Even after everything—the standoff, the accusations flying, the sheriff’s office beginning to ask questions—Seth Larson still did not seem entirely convinced he had made a mistake.
“I’m not gonna talk about what happened last night,” Larson said in a video he posted on June 4 to the Facebook page for Fred’s Guns 2.0, his business. “I just want to say thank you to all the patriots who showed up to protect my family from the threats at my house and my business, that they threatened to burn down.”
Larson looked tired and a little rumpled; he wore a grey hoodie, a layer of white-flecked stubble, and dark sunglasses. His hair was mussed. As he spoke, he pulled into the Fred’s Guns 2.0 parking lot and gestured at a ring of wary-looking people standing outside the building. He said they had been there all night, guarding the store.
“We were following certain things on the antifa group that were actually talking about me and my business,” Larson said, his eyes unreadable behind his glasses. “They left. They left and they were supposed to—a large group of the Black Lives Matter were supposed to meet with the …” he paused. “Certain people.”
The video cut off abruptly. Larson doesn’t seem to have made another, or any other direct reference to what happened on June 3. (He also didn’t return several requests for comment from VICE News made through email and Facebook Messenger, and nobody picked up the phone at Fred’s Guns 2.0 throughout last week.)
The events of that night, though, have roiled the town of Sequim and the neighboring community of Forks, 73 miles to the west. Both towns are located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, a remote, staggeringly beautiful, and economically depressed area that's been struggling even more during the pandemic.
Both towns have been engulfed in controversy over a bizarre chain of events Larson appears to have set in motion when he became convinced that antifa was coming to town. Specifically, fueled at least in part by disinformation on Twitter posted by a white supremacist group posing as antifascists, Larson seems to have become convinced that a march in Sequim in support of the Black Lives Matter movement was a possible pretext for those outside antifa agitators to shoot people, loot businesses, and, as he told the march’s organizer, “kill our white babies.”
Larson seems to have become convinced that a march in Sequim in support of the Black Lives Matter movement was a possible pretext for outside antifa agitators to shoot people, loot businesses, and, as he told the march’s organizer, “kill our white babies.”
Larson came to the rally with several other people who were, attendees say, heavily armed. He seemed, perhaps, to realize his mistake; in an encounter with march organizer Courtney Thomas, he insisted that he supported the aims of the demonstrators and stood with them, “as long as you’re peaceful,” he told her, per a video of the encounter.
But the panic and the paranoia didn’t end there. Before the sun rose on June 4, a multiracial family from Spokane looking to camp in the area would be harassed, accused of being antifa invaders, followed, and ultimately trapped on a remote road in Forks everyone refers to as “the A Road” when those pursuing them cut down several trees to make the road impassable. The family was only able to escape when a group of four high school students armed with chainsaws removed the trees, according to a statement from the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office about the incident.
The sheriff’s office is investigating, and the mayor of Forks has issued several carefully-worded statements; the family from Spokane hasn’t spoken to any news outlets or been publicly identified. But these are small communities: Everyone in Forks, Sequim, and to some extent neighboring Port Angeles, a larger and more progressive city, seems to know at least several of the people who followed the white bus. (Nor is it that hard to find out: Over the course of reporting this story, many people sent me Facebook screenshots of postings supposedly made by two local men in which they admitted they’d been part of the group that chased the Spokane family. One declined to comment when reached by VICE News—“I’m not giving you permission of any kind to try and write something,” he wrote—and the other did not respond. To be clear, there’s absolutely no indication that Seth Larson was among those who followed the bus.)
The Clallam County Sheriff’s office, however, told NBC that some of the vehicles following the family had been “tentatively identified,” and that their occupants could ultimately be charged with harassment and “malicious mischief.” The Sheriff’s Office also released surveillance video from a local business showing the white bus in their parking lot, being surrounded by cars.
“While the conduct of many on that day may have been morally reprehensible, to date there has been no criminal conduct identified as having occurred at the initial scene at Forks Outfitters,” the Sheriff’s Office wrote in the video’s caption on YouTube. “Based on the victims [sic] own statements, which are consistent with interviews conducted by investigators to date, there were no threats voiced to the family of bodily harm. Our investigators are now focusing our efforts on identifying those persons responsible for falling the trees and preventing the family from exiting the forest.”
