Meet the Gun Club Patrolling Seattle’s Leftist Utopia
David Ryder / Getty Images
The bustling Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle has long been a gentrification stronghold, but the streets around Cal Anderson Park are currently experiencing a different kind of transformation.
In the last few days of its remarkable existence, the Capitol Hill (CHAZ) autonomous zone has sparked radical ideas across the country and has terrified the hearts of conservative politicians and right-wing media experts (including the President). The six blocks around the now deserted East Precinct in Seattle, also known as the Seattle Autonomous Zone, have become a practically head-free space that is instead populated by a diverse gathering of activists and community members that make it a bastion of radical care and Have made art expression.
Last week the area was like a war zone when the Seattle police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd and choked the neighborhood. Now there is a community garden everywhere, a damage mitigation clinic, a free food cooperative and works of art - and local businesses are on board. Vixen, a resident of Seattle who took part in the protests and refused to give a surname, told The Daily Beast of a quiet place behind the barricades: “This place has evolved from an explosion and tear gas to a place of healing . "
Predictable comparisons were made between CHAZ and the Occupy movement, but there is a crucial distance in the place known as Free Capitol Hill: this time some of the demonstrators are armed.
Local businesses love the Domestic Terror zone in Seattle
Members of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club (PSJBGC) - a left-wing defense and firearms organization that became famous last year when a former member, Willem van Spronsen set fire to an ICE parking lot - was a constant presence . The club is often asked to provide security for protests and rallies in the Seattle area, and while their participation in CHAZ is more relaxed, the presence of armed civilians has raised some eyebrows.
Leftist gun clubs are on the rise, and organizations like the Socialist Rifle Association - of which I'm a member of full disclosure - the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, the Trigger Warning Queer & Trans Gun Club, and other chapters of the John Brown Gun Club have it Gun rights and weapons education successfully introduced into the broader left-wing discourse. In Seattle, John Brown members generally showed up on an individual basis rather than as part of a coordinated campaign. But as Nick - the towering spokesman for the group, who, like other members, asked for his full name to be withheld because law enforcement officers were fixated on leftist activists - told The Daily Beast, the group was also tapped to provide a security escort for "some very." prominent blacks "to provide voices who were speaking here in the autonomous zone" after the events of last Sunday evening.
At that point, a man armed with a Glock (with extended magazines stuck on) drove into a crowd of demonstrators and shot a civilian named Daniel Gregory in the arm. According to Nick and local news reports, the driver then ran to the police where he was detained.
Although a suspect has been charged with first-degree assault since then, Vixen told the Daily Beast, "We have to rely on each other to protect each other."
While the police are currently mostly staying out of the zone, they say they do. The right-wing media have developed into a foam about the specter of armed leftists who patrol the makeshift borders of the area. However, this hysteria only underscores what activists see as their profound misunderstanding of the leftist gun culture and what exactly these people are defending themselves against. As Nick explains, they're there to keep white supremacist groups, boogaloo bois, and violent gangs like the Proud Boys from harming people inside.
"It's not like our club is going against the police. We're not going to do that," he told The Daily Beast.
Her second and probably more important goal is to ensure that everyone who is in CHAZ does it safely and responsibly and ideally with the community buy-in. According to Nick, members were patrolled by other armed locals, a cluster of "random community members, affinity groups [and] Antifa who are not identified with a particular group," who have reportedly helped fill gaps in the barricades . The PSJBC's approach, as they describe it, focuses heavily on de-escalation, and they have relied on this training as different tensions have emerged.
"It's kind of a world we live in, right? We have people who are disciplined with firearms and people who get into firearms who don't have that discipline. When we see that, we don't monitor people. The best what we can do is educate people, "said Nick." Other people wear and we want to make sure people wear safe. That is why we are also discussing whether we can hold training courses for people here. "
It is worth noting that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a gun ban on May 30. In a statement on Saturday, a spokesman for the Mayor's office told The Daily Beast of the Zone: “There were people with guns - carrying them openly is legal in Washington State. While the CHAZ is in the area of the city that is currently subject to a weapons ban, the emergency ordinance to introduce the arms ban does not require enforcement. There is an opportunity for officers to take certain measures (i.e. confiscate weapons) if they consider it necessary. "
"The city will continue to evaluate the area on a regular basis and work with the community and other stakeholders in a way that enables individuals to demonstrate, continue business, and ensure public safety for residents," the spokesman added. “East Precinct officials continued to respond to calls. [Seattle Police] Chief [Carmen] Best and Command Staff were at East Precinct yesterday, and some staff are now occupying the area. "
The Seattle PD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story. However, Chief Best told KIRO 7 about the zone on Friday: "We do not want to exacerbate, aggravate or incite problems that will harm the officials or the people who are ready." We know that several are armed. We want to make sure that we think very carefully about how we react. "
As is not surprising for a developing cast that is made up of numerous organizations and political tendencies, not all are on the same side. Reports of "warlords" trying to fill the vacuum left by the Seattle police with their own police styles are grossly exaggerated, but it is true that an activist appeared to be distributing a gun from the back of a car (an action who was streamed) on Facebook), Twitter awards from an unlikely source: neo-Nazi Richard Spencer.
