OLYMPIA – For anyone studying Shakespeare last quarter at Evergreen State College, Thursday’s gathering with dueling protesters may have brought up a line from “MacBeth.”
It was full of sound and fury. It may have signified nothing, or something pretty close to it.
A group of about 50 conservative activists from the Patriot Prayer group marched onto the campus Thursday evening, some waving American flags or sporting Donald Trump campaign hats or signs with his “Make America Great Again” slogan. Waiting for them were perhaps three times as many counterprotesters – students, alumni, staff and other supporters of the college and allied anarchists, clothed in black and faces mostly covered with scarves or balaclavas.
Between them were two rows of barricades and some 60 Washington state troopers in riot gear, intent on keeping them apart. For the most part, the state troopers were successful.
By the time the two groups were close enough for the conservative activists to push up against the anarchists’ signs and be squirted with Silly String, the state troopers moved in and forcibly separated the factions. One person, from the Evergreen side, was arrested on suspicion of assault.
For more than an hour in intermittently heavy rain, they glowered at each other across the barricades. They shouted and traded insults. The Patriot Prayer group chanted “USA, USA” and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Evergreen supporters chanted “Go home” and cranked up the music playing through speakers that had been wheeled in earlier in the day. Some of the conservative activists danced with their flags. Some of the Evergreen supporters moved to the music on the other side of the divide.
Thursday’s demonstration was the latest in more than two weeks of unrest at the liberal arts campus tucked into the forest just outside the capital. It has generated accusations of racism, vandalism, harassment of gay and lesbian students, complaints of censorship and threats of armed violence. Campus was closed for several days. Republican legislators have introduced bills for the state to sell off the college, a prospect that’s unlikely to do much more than generate more discussion.
Evergreen supporters came armed Thursday with banners that said “Community Love,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Hate Speech is Not Free Speech.” The anarchists had banners with their capital A in a circle and a hammer and sickle, along with “No Platform for Fascists, Defend Cascadia” and “America Was Never Great.”
One woman carried a placard that said “Stay Clam.” It wasn’t a typo, she said, but a reference to the school’s mascot, the geoduck.
On one corner of the protest, one of the Patriot Prayer demonstrators tried to search for common ground with two Evergreen supporters over the din of the crowd and the blasting music. Tom Moffat, a Seattle resident who described himself as a former Democrat who voted for Trump and is now an independent, told Lynn Grotsky and Carolyn Roos how he viewed the president as a businessman who isn’t really a conservative Republican but a centrist.
Grotsky and Roos, local residents who support the college, clearly didn’t agree on that assessment of Trump. But the three talked for about a half-hour until the Patriot Prayer group began to pack up and leave. Grotsky said she hoped the protest will mark the end of tumult on the campus and “things can get back to normal, with some positive changes.”
Asked if she thought they came to any type of agreement with Moffat, Grotsky replied: “No. But I really appreciated just being able to talk.”