In Sequim and Forks, no one seems to think anyone will ever be criminally charged; at most, people seem to think, someone may get a slap on the wrist for cutting down trees in a national forest.
“They’re able to do this stuff because there’s no accountability or social consequences,” one local activist, who asked to be called “Elle,” told VICE News.
And people familiar with the region say what happened on the A Road is part of a much older story about an area that feels strangled by the decisions of the federal government, often intensely resentful of outsiders, and terrified of losing what they have left. Since the election of Donald Trump, they say, that resentment and suspicion has taken on newer, stranger, far more overt shapes. Like dozens of small towns all over the country, that currently means an obsession with antifa, the semi-imaginary leftist enemy the president and other elected officials have spent weeks railing about.
“I think people are so much more outspoken here than they ever have been,” Courtney Thomas, the organizer of the rally that became the site of an antifa panic, said. “That’s the difference I see. They used to kinda whisper it, the racism, the bigotry. Now people are proud of it.”
To fully understand what happened in Forks and Sequim, it’s necessary, first, to understand a few things about old-growth forests, endangered seabirds, and the Hells Angels.
The Olympic Peninsula is among the most beautiful places on earth, home to several temperate rainforests and some of the oldest, tallest trees in the world, the so-called “Forest of Giants.” Sequim has a surprisingly temperate climate, with an unusual lack of rain for the OP; it’s become known for commercial lavender cultivation and as a good place to retire. Forks, meanwhile, relied on the timber trade for years, but saw its fortunes decline sharply starting in 1994 with the implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan, which was meant to end years of arguing about the permissibility of logging in areas where the northern spotted owl roosts. Northern spotted owls are heavily endangered, as are marbled murrelets, seabirds who live in the region and also roost in old-growth trees.
While the Northwest Forest Plan didn’t save the northern spotted owl—among other things, it started facing competition from the barred owl, a genetically similar bird—it did cause a sharp decline in the timber trade, which, while indisputably good for the environment, was pretty bad for Forks as a community. The area did see some uptick in vampire-related tourism in the mid-2000s, after Stephanie Meyer set her ultra-successful Twilight novels there, but that too has begun to cool in recent years.
“What’s unique about Forks is it’s so paranoid and insular because of what they feel, with some truth, is that the federal government in the ‘80s and ‘90s took a prosperous small tight-knit town and turned it into a barren economic wasteland due to changes to forestry policy,” Matthew Randazzo said.
Randazzo is an author and political consultant to tribal governments who previously lived in both Sequim and Port Angeles, and was the chair of the Clallam County Democratic Party from 2010 to 2012. Because he maintains ties to the Olympic Peninsula, he’s been watching the Forks incident closely, often tweeting scoops he’s getting from people in the community. Recently, he tweeted that he’s heard the camping family from Spokane was passing through because they wanted to see the place where Twilight was set. He also retweeted a screenshot that appears to be the mayor of Forks joking on Facebook about the protesters in Seattle getting teargassed. (The mayor didn’t respond to two requests for comment from VICE News.)
When Randazzo worked in the area, there was one story he heard constantly: It was about the time the Hells Angels came to Forks, and left bloodied and cowed.
“More than Sasquatch and Twilight, the foundational myth of Forks is the time the loggers beat the asses out of the Hells Angels and kicked them out of town,” Randazzo says. The actual details of the original story are a bit lost to time: One Seattle Times columnist has written that the bikers were there for an annual Fourth of July rally, spurring a fight with local loggers who firmly disinvited them out of town; the Chicago Tribune added a little more detail in 1991, writing that Forks “has developed a reputation as a tough town for outsiders. When a band of Hells Angels tried to take over in the 1970s, the loggers beat them up, trashed their bikes and tossed three of the Angels into the creek.”
Either way, the narrative that Forks—and to some extent, the surrounding area—will firmly show outside agitators the door has become pretty well-established. There’s also a not particularly subtle seam of xenophobia and prejudice that runs through the area, one person who grew up in Sequim told me. (They requested anonymity, as their family is still based there.)