"Sure, there are occasionally people who wear openly and they are usually colored people, but all they do is exercise the same rights of the second amendment that the 3% and right wing players never keep quiet about" said Vixen is also a PSJBC member, said The Daily Beast. "But because they're afraid of the C-word" communist ", [right wingers] lose their minds about it. And unlike anything that happens in their personal fantasy land - all the talk about the Boogaloo without the rule of law - are the threats from Violence against these communities is actually credible. "
And while a more liberal project would undoubtedly contradict the mere thought of armed community members strolling through its midst, the CHAZ's explicitly leftist stance itself allows for a variety of opinions on firearms and their use. Nick said that everyone he spoke to appreciated their presence, except for an older white man who spotted an open black man and was annoyed: "I thought that would be a peaceful protest!" According to all reports on site, it is. The protesters themselves say they simply don't take a risk of what - or who - is lurking beyond their makeshift limits
Ultimately, the CHAZ is a new sting into an old idea. As Scott Crow, spokesman for the Anarchist Agency and author of Setting Sights: Stories and Reflections on Community Armed Self-Defense, told The Daily Beast, it is important to remember that gun pickup "doesn't make you worse." He added that an explicitly liberal approach and focus on security and strategy, as PSJBC members say, are paramount.
“[Weapons] are not automatically the most protective thing you can have. They only work in certain situations, ”he explained. "In my analysis, this is the time it is needed. This is the time that you can protect the people who are there from accidental shots or the like without further escalating the situation."
There is no telling how long Free Capitol Hill will remain in its current form. The Seattle Police Department appears within its artificial boundaries. Donald Trump, who viewed his residents as "domestic terrorists," urged Governor Jay Inslee and Mayor Durkan to solve the problem and threatened military force if they refused his demands. Both essentially told him to kick stones, and Seattle Socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant passed laws to transform East Precinct into a permanent community center for restorative justice. Sawant, who also recently passed laws prohibiting the use of chemical weapons and chokeholds by the police, said on Twitter that the process of deciding on the switch must include a wide range of perspectives, citing the organizations involved in CHAZ the black community, restorative justice activists, faith leaders, anti-racists, tenant organizations, land trusts and unions that have been shown to fight racism.
And, as Crow explains, the tensions between different community defense strategies are normal and can even be healthy. "Nobody said that autonomy or trying to build these spaces would always be nice. If you're not there to convert or rule over people, that's always the case," he said. He would know that he co-founded the autonomous Common Ground Collective project, which was established in 2005 after Katrina in the Algiers district of New Orleans. "It's going to be messy on the way, and it's okay to get messy because we don't have to try that, and that's one thing we hope we can take a break from."
Currently, residents of the Seattle Autonomous Zone are building what they can in the time that they are left, giving inspiration to activists across the country. Discussions with radical activists suggest that at least three other major cities are discussing how to follow their lead - if armed civilians are not at hand, then at least to take public space free from traditional policing. "If a barricade is pretty successful, whatever it looks like - even if it's in anarchist pipe dreams where it seems to be successful because it hasn't been closed by the cops for two weeks - they are duplicated over and over again," says Crow. "It may not happen in the next few weeks - or maybe! - but it will definitely happen in the future."
No matter what happens next, Free Capitol Hill community defenders believe that they have created a new blueprint, however rough it can be when people take on the task of defending and protecting their communities. As demands for defusing and abolishing the police continue to gain momentum, this little piece of Seattle is a strong reminder that a world without police officers, however short-lived it may be, is possible despite the potential that armed civilians can do harm.
"Here's what happened in the last days of the occupation: a lot less tear gas," Nick told The Daily Beast. “This district has not caught fire and there is talk of turning it into a community center if we can get the police out of there. When someone calls the police, they show up 30 minutes late and hit the wrong address and shoot a dog. These are all things that we lack, and I'm not sure if anyone is complaining about them here. "
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