Gov. Jay Inslee has activated the Washington National Guard as demonstrators from across the political spectrum prepare to descend on Olympia ahead of the legislative session.
The governor has authorized as many as 750 Guard members as a series of demonstrations and counterdemonstrations are planned for Sunday and Monday. The groups are set to include both conservative and anti-fascist groups, according to state officials.
The activation comes at the end of a dark week in American history, as a mob made up of supporters of President Donald Trump pushed its way into the U.S. Capitol, the Senate and House chambers and offices and ransacked many areas of the building Wednesday. A Capitol Police officer was among five people killed.
Closer to home that day, pro-Trump demonstrators made their way to the governor’s residence in Olympia, got through a gate and chanted slogans on the lawn during a brief standoff with the Washington State Patrol.
“As legislators begin their work on behalf of the people of the state of Washington, we must do whatever we can to ensure that they can do that work without fear, intimidation or harassment,” Inslee said Friday in a statement. “The actions we saw in both Washington, D.C. and Olympia earlier this week were completely unacceptable and will not be repeated in our state capital again.”
“There will be acres of areas for people to exercise their First Amendment rights on the Capitol Campus,” added the governor. “There will be restricted access in certain areas that are open only to legislators and staff. These areas will be clearly delineated by fencing and security personnel.”
Unlawful intrusions of the Capitol building, other state buildings or the restricted areas “will not be tolerated and strictly enforced,” according to the statement.
The Guard members will join a “large number of Washington State Patrol troopers” and will be in addition to the patrol’s regular security contingent on the Capitol Campus.
After Wednesday’s events, one conservative organizer who had planned an ongoing protest with the goal of entering the Capitol — which has been closed for months amid the COVID-19 pandemic — announced he would cancel the event.
But concerns remain that agitators might show up for that or other illegal activity.
One demonstration Sunday calls for changes to the governor’s emergency powers in light of his COVID-19 restrictions, according to Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, while a Monday rally focuses on concerns about a lack of access for citizens as the Legislature holds a remote session for more than three months.
Walsh, who isn’t the organizer of either rally but is slated to speak at both, said the demonstrations will focus on policy.
“It’s not political, it’s concerns about the governor’s actions,” said Walsh about Sunday’s rally. “Not about the governor as a man.”
The representative said he has been discouraging people from bringing firearms — which can be legally carried on the Capitol campus — in light of the violence seen this week in Washington, D.C.
“It’s just not appropriate at this time,” said Walsh. “Maybe another time.”
The Guard members will be activated and available over the weekend, according to State Patrol spokesperson Chris Loftis.
Meanwhile, flyers have circulated online for a far-right rally advertising a “Blue Line Flag Burning Event.”
The event is to condemn law enforcement as “traitors” and enemies “of the people,” according to the flyer, for enforcing the public health restrictions at the Capitol, which are intended to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Anti-fascist counterdemonstrators could appear Sunday and Monday, according to the state Department of Enterprise Services and flyers circulating online.
Tension in Olympia has built for months as political opponents have squared off at the Capitol and on nearby streets. Shots were fired three times in December at or near the Capitol campus as political opponents clashed in street battle. At least one person was wounded by one of those shots.