Police say a planned rally by a far-right men’s organization called “the Proud Boys” could erupt into violence.
In the past, Seattle police have had to deal with violence and vandalism during the annual May Day protests, but this year the charged ideological and political climate has them worried more about clashes between groups of protesters.
Police Capt. Chris Fowler, who is overseeing the department’s May Day preparations and response, said he would begin to shift resources from Monday’s so-far peaceful rallies and marches to Westlake Park, where they expect a pro-President Trump rally later in the day.
He named a particular far-right group — the “Proud Boys” — as having been actively recruiting in the Northwest and calling for the Westlake rally. The group describes itself on a Facebook page as “pro-Western fraternal organization” for men who “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”
Social-media postings by its self-proclaimed members espouse racist and sexist ideals.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Proud Boys as an alt-right “fight club.”
Police in the Bay Area blamed its members for the violence that rocked an anti-Trump rally in Berkeley last month.
In February, fights broke out when the founder of the Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, appeared at New York University, leading to 11 arrests. McInnes was a co-founder of Vice Media. He and Vice severed ties in 2008.
“In years past, we’ve seen violence and property damage against businesses, and the last couple of years it’s been against police,” Fowler said of previous May Day unrest. Last week, the FBI announced charges against a man accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at Seattle police during last year’s protests.
“This year, I think it’s really much more of a crowd-on-crowd threat,” he said. “We are expecting a little more organizational response from the Proud Boys.”
Fowler said he did not expect a large turnout, but that he was on his way to make sure.
“I’m betting there will be more officers than protesters,” he said.
Fowler said the plan is to let everybody have their say and express their views, but that police would work to maintain distance between any two ideologically opposed groups.
Groups that protest without a permit will be tolerated, he said. Vandalism or violence will not be.