Trump supporters marching through Seattle on May 1, 2017. Photo by Casey Jaywork

Militia ‘Security’ at ‘Anti-Sharia’ Rally Will Carry Weapons, According to Event Permit

The xenophobe-friendly rally has been moved to City Hall Plaza—just around the corner from police HQ.

According to a permit issued by Seattle authorities, sponsors of an upcoming “anti-Sharia” rally in Seattle say that their security will be carrying weapons.

Also according to the permit, issued by the city on Thursday, the rally will be held at City Hall Plaza on Saturday, not Westlake or Victor Steinbrueck parks as organizers have previously said. Heidi Groover at The Stranger first reported the permit. As we reported previously, the “anti-sharia” rally, which critics say is really an anti-Muslim rally, fits into a running pattern of right-wing protesters storming left-wing city centers in contentious, often violent rallies and marches. Local Muslim organizations plan to respond to the rally with a peaceful counter-protest.

In the permit letter, Seattle City Hall event coordinators wrote to event organizer Anthony Parish, “You are providing your own security…You indicated your security will be carrying weapons.” The letter goes on to note that while Washington has open-carry laws, under state law “it is unlawful for any person to carry, exhibit, display, or draw any firearm…or any other weapon apparently capable of producing bodily harm…” In other words, you can bring your gun on Saturday, but if you pull it out of the holster and start waiving it around, SPD is coming for you.

The letter also reminds event organinizers that bouncers are not police officers. “To reiterate our discussion yesterday, [your security people] do not have authority on City property,” it reads. “Any ‘guests’ of the applicant, ‘security,’ or other participants in the event…[who] commit any violations of law…will be subject to arrest and prosecution.”

Councilmember Lisa Herbold says that that language in the permit letter was written after she requested it. “Because I was concerned that militia groups acting like security on Saturday might interact with attendees,” said Herbold, “I requested that the City, as permit granters, condition the City’s expectations for how the permit holders communicate expectations about appropriate (and especially inappropriate) roles with the people providing their ‘security services.’”

Responding to Herbold’s comments, Finance and Administrative Services spokesperson Julie Moore said that Herbold wasn’t the prmary reason for that language. “We don’t need a Councilmember to suggest that,” she said. “This isn’t a unique thing. We would do it with anybody [holding an event] who suggested they would provide their own security or would open carry.”

At a recent protest in Portland, one militia member assisted federal police officers in physically capturing someone.

Seattle Police Department spokeman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said citizen arrests are “discouraged.” “In a situation where you have visible, even plenfitul police…We would ask people to be good witnesses” instead, he said.

Does the knowledge that event “security” will be armed change anything from SPD’s perspective, in terms of public safety at the rally? “We have fully planned for this event. I don’t want to comment specifically beyond that,” Whitcomb said. “We are not new to supporting Constitutionally protected free speech. We have about 300 protests a year.”

Asked for a statement on the rally, mayoral spokesperson Benton Strong referred Seattle Weekly to Groover’s article, where he told her, “We think hate speech leads to violence. We saw that in Portland and we think that’s incredibly problematic. At the same time, free speech is free speech. So the permit as applied for would be assessed like any other permit and should be done that way.”

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

This post has been updated.

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