenile Detention Center.