Armed groups fueled by rumors about antifa meet peaceful protesters in Snohomish
SNOHOMISH — On May 31, hundreds of people — most of them men, many of them armed and some representing far right-wing groups — descended upon a stretch of this small town where restaurants, antique shops and flower pots line the street.
They were drawn by rumors of a looming threat: Antifa activists were planning to bring chaos to their community and damage businesses as days of massive protests decrying the death of George Floyd, police brutality and racial injustice swept cities, including Seattle just 30 miles to the south.
Some in the crowd socialized and drank while carrying assault rifles, handguns and other firearms. At least one Confederate flag flew from the back of a pickup truck. As the hours passed, the predictions of mayhem never materialized.
It was an evening the local police chief later described as “festive” during an emergency City Council meeting later that week. The comment drew outrage from some residents as the self-declared protectors’ militia-style presence and the local, nightly protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have underscored stark divides in the community.
For Tabitha Lewis, a treasurer for the nonprofit Snohomish for Equity, and numerous others who have gathered to call for racial justice here since the May 25 killing of Floyd by Minneapolis police, the scene that Sunday night downtown and a similar one that came the following evening were deeply unnerving.
“It was like tailgating with an excessive amount of large military-style rifles — lots of guns, open alcohol consumption, Confederate flags,” she said. “I felt very uncomfortable and I’m a white woman.”