A flood of bodies streamed in from the west end of Red Square at the University of Washington at 8:24 p.m.
“Reinforcements are here!”
The savage joy in the voice of the woman standing two yards from the steps of Kane Hall signaled the arrival of hundreds of protesters who had marched to the campus from Westlake Park, where a series of rallies had taken place earlier on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.
The incoming crowd was jubilant and laughing. It was a distinct change in mood from the ongoing confrontation on campus that had led to the scene before them: Seattle police in body armor, those in the back armed with long wooden batons, forming a human wall against protesters, who came there to shut down a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor at the White nationalist online publication Breitbart.
The throng of people was loud, angry over the inauguration of Donald Trump that morning and angrier that Yiannopoulos — a person seen as a promulgator of hate speech — had been allowed on the UW campus.
The crowd was so loud that it was easy to miss the sound of the gunshot.
Police rushed in on bicycles, forming a semicircular perimeter around the body of a 34-year-old man with blood seeping out of his abdomen and onto the bricks below. A cart arrived and removed the victim. He was reported to be a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, according to a statement released by the organization. As of the morning of Jan. 23, he was in serious condition at Harborview Medical Center.
Alex Franke, a 22-year-old philosophy major and former paramedic in New Orleans, was first on the scene, called over by someone screaming for a medic. He had pink tape formed into crosses on his clothing, signaling that he had medical experience.
He was told it was a gunshot wound.
“There was so much blood, it was hard to tell,” Franke said.
He tried to get a better look, but police had arrived. Officers made it clear that he and others were not wanted there anymore, Franke said.
Some had come as far as Montana to listen to the man that many on the Left feel is abhorrent for his assertions that rape culture does not exist, that the entire religion of Islam is a danger and that safe spaces are for liberal snowflakes.
Two hours before the talk began, a group of predominately Trump supporters there to attend the event outnumbered protesters. They felt comfortable enough to start a chant, “Build the wall! Build the wall!” although it was the last time they would for the night.
Two early protesters, Pearl Miller, a junior studying gender, women and sexuality studies, and Kailee Go, a sophomore in the same major, witnessed the chant and were upset that their university had allowed the talk in the first place.
“I came to UW because of its inclusive nature and core values,” Go said. “This creates more division between students.”
Those who wanted to see Yiannopoulos speak, however, appreciate his blunt nature and attacks on what they see as a sanitization of language and ideas in the name of political correctness.
“Disagreement is not hate,” said Kyle Hartman, of the Seattle area. “He uses harsh language to do that, but he’s a sassy British gay man. He’s a showman.”
Hartman was frustrated with the level of dialogue at the event, noting that protesters had shouted at him that he was homophobic, not realizing that he himself identified as gay.
“I tried engaging with people,” Hartman said. “They called me fascist, racist, a Nazi, homophobe.”
Others did not necessarily agree with Yiannopoulos, but came just to see what he had to say.
Boting Zhang, a UW alumna, said that she was on the liberal side of the political spectrum, unlike the people she had come with, but she wanted to grapple with Yiannopoulos’ arguments. This isn’t her first attempt: Zhang constructed a discussion and listening project after the election involving 12 Trump supporters and 12 supporters of Hillary Clinton, with plans to report the results on the anniversary of Election Day.
“I’m just trying to find other ways for people to dialogue,” Zhang said.
As the clock ticked past 7 p.m., the tenor of the protest began to change.
Isolated scuffles broke out in the crowd. Just after 8 p.m., protesters dressed in black using bandanas to cover their faces began throwing gold-colored balls filled with blue paint into the crowd in the square. The concussive sound of bricks breaking was followed with, “Mask up or stay out of our way. That’s the fucking rule.”
Fifteen minutes later, the man was shot, allegedly by a man who has since turned himself in, according to the UW police and Seattle Police Department. Witnesses claimed the shooter was a Trump supporter, although the Seattle Times reported that the man claimed he had been assaulted and believed victim was some kind of White supremacist, which friends and the IWW deny.
The man is an anti-racist, anti-fascist activist who attended the UW event explicitly to help deescalate the conflict between protesters and counter-protesters, according to a statement from the IWW.
It took time for things to wind down after police evacuated the gunshot victim. Almost 100 people were trapped inside Kane Hall, waiting for the opportunity to leave, according to Erica C. Barnett, who had gotten into the event. Most were VIPs; only 20 or 30 of those in line managed to get into the facility, according to various onlookers, but reports vary.
Protesters waited for them to leave, interrupting one attempt by police to escort them out an east door of the building.
“You all like racism? You all like sexism?” members of the crowd chanted.
But the fight was over and the protesters had won some measure of victory. Althought Yiannopoulos got through his talk, the vast majority of those who had turned out to see him left disappointed. By 9:45 p.m., the police broke down the metal fencing they had erected around Kane Hall.
That’s cold comfort to the man in the hospital for whom the first day of the Trump administration could have been the last one of his life.