“The city of Sequim is essentially non-black,” they said. (Census data shows the city is nearly 80 percent white, 8.8 percent Latinx and 3.74 “two or more races.) “Cultural ignorance and intolerance were standard practices among a significant portion of my peers, to really anyone that didn't fit the white centrist-conservative picture.” Today, the person added, “Confederate flags fly across the county. Thin blue line stickers are more than common.”
Courtney Thomas, who owns a small business in Sequim, was surprised that the march she organized became the focal point for outside antifa agitator fears. Her family, after all, has lived there for over 100 years—six generations—and she’s lived in Sequim her whole life, too.
“I love my town,” she said in a recent phone call. “I love where I’m from. I never want to leave.”
“I love my town,” she said. “I love where I’m from. I never want to leave.”
But Thomas was already concerned about what she saw as subtle and not-so-subtle racism in Sequim before the killing of George Floyd ignited weeks of protests across the country. She and others in the area said it's largely directed at members of the Latinx and Native communities, who are far more visible than the few Black families in the area. (Washington state has 29 federally recognized Native tribes. Sequim was recently the site of an ugly, prolonged battle when the Jamestown tribe attempted to open a drug treatment center in town, a debate that several people told me devolved quickly into ugly stereotyping about Native people as addicts.)
All of Thomas’ children are adopted and her youngest is Mexican-American; she had started to reflect on the fact that, as she put it, “I have to parent him differently” than her other, white-presenting kids, making him aware of the discrimination he might face. "And I'm so aware now this is something black mothers face every day," she added.
Thomas had envisioned a small solidarity march, letting her son know that she was trying to help build him a better and safer community. She didn’t expect her march to be massively well-attended— or that it would be flooded by men with guns and that the families who’d attended would decide to flee, rushing their children home in terror.
Antifa panics are, of course, an issue not limited to Forks or Sequim. In the past few weeks, as protests over Floyd’s death and other police killings heated up, and as looting and rioting occurred in several cities including New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Seattle, right-wing politicians have spent increasing amounts of time on the purported antifa threat. Donald Trump has hurled a mountain of invective against the demonstrators across the country—“radical left bad people,” “dangerous thugs,” “criminals and vandals”—but he has repeatedly and with relish invoked the idea that they’re antifa, and swore that the government would designate antifa as “a terror organization.” More recently, he specifically accused Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old peace activist who was violently pushed by Buffalo police officers, leading to a serious head injury, of being an “antifa provocateur.”
That rhetoric has filtered down to all levels of politicians, would-be politicians, and right-wing bloviators. Senator Ted Cruz has accused “antifa riots” of destroying communities, Candace Owens accused demonstrators in Minnesota of being “on the payroll of leftist anarchist groups,” and formerly mainstream journalist Lara Logan, who’s now a Fox Nation talking head, has claimed that “Antifa/anarchist groups” act as “violent enforcers” for some other, hidden group of people executing an agenda, one that uses racial-justice protests as a cover to execute a power grab. A QAnon fan named Marjory Green running for Congress in Georgia ran an eye-popping ad wherein she declares, “Antifa terrorists have declared war on America.” She cocks the AR-15 she’s holding, then adds, “Rioting, looting and burning our cities, George Soros, Hollywood elites and Joe Biden’s staff are funding antifa.”
This narrative being pressed by people with huge platforms has predictably spurred a wave of “antifa bus” panics, mostly in extremely small towns, which arise when community members become convinced that the shadowy threat they’ve heard so much about is on the way to destroy their businesses. In Asheville, NC, a one-man news outlet claimed that busloads of people had been dropped off at the local Harris Teeter, from busses with George license plates. In Sparta, Illinois, a Facebook post that’s still up quoted the ultra-conspiratorial website Natural News, writing “Antifa terrorists to be bused to Sparta, Illinois with orders to burn farm houses and kill livestock in rural white’ areas.”
Law enforcement officers are also far from immune from antifa bus panic. In northern California, Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal claimed to local media that “antifa was here” during protests the last week in May, that they were “dressed up” and “trying to instigate incidents here.” He apparently added, per one local outlet, “The California Highway Patrol has confirmed with us that buses associated with Antifa were located in the Central Valley,” further south from Humboldt. The CHP denied that claim. Honsal later modified his claims, telling the Times-Standard that he “did not get reports of buses here in Humboldt County,” though he still claimed CHP had reported buses in neighboring counties. It’s unclear whether he still believes antifa came to Humboldt County, perhaps through some other mode of transportation.
