At 11:11 on 11/11, self-described witches in Jefferson County gathered together—if not in body than in spirit—for a mission. That mission: to get Jefferson County, Washington, off of Facebook.
Why would witches try to get a Facebook page shut down? We'll get to that in a moment, but first, some background.
Jefferson County is large in acreage but small in population. The only incorporated city in the county, which spans the Olympic Peninsula from east to west, is Port Townsend, a small but scenic town on the water with a population of less than 10,000. Once a vibrant seaport, today Port Townsend is known mostly for its arts, crafts, and architecture, particularly the historic downtown and the Victorian homes that dot the hillside over the city and look more like something out of New England than rural Washington state. It's an affluent town—the median home price is $400,000—with lots of retirees, craftsmen, artists, witches, energy healers, and liberals. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Port Townsend by 81 percent of the vote, and that puts it at odds with much of the Olympic Peninsula, which is less populated, more rural, and more in favor of Donald Trump.
This cultural divide is perhaps most evident in the fight over Fort Discovery, a tactical military training facility and ammunitions retailer on Discovery Bay that was opened in 1987 by Joe D'Amico, a "security expert" and survivalist. He's also the inspiration for the protagonist in 299 Days, a series of doomsday prepper novels about "New Washington" written by D'Amico's lawyer under the pen name Glen Tate. The series was recently made famous in connection to embattled Spokane Valley Rep. Matt Shea, who, according to the Pacific Northwest Inlader, "has repeatedly called it crucial reading for patriots to prepare for the days ahead."
The Inlander describes Tate's vision of New Washington as a "libertarian paradise, defined by flat taxes, minimal regulation and self-reliance." It's standard prepper fare, albeit with less overt white supremacy and homophobia than you might expect. People of all races are welcome in New Washington, and sodomy, like almost everything else, is legal. While this may be pure fantasy, some of Tate's storylines were taken from life, including the existence of custom AR-15 engraved with GPS coordinates that would take the gun's owner to a compound after a doomsday scenario or natural disaster. D'Amico actually did sell this gun, and the coordinates go to Fort Discovery.
D'Amico is a big presence in the area. After 9/11, D'Amico and Fort Discovery won training contracts with the military, FBI, and local police. A 2007 article in the Seattle Times reported that some weeks, "40,000 rounds of gunfire rattled the big windows across the bay. Other weeks, bombs went off." To say the neighbors objected to this rattling of their windows would be an understatement.
After a cultural, civic, and legal battle spanning decades, D'Amico finally stopped operating the facility in 2017, over a decade after being ordered by the county to shut down. But the story didn't end there, because since then, D'Amico has been attempting to open a shooting range on 40 acres abutting Tarboo Lake, a residential area near Quilcene. And not a small shooting range, either. Plans include a 200-foot radio transmission tower, a windmill, and three helicopter landing pads. It's basically Fort Discovery 2.0.
The new neighbors, however, are not happy about the prospect of the area being turned into a shooting range. They formed a group called the Tarboo Ridge Coalition, which, they say, "represents people who have lived in the area for generations, retired school teachers, military personnel suffering from PTSD, people whose livelihood depends on their livestock, beekeepers, flower farmers, salmon savers, tree huggers, tree loggers, gun lovers and gun haters, as well as many others… all just regular human beings who moved to this area in search of a home that encompasses the quiet and integrity of a rural life." The group argues that noise from the shooting range and compound will threaten sensitive wildlife and will be devasting to the 350 families who live in the near-vicinity. They've been trying it prevent it from opening, and D'Amico and his novel-writing lawyer have filed a number of lawsuits to stop them.
Which brings us to Facebook.
After Barack Obama was re-elected President in 2012, D'Amico started a Facebook page called Jefferson County, Washington. He somehow managed to convince Facebook that this was the official Jefferson County page and Facebook verified it with a blue checkmark, which gives it the appearance of being legit. But the content isn't exactly what you'd expect from an official county Facebook account: Most of the posts concern D'Amico's pet grievances (liberals, environmentalists, taxes), and, as one Port Townsend resident told The Stranger, "People who do not know better actually take his page's rambling as the words of the county."
From the reviews on the page, this resident seems to be correct. There's a mix of comments, and while some are critical ("Written by and read by old garbage people while they’re on their rascal scooters in line at Walmart. Articles meant to scare old conservatives with absolutely no integrity or basis."), some commenters seem to think it's official. "Jefferson County is awesome!!!," reads one review. "I adore Port Townsend—awesome organic grocery store—awesome stores—we have family who live there."
Tired of both D'Amico and his Facebook page, a Port Townsend witch (who requested to remain anonymous due to D'Amico's habit of suing people) hatched a plan. He started a Facebook campaign of his own, and he called it Port Townsend Troll Control. The description on the page reads "Cleaning Service in Port Townsend, Washington (Always Open)," and he posted an open letter to Joe D'Amico.
"Joe," it reads. "Our community has witnessed your irresponsible and gross misuse of this power. You provide no transparency into who writes your articles or runs your page, a decision made to purposely keep readers in the dark about any bias your page may (and certainly does) contain."
The letter went on to make a declaration: "Using four-pronged forks as our wands, reminders of the time we will cast our spell, 11/11 at 11:11, we will say, 'Fork Joe D’Amico' and report your Facebook page en masse for 'Scams and Fake Pages' and 'Pretending to be another Person.' Together, humans are capable of miracles. And soon, you will be witness to one."
The goal was to flood Facebook with reports in an effort to get the page shut down. "Port Townsend is full of energy workers," the person who started the campaign told The Stranger. "Our hope is that we hit one of the algorithm caps on his page and make it disappear."
It seems to have worked—at least for the moment. When I checked Facebook at 11:12 on Monday, the Jefferson County page was gone. But then, shortly after, it was right back up, the blue checkmark that indicates verification still there—as was Joe D'Amico. Among his many angry comments in response to this campaign was, "How dare them to attempt this on Veterans Day. No respect for our servicemen/women and their families."
The witch who started this all says he came up with this plan while meditating over Halloween weekend, "when they say the barrier between this world and the spirit world is the thinnest," he told me. For the witch, this battle is a perfect metaphor for what's happening in America. It's the left versus the right, the peaceniks versus the militia. And he says he's not disappointed the page is back up. In fact, he says he envisioned it.
"What I envisioned during my meditation was that the page would disappear for a time, then return again," he said. "Our goal is to protect the interests of the many on the Peninsula who wish to live here and enjoy the rural peace versus a man who wishes to grow the military-industrial complex for his own profit."
This isn't over, the witch says, but as for what's next, he isn't yet sure. "One thing we are certain of," he wrote on Facebook: "we are not the last group of people to light a fire under Joe D'Amico's ass."
Neither Facebook nor Joe D'Amico responded to a request for comment.