'Liberty or Death': rightwing protesters march against alleged leftwing violence in Seattle

Jason Wilson in Seattle
A man standing with members of Patriot Prayer and other groups supporting gun rights wears guns during a rally on Saturday at City Hall in Seattle. Photograph: Ted S. Warren/AP

More than 100 rightwing demonstrators marched with firearms through the streets of downtown Seattle on Saturday afternoon, in an event billed as a protest against an alleged tide of leftwing violence.

Many demonstrators at the “Liberty or Death” rally wore camouflage, body armor, helmets and insignia of the “Patriot Movement”. Many had handguns at their waists, large semi-automatic long guns strapped to their backs, or both.

Asked if this “open carry” display was provocative, organizer Matt Marshall, of the Washington Three Percent group, said: “I open carry every day of my life. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not meant to intimidate.”

A counterprotest organised by a coalition of leftist and community groups drew at least double the crowd.

But it also contained demonstrators openly carrying firearms. Most were members of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club, a group named for a 19th-century antislavery campaigner which says it carries out “liberatory community defense”. It had around a dozen members at the rally.

On the march, and the preceding rally in the forecourt of Seattle’s City Hall, a heavy police presence kept the two groups separated. Bike squad officers in mobile columns escorted the rightwing group around City Hall, as they taunted counterprotesters.

The rightwing event was co-organised by the Washington state Three Percenters, and the Vancouver, Washington-based rightwing protest group Patriot Prayer. The Three Percenters are a paramilitary organisation which, according to monitoring group Political Research Associates, “pledges armed resistance against attempts to restrict private gun ownership”. Members of other branches have been involved in confrontations with federal government agencies in Nevada, Oregon and Montana.

Patriot Prayer, led by Republican Senate candidate Joey Gibson, has staged street protests in liberal cities on the US west coast for more than a year. They have been especially active in Portland, Oregon. Two rallies the group held in that city June culminated in extensive street violence. One on 30 June was declared a riot by Portland Police Bureau (PPB).

Their last rally in the city, on 4 August, led to widespread criticism of the response of PPB, after officers fired “less than lethal” ordnance into a crowd of counterprotesters. As reported in the Oregonian, PPB’s claims of provocation do not appear to be supported by vide evidence.

Also in the crowd in Seattle were demonstrators wearing the colors of the Proud Boys, an all-male, self-described “western chauvinist” group. Proud Boys have been involved in a number of violent incidents in the Pacific north-west in recent months, including daylight brawls outside the context of rallies.

Their founder, Gavin McInnes, was recently banned from Twitter, along with the organisation’s official verified accounts.

A spokesperson for the Puget John Brown Gun Club told the Guardian in a Twitter direct message Three Percenters should renounce any association with Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys. The spokesperson said: “Some in the patriot militia movement are genuinely interested in freedom for all, and we call for them to distance themselves from extremists in their midst.”

Although the rally was against alleged leftwing violence, figures from the US government accountability office show rightwing extremists have committed 101 murders in the US since 2001. “Far left extremists” have caused no fatalities in that timeframe.

Before the march, the rally heard from speakers including some running for office as Republicans, and others defeated in the recent Washington state primary. One, Jared Gavin Bonneau, recently defeated in a primary in Washington’s fifth congressional district, called antifascists “terrorists”, adding: “No more gun control, no more safe spaces … let’s bring down hell upon them and wipe them from existence.”

The rightwing group met some resistance from police when they tried to change their march route. At one point they were turned around when they tried to move closer to protesters. At the end of the march, rightwing protesters left in minibuses and cars, under police guard.

A small group of counterprotesters were able to approach the last of the rightwingers before they left in a van. After his own day leading a march around a small number of city blocks, Joey Gibson said to them: “All you’ve been doing is walking around, that’s it. That’s all you’ve accomplished today.”

Smaller, parallel events were held in other cities including Austin, Boston, and Spokane.