Meanwhile, police in Columbus, Ohio tweeted that they’d stopped a colorfully-painted schoolbus, writing, “There was a suspicion of supplying riot equipment to rioters. Detectives followed up w/a vehicle search today & found: bats, rocks, meat cleavers, axes, clubs & other projectiles.” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida shared the tweet, writing, sarcastically, “I guess still 'no evidence' of an organized effort to inject violence & anarchy into the protests right?”
In fact, however, the bus turned out to belong to traveling hippie circus performers, Columbus Alive reported, who’d been living in the bus in Columbus for the last year or so, and who’d come downtown to near where protests were being held with the intention of offering basic first aid to demonstrators who might need it. The “meat cleaver” was from the knife block in the kitchen and the clubs were for juggling.
And the antifa bus fear is one that seems to be particularly potent as communities try to struggle through the novel coronavirus pandemic. Ludicrous as it is, it touches on a raw nerve: The possibility that a malevolent outside force could very well destroy what little they’ve managed to hold onto. In an area like Forks, already often a place with a dim view of the outside world, it’s easy to see how exactly it took hold.
During the pandemic, Randazzo says, “You had communities in the OP that had almost no infections but got totally shut down. That caused an intense backlash.” Small businesses were shut down, while big box stores weren’t, and small areas were harder hit than major cities. That divide, Randazzo said, created a stronger sense of the rural versus urban alienation, and, as he put it, “increased the sense that there was a conspiracy to sabotage Trump and rural communities.”
State Rep. Mike Chapman, who represents the Olympic Peninsula, said during a virtual summit that the shutdown created massive economic and social issues in the area.
“Instantly, we just took a 20-year step back on fighting opioid addiction, chronic unemployment and homelessness,” he said, per a news outlet called The Lens, which describes itself as “pro-business” and “pro-growth.” Chapman added, “[Now] it’s Great Depression-era unemployment.”
For his part, Seth Larson was intensely critical of the shutdown, saying in May he found it “very frustrating” that so few people had turned out for a rally to reopen Clallam County. He sometimes spoke in near-apocalyptic terms, posting on the Fred’s Guns 2.0 page on May 12, “They really want to shut people up. I smell War in the near future if this keeps happening. I am the voice of everyone who has any balls left. The majority is telling me to shut up and be a good boot licker. The ones being quiet are preparing for War. I know and talk with thousands of people because of my job. And I am telling you now the day of reckoning is around the corner.”
The shutdown, Randazzo said, exacerbated preexisting issues so intensely that an antifa invasion seemed realistic. The bus paranoia, he thinks, also played into a bit of a heroic fantasy, one that harkened back to that famous Hells Angels encounter. “On Forks community pages there were a ton of photos and narrative about how Forks had repelled an antifa bus that was coming to town to destroy businesses and break windows,” Randazzo said. “And how they had been met by hardy local militia members who’d let them know in no uncertain terms that they weren’t welcome.”
Anti-fascists are, of course, a real thing. So are organized, anonymous antifa groups who send out communiques through sites like It’s Going Down. Black bloc protest tactics are a common sight at major demonstrations and have been for a long time; this, above anything else, seems to be what a lot of people mean when they say “antifa.”
The idea, though, that antifa spends time bussing itself all over the country to loot small-town main streets is, to put it lightly, ridiculous; it fuses the reliable “outside agitator” narrative that often arises during protests with paranoia about elites—George Soros, Bill Gates, take your pick—funding chaos and disruption in order to socially engineer a totalitarian leftist society.
Nonetheless, armed citizens in small towns across the country showed up to defuse the invisible antifa threat. In the small town of Klamath Falls, Oregon, as NBC reported, a situation very similar to Forks played out: While demonstrators rallied in support of Black Lives Matter, heavily armed counter-protesters showed up to face the supposed antifa threat they’d heard was coming.
