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Following the insurrection in D.C. and the breach of the gates of the Governor's mansion last week, on Sunday hundreds of members of the Washington National Guard and several Washington State Patrol officers stood behind newly erected chainlink fences surrounding the legislative buildings on the Capitol campus in Olympia. Police cruisers lined the visitor parking areas, and cops closed nearby residential streets for blocks.
The Governor beefed up security in anticipation of a bunch of protests and counterprotests ahead of the first day of the Legislative session. A couple right-wing groups canceled a big "Legislative Lockout" action due to begin yesterday, but a group called "We of Liberty" went ahead with their "Olympia Freedom Party" rally anyway. Given all the right-wing mobbing going on, some feared the rally might draw more extreme groups ready to run up the Capitol steps with guns blazing.
But Gov. Inslee's military flex appeared to scare off the extremists, and only a small group of right-wingers showed up. Though over 100 antifascists in black bloc staged a counterprotest several blocks away, the two groups never confronted one another—some light scouting aside. The only person who had a bad day was a guy named Matthew Meinecke, a notorious street preacher who ended up bloody and arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct.
Because the Guard and the WSP wouldn't allow anyone near the Capitol steps, where groups tend to host their rallies in Olympia, about 30 right-wingers gathered near the World War I memorial outside the fences.
Republican Rep. Jim Walsh, virus party planner Tim Eyman, and the guy who files a lot of PDC complaints against Democrats (Glen Morgan) stood before the crowd and complained about COVID-19 restrictions, the Legislature's decision to hold the session remotely this year, and the general fact that Democrats control politics in Washington. A few anti-vaxxers also spoke. Republican State Sen. Phil Fortunato showed up to soak up the vibes. But soon after the rally got going, the speaker's circle was thrown into disarray.
A few minutes into the speeches, Matt the street preacher showed up carrying a microphone in one hand and a small amplifier in the other. A colleague in Christ walked alongside him holding a large sign that read, "ONLY JESUS SAVES." Matt then proceeded to drown out the speakers with his message, which went something like: God put the Democrats in power, so just accept the election results and move on already, you jokers.
Here's a couple choice lines from the preacher:
“I voted for Donald Trump, but Donald Trump’s not my savior!”
“Okay, maybe Loren Culp does become the Governor of Washington...How is that going to save you from hell?”
“What are the Democrats going to do? Raise your taxes a little bit? That’s all!”
If only, Matt, if only.
Caught in an ideological pickle, the Republicans welcomed Matt's "free speech" and tried (but failed) to talk over him until he ultimately left to go preach to the antifascists.
The whole Matt episode pissed off the woman who organized the rally, though. Once Matt left, she took to the bullhorn and said the Department of Enterprise Services told her she couldn't set up any sound systems onsite, and she condemned the unfair treatment. Matt got away with using a mic because he carried his amplifier rather than setting up a system.
Unfortunately, Matt left before Rep. Walsh took his turn to speak before the group. During the politician's brief, forgettable speech about the Republican legislative priorities this year—which so far include stripping away the Governor's emergency powers and bemoaning the tyranny of legislating remotely for one year—two guys carrying rifles and wearing tactical gear half-heartedly suggested he quit with the speechifying and commence with the storming of the Capitol. Walsh rebuffed the calls, promoted lawfulness, and told the crowd not to bend to cynicism.
Down the hill at the park where the antifacists gathered, Matt, who had already been kicked out of the group once, was trying to spread his amplified gospel again. Someone in the antifascist group pushed him into the middle of the street, and he just sort of started hanging out there, which caused a dangerous situation. Several members of the Olympia Police Department staged in a nearby parking lot responded to the scene. They separated Matt from the group, and one cop eventually detained Matt on suspicion of disorderly conduct.
Today lawmakers will file into the legislative buildings in waves to vote on rules that will guide the session, including some that will allow them to legislate via Zoom (and Microsoft Teams).
Some of the dudes carrying rifles at the Olympia Freedom Party said demonstrators may gather this afternoon to protest the lack of in-person access to committees. A less militant group organizing around the #RISEUPWA hashtag will meet around noon for the same reason.
Of course, all of this concern over the lack of access to the Legislature during COVID is totally hyperbolic and dumb. Rather than meet in cramped rooms to testify on bills using shared microphones, people who wish to speak on bills can sign up online, which may actually increase access for those who'd otherwise have to drive across the mountain passes in the middle of winter to testify.