On Saturday, Sept. 4, an anti-mandate protest in Olympia escalated to gunfire in a clash between the Portland Proud Boys and anti-fascist counterprotesters. The conflict is far from the first for the enemy groups, and it will certainly not be the last. The Proud Boys will rally at Olympia City Hall Sept. 18 to honor their wounded leader.
“I think it’s gonna get worse before it gets better,” said Garrett Padera, a photographer who captured Proud Boys leader Tusitala “Tiny” Toese on the ground after being shot. “After what happened Saturday, the Proud Boys might be out for blood.”
The Proud Boys are an exclusively male group of far-right, white nationalists founded in 2016 to stand in opposition to progressive, far-left or, in the organization’s words, “neo-Marxist” movements, according to the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
The anti-fascist movement is a leaderless resistance to fascism, racism and other far-right extremism. Both groups frequent protests to defend their ideology and work to weaken their respective opposition.
Because of these shared tactics for opposing missions, these groups have a history together; as recently as late August, two opposing rallies in Portland, Oregon, sparked clashes between Proud Boys and antifa adherents.
Right-wing protests in Olympia against vaccine mandates have become a weekly occurrence since Gov. Jay Inslee announced that most state employees, health care workers and educators can either get vaccinated or find new jobs. The Free Press Media News livestreamed one such protest at the Washington Capitol building Sept. 4. Previous to the day, antifa counterprotesters had sent out an alert to meet at Sylvester Park, and the Proud Boys came as back-up to the anti-mandate crew.
The stream lasted for two and a half hours, following Proud Boys as they pursued antifa counterprotesters who were in “black bloc.” Seattleites may remember from the Black Lives Matter protests last summer the use of black bloc: a protest tactic of wearing black clothing to make it more difficult for police to identify and arrest individuals.
At about the 59-minute mark, around 3 p.m., five gunshots earned the reaction, “What the fuck? Holy shit!” from the streamer.
Toese was struck in the foot by a gunshot about a mile away from the Capitol building, near Intercity Transit Center on State Avenue, on which sidewalk he received emergency care from police. The injuries were not life threatening, and Toese was transported to Providence St. Peter Hospital.
Initially, there were conflicting reports about who shot him. The Olympian reported that, as of Sept. 7, police are continuing to investigate video footage that shows a person wearing dark clothing and a facial covering who also appears to be holding a handgun, according to Chief Aaron Jelcick. On Sept. 10, the Olympia Police Department released footage of the shooting which confirmed the bullets were fired by someone running with the antifa group.
Padera, who has been covering protests since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, was on the scene that day. Padera brought a newer photographer out with him to show her the ropes, expecting an easy day — anti-mandate rallies have not been violent. When he saw the Proud Boys, Padera went back to his car and suited up in gear he had acquired during the Black Lives Matter protests: a bulletproof vest, ballistic helmet and a full-face respirator.
“Last weekend was very crazy,” Padera told Real Change the Tuesday following the action in Olympia. “But I feel like there have been many instances just like it with people pulling guns and shooting and things. In the weird sense, it’s more normal now, I guess. Not that that’s ever a good thing.”
At the time of the shooting, Padera was about three blocks away, cleaning out his eyes from an unfortunate encounter with a cloud of bear spray. He arrived at the scene about 3 or 4 minutes after Toese was shot.
The internet was quick to tease Toese, claiming he shot himself, but Padera said the Proud Boys blamed their natural foil, antifa.
According to a flyer circulating Reddit, the Proud Boys will be back Sept. 18, seeking, in their words, “Justice for Tusitala Tiny Toese.”
The rally coincides with expected action at the U.S. Capitol organized by the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government militia made up of current and former military and police, who will be demanding justice for people charged for participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection. According to CBS News, the United States Capitol Police is “taking no chances” with the action expected on Sept. 18 in Washington D.C.
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told CNN that any intelligence about the action at the U.S. Capitol should be taken “very seriously” — “In fact, they should take it more seriously than they took the same sort of intelligence that they likely saw on Jan. 5.”
Padera said the tensions between the Proud Boys and antifa seem to have escalated since December 2020, when he saw both groups at another protest in Olympia.
“It seemed like there was a much stronger police presence (at the December protest) and a much more proactive police presence,” Padera said. “I think that presence helps reduce a lot of the violence. At the event in Olympia on the 4th, at the event in Portland two weeks prior to that, we saw almost no police presence. Like the two groups just have free rein to go at it with each other. And I think that is something that’s newer, and I think that’s leading to more violence between these two groups.”
Another observer to what happened in Olympia — a self-described concerned, working-class dad and average white dude — was driving his car into the garage after work when he saw “a throng of people racing down Fourth Avenue with weapons above their heads.”
The man, who is afraid to be named because of the “damn chuds,” was so concerned about “fascists in our progressive town” that he made a few calls to the police, who he says did not do enough to intervene. He’s sure Sept. 18 will be a bloodbath if the Olympia Police Department doesn’t step in.
“Both of those groups that want to cause chaos: not here,” the concerned father said. “Go out into the hills, and like, punch each other in the face. Go for it. No one cares. Just stop endangering people’s families.”
The Olympia Police Department and City Hall did not respond to Real Change about the city’s safety plans for the Justice for Tusitala Tiny Toese rally.
Hannah Krieg studied journalism at the University of Washington. She is especially interested in covering politics, social issues and anything that gives her an excuse to speak with activists.
Read more of the Sept. 15-21, 2021 issue.