"As you can tell, we are ready," one person had vowed in a Facebook Live stream before the event. "Antifa members have threatened our town and said that they're going to burn everything and to kill white people, basically.” When no antifa invaders showed up, NBC reporters Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins wrote, the people who’d come out to face them celebrated nonetheless; the owner of a local billiards bar wrote on social media, “Antifa didn’t make it to the courthouse and my bar had no incidents. Antifa walked into a hornet’s nest. It was like a sixth grade football team walking into the Oakland Coliseum to take on the Raiders.”
The billiards bar owner added that he understood why Black Lives Matter-sympathetic demonstrators who had rallied in Klamath Falls felt uneasy. “"I can see why they felt threatened somewhat, because they actually were," Kline said of the Black Lives Matter protesters who faced the militia on Sunday. "We didn't know what we were up against, you know? They were just trying to make a peaceful demonstration, and they ran into a fight."
Klamath Falls appears to have been spooked by the same thing that Seth Larson was: A Twitter account that called itself “ANTIFA_US” and tweeted, on June 1, “Tonight’s the night, Comrades. Tonight we say 'Fuck The City' and we move into the residential areas... the white hoods.... and we take what's ours …” The tweet was punctuated by a raised brown fist emoji and one of flames.
Fred’s Gun’s 2.0 shared this tweet the same day it was posted, writing, “Watch out for each other patriots.” (So did Donald Trump Jr., which is likely how the tweet went viral.) Soon thereafter, Twitter took down the account, and before long revealed that @ANTIFA_US had been operated by the white supremacist group Identity Evropa.
The damage was done, however, the paranoia sown. (The tweet remains up on the Fred’s Guns 2.0 page, though Facebook has now flagged it as “false information. “) Seven minutes after reposting the tweet, at 2:19 a.m., Fred’s Guns 2.0 added that it needed “people ready and prepared to support the police, businesses and homes if necessary.”
On June 3, Courtney Thomas and the other demonstrators in Sequim gathered at the main intersection in town and traveled slowly 12 blocks to the west, to the other side of town. “We had a lot of young families supporting us,” she said, including her five-year-old son, who wanted “to tell the bad people to be nice.” At its peak, the demonstration drew some 500 people, which, for a town of just under 8,000, is massive.
“I was brought to tears many times that day,” Thomas said. She’d told her husband she expected maybe 30 people to show, but instead, “People rallied behind us so quickly it made my head spin.” They got plenty of negative feedback too, she said—people yelling, flipping the middle finger, or doing a little deliberate burning out or gunning the engine as they drove by. “But the number of people honking and giving thumbs up and peace signs was huge.”
“Elle,” a woman in Port Angeles who’s participated in past protests in the region, and who asked VICE News to use a pseudonym because she’s worried about her safety, attended the Sequim march. “It was very peaceful,” she said. But about two hours in, “we posted up at one intersection and we were hearing rumors about this school bus.” Elle’s husband heard from his family that he needed to leave “because antifa’s coming,” she said.
“It was going through the crowd,” Elle said. They started to think they needed to leave, as rumors filtered in that looting had started at the local Walmart.
“It sounded like ridiculous rumors,” she said. “But knowing we had people there in the town ready to ‘defend the town’ if needed, that made it more nerve wracking for us. We didn’t want to be here if Seth Larson and the people he riled up were going to be there.”
Soon enough, Larson did appear, bringing with him what Thomas described as several people “with huge assault rifles,” as well as “a guy in a huge security vest armed with two German shepherds.” Families began to leave in a hurry; Thomas sent her own son home. The few remaining attendees were making informal speeches from atop a purple bench, Thomas said, and Larson asked if he could deliver one too. She later posted a video of his speech to Facebook.
“You have to understand,” Larson thundered at the attendees. “I love everybody here. I know there’s rumors going around that say I’m a racist and I hate black people. Many people don’t know this, but I was in Sierra Leone from 1996 to 1997 to protect the people during genocide. I fought, bled, watched children butchered in Sierra Leone.” (It is unclear what Larson is referring to here; Sierra Leone was in the midst of a long and bloody civil war in 1996, but the U.S. military wasn’t stationed there. It’s unclear if Larson is a military veteran or has served with a peacekeeping entity. He did not respond to requests for comment from VICE News.)
