"Nazi go home! Nazi go home!" a woman led a crowd into chanting at me as I was cornered against a barrier. A line of police officers stood watching a few feet away. Aiming a bullhorn at my face, the woman continued screaming while others pushed me.
Why did I receive this welcome in downtown Seattle? Because I dared to take a camera into an Antifa protest.
Last Saturday, around 150 left-wing activists mobilized outside Seattle City Hall to counter a similarly-sized event organized by the Washington State Three Percent, a conservative group that describes itself as constitutionalist. The counter-protest brought together a coalition of socialists, communists, and anarchists. They call themselves "Antifa," or anti-fascist, in spite of their thuggish street behavior often directed at the innocent public. Some of them were dressed in black and wore masks, a tactic called "black bloc" designed to make it easier to remain anonymous while engaging in criminal activity.
The disinformation spread about me (e.g., that I am a "fascist") was only a microcosm of the larger counter-protest. In fact, the entire demonstration was organized based on misinformation.
The Washington State Three Percent is a registered independent charity whose name pays homage to American colonists who fought for independence. The group unfortunately bears a similar name to the 3% Security Force, a radical anti-government militia that provided security for the Charlottesville, Virginia white nationalist rally last year.
Matt Marshall, leader of the Washington State Three Percent, said the group rebukes any similar-sounding organization that promotes anti-government and bigoted causes. "We are a completely non-discriminatory organization," he said. "I would challenge anyone to find a statement or action that would prove any of those claims."
(Matt Marshall leads the Washington State Three Percent group. Photo by Andy Ngo.)
Intentional or not, leftist activists in Seattle rallied people to their cause by claiming the Washington group is filled with white supremacists and anti-Semites.
"These accusations are actually really hurtful to our Jewish, black, and Latino members," a female member of the conservative group told me.
This isn’t the first time that Antifa in the Pacific Northwest has targeted the wrong people. At a demonstration in Portland, Oregon in August, a leftist man carrying an American flag was bashed on the head with a metal bat by a group of masked individuals dressed in black who thought he was a conservative. He was left on the ground in a pool of his own blood.
Outside Seattle City Hall, dozens of police officers were deployed to keep the two groups separate. Much like in Portland, clashes between Antifa and right-wing groups have led to bloody street skirmishes in the city.
As soon as I walked near the street corner where Antifa had amassed with signs and megaphones, I was accosted by two individuals with guns. (Washington is an open carry state.) Holding semi-automatic rifles and wearing badges against racism and fascism, they told me I wasn’t welcome. I continued forward with an officer’s assistance. The protesters did not have a permit to close the sidewalk.
A group of tall men working informally as Antifa security then formed a physical barrier around me. "Nazi fascists out!" they shouted while pushing me.
Working as a freelance journalist covering Antifa activities primarily in Portland, this was my first time documenting a demonstration in Seattle. I was naive to think that I would be left alone in the unfamiliar environment. Lies travel fast.
"He writes for Breitbart," one masked individual told the wider crowd, who was initially puzzled why a person of color was being treated this way. Another man followed up by saying that I write for neo-Nazi site, The Daily Stormer. They said I was there to record and dox people. These lies were enough to turn an agitated crowd into an angry mob, who then encircled me.
The irony of a mob of mostly white "anti-racists" harassing a gay Asian-American journalist was lost on them. "Racist, sexist, anti-gay; far-right bigot go away!" they repeated like a mantra.
I refused to leave or engage. They mocked my silence, calling me a fearful coward. A police officer finally approached me after an hour of abuse. I assumed he was going to help. I was wrong.
"At some point you are inciting conflict and we’re going to take some action to remove you from the area," he said. "Do you understand that?" I told him I wasn’t leaving the public sidewalk.
Although I understand the strategy in removing a nonviolent person from a crowd of agitators, I refuse to normalize Antifa intimidation against media by capitulating to their harassment. For that, I received a veiled death threat.
"Are you willing to die for YouTube shit?" a protester asked me. "Death is coming to you, dude." The man, Jamal Oscar Williams, is known to Seattle police. He was taken into custody at another protest earlier this year. I reported the threat to police but have not heard back.
Mr. Williams also commented on my Asian ancestry and accused me of "spying" for the enemy (i.e. white people). I faced similar racially-tinged harassment at another Antifa protest in Portland two weeks earlier, where I was accused of being "an Asian giving into white supremacy."
Fearing for my safety and knowing that I wouldn’t be protected by Seattle police, I walked away. The mob cheered and laughed.
While no one defended me at the moment, one left-wing protester later reached out to me to express his disapproval of the way I was treated. Nacim, who asked that his surname not be printed, has since resigned from the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club, the pro-gun left-wing group that provided armed security for the counter-protest. "I do not agree with impeding journalists," he said. "I support everyone's right to document anything on a public street, no matter what their ideological stance or bias."
After leaving the counter-protest, I walked to the Washington Three Percent rally to document the end of its event. I was greeted by the group’s volunteer security, who also held rifles and wore military fatigues, but they smiled at me instead of shoving me out.
When the rally attendees dispersed, Antifa protesters across the street used bullhorns to call them terrorists. "My grandfather killed Nazis like you and my son will do the same," a masked woman shouted. A woman holding an American flag yelled back to them: "Jesus loves you."
The protest last weekend demonstrates once again that when overzealous "anti-fascist" ideologues can’t find actual fascists, they will make them up. And the people they purport to protect—minorities and people of color—aren’t safe from their indiscriminate abuse and threats.
Mr. Ngo is an editor at Quillette. Follow him on Twitter @MrAndyNgo.