“I’m here to protect all human life,” he said. “I’m here to stand with you united. We believe in the right movement.” (Here, he was momentarily drowned out by a mixture of boos and applause.) “We’re here to keep the community safe.”
Larson acknowledged that he had only seen “peaceful protest” that day, adding, “We are not here to incite violence. We are here to protest peacefully. Because when we come in numbers, they listen. I am not here to scare anybody.”
In a heated discussion a few minutes later that Thomas also filmed, Larson apologized to Thomas for driving away many of the attendees. (In the background, a group of young men, in either teens or early twenties, could be seen chanting "Abolish ICE.")
“I would like to just say, the intel we had is that antifa was here, not peaceful protesters,” he told her.
“I would like to just say, the intel we had is that antifa was here, not peaceful protesters,” he said.
“Where did you get that from?” she asked.
“All over the internet,” Larson said. “It said that people were being bussed in at noon and most of them were antifa and they were going to burn and break windows, online.”
“And you felt that your reponse to that was to use your business's network to call for people to get down here and fuck people up?” Thomas asked, indignantly.
“My response to that was that we were not going to allow that to happen in our town,” Larson replied. Addressing the camera, not Thomas, he added, according to the video, “We will fuck anybody up, who comes to our town to break windows and burns our city. We are not for that, you guys. We are for what they’re doing right there. This woman is doing peaceful protest. They’re not breaking our windows. They’re not burning our city down. We stand toe to toe and side by side with these people. But we do not stand side by side with people who want to break, slaughter, and kill cops. We’re not for that. And when we saw what antifa posted two nights ago about coming to the rural areas and burning down our houses and killing our white babies, we are not for that. That’s why you got that response from us.” (He added, in response to a question from Thomas, that he "would have done just the same" had the warning been about killing black babies.)
A moment later, Larson also told Thomas, “I sent my kids home too … I had five kids here protesting with you. But when we saw antifa show up …”
“When did antifa show up?” Thomas demanded. “Where are they?” She looked around, then shouted, “Antifa? Where are you?”
Larson interjected, calling Thomas “honey.” When she objected to being addressed that way, he looked at the camera again and added, “Courtney is very high-strung, I’m sorry. But she needs to realize that when someone says sorry for messing up her event that she should say, ‘I absolutely accept your apology,’ instead of keeping the nation divided, which they love to do.” He looked back at Thomas. “You’re not taking my apology and going with it. Look at your eyes. You’re totally amped up. Look at you. You’re full of hate. You’re absolutely full of hate. You’re losing your shit. I just came here to apologize.”
The discussion ended shortly after.
Later that day, photos of the white bus had begun to show up on Forks community threads. One photo, posted by a local man, appears to show two men leaning into the white bus. “Antifa in Forks?” the caption reads. “Think they were lying about being here on a camping trip, but pretty sure they saw a full dose of don’t do it here.” He punctuated the sentence with an American flag and an emoji of a pumping bicep. (This man didn’t respond to a request for comment; he’s not being named because neither he nor the other person tagged in the photo have been charged with a crime.)
According to the Peninsula Daily News, at 6:39 P.M. on Wednesday, deputies were dispatched to the Sitkum Sol Duc Road (the A Road), where four people—a husband and wife, their 16-year-old teenager, and the husband’s mother—said they were stranded after someone cut down alder trees to block the roadway. The family told deputies that when they’d stopped for camping supplies at Forks Outfitters they were confronted by “by seven or eight carloads of people in the grocery store parking lot,” the department said in a press release.
“The people in the parking lot repeatedly asked them if they were Antifa protesters. The family told the people they weren’t associated with any such group and were just camping,” the release added. “The family had to drive their bus around vehicles in the parking lot in order to get back onto Highway 101.”
The family also told deputies they were followed as they drove northbound out of Forks, up to a logging road where they intended to camp. People in at least two of the cars had “what appeared to be semi-automatic rifles,” they said. They tried to set up camp, but when they heard gunshots and power saws in the distance, they packed up to leave, only to discover the logging road had been blocked by the felled trees. Per the release, several high school students used a chainsaw to clear the trees from the roadway and help the family leave. (VICE News contacted two of the students, whom several people said were involved in the rescue effort; one did not respond and the other declined to comment.)
The family tried to set up camp, but when they heard gunshots and power saws in the distance, they packed up to leave, only to discover the logging road had been blocked by the felled trees.
Sheriff’s deputies say the family was interviewed by police and then left; soon thereafter, their bus broke down and deputies helped them get their it running again so they could travel.
Several people told VICE News that in the afternoon leading up to when the family called for help, the mood in local community groups had been celebratory. Photos of the bus were posted, along with the hashtag “Forks Strong” and plenty of laughing emojis. One of the people who posted such a photo was identified as the son of the mayor of Forks, posting a photo of the bus behind a thicket of trees across a roadway, with only “#forksstrong” as a caption. (The mayor, Tim Fletcher, didn’t respond to an email from VICE News. In a statement at a recent City Council meeting, Fletcher read a statement apologizing to the family on behalf of the town.)
According to another area paper, Herald Net, a Forks City Council member revealed he’d been in the parking lot of Forks Outfitters when the family was being harassed. Michael Gilstrap told the council he defended the family: “I told everyone to leave them alone, even if they were from Antifa,” Gilstrap said.
In the days after the Spokane family was trapped and then freed, Forks and Sequim erupted into anger, recrimination, and dueling accusations. Courtney Thomas, who organized the Sequim protest, attended another protest against racism in Port Angeles that was also meant to serve as a response to the events that took place in Forks.
“People are following me around filming me constantly,” she said. She recognized one of them: The man with the security vest and the German shepherds who’d been at the Sequim protest. “He waved and then gave me the ‘I’m watching you,’ sign,” she said dryly. Thomas’ husband had a sign reading THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS—a reference to what Woody Guthrie famously wrote on his guitar. The man asked to see the sign and photographed it. Then, Thomas said, “he pretended to drive away” before joining four other men, also busily filming the couple from a distance. The photo of Thomas’ husband quickly appeared on a Port Angeles community Facebook page, posted by a man named Graham.
“This is the shit that is part of the problem,” he wrote. “Let’s not forget. These are two of the organizers of a lot of these rallies….. So much for non aggression, peace and unity.” (Andrew didn’t respond to a request for comment about his posting of the photo.)
“After the protest I went home and picked up my kids and started crying because I was so afraid,” Thomas told me. “I’m not worried about myself. I’m worried about their mother.”
The lingering question, of course, is whether Seth Larson’s frothing antifa fears led to the family in Forks being followed, and whether any of the people who accompanied him to the Sequim protest were in the cars that followed the family in their white bus. Fred’s Gun’s 2.0 posted a statement on June 11, reading, “We weren’t in Forks! And Epstein didn’t kill himself!”—a reference to yet another conspiratorial meme.
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office didn’t respond to a request for comment from VICE News about the status of the investigation.
As the sheriff’s deputies continue to investigate, though, most of the people on Facebook who were initially, publicly gleeful about the family being followed seem to have erased their comments, and, in some places, their accounts.
But one person, the man who told VICE News he wasn’t giving us “permission” to write an article, did post a comment recently recounting what he said was his interview with the people in the bus.
“I asked them if they know why they were followed from Sequim,” he wrote. “I said, it’s said you are Antifa. They giggled. And then I said yes, that’s why all these people have followed you and are now sitting here wondering what is going on.”
Some progressive activists hope the incidents in Forks and Sequim will serve as a moment of true reckoning, a chance to make Forks specifically a better and more welcoming place.
“I am pushing for our citizens to hold each other accountable,” said Danielle Sumner, a local community activist and ex-government employee who’s lived in Forks for two years. “To not let their friends and family get away with wrongdoings. If we tell them it’s okay, then they will think it’s okay.” She’s pushing for the mayor to be recalled, and for more thorough and more diverse history to be taught in local high schools.
But others are still pretty sure that the antifa threat is not really over, and that whoever followed that family did the right thing.
“Call this whole thing a dry run for the real McCoy,” one man told Seth Larson in a Facebook comment on the Fred’s Guns 2.0 page. He’d heard, he wrote, that antifa tried to invade a neighboring county, and was similarly repelled.
“Your response was the correct one,” the man added. “If it happens again, do it again.”
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.