Heavy security, small rally greet Legislature’s 1st day at Washington state Capitol

Eufemia Didonato

Scores of National Guard troops and state law enforcement officers monitored a small group of right-wing protesters outside the fenced-off Capitol in Olympia on Monday in a tense start to this year’s legislative session and the beginning of what one official described as a new era for government security.  The […]

Scores of National Guard troops and state law enforcement officers monitored a small group of right-wing protesters outside the fenced-off Capitol in Olympia on Monday in a tense start to this year’s legislative session and the beginning of what one official described as a new era for government security. 

The demonstrators — many of them armed with handguns, rifles, sticks and knives, and some dressed in camouflage fatigues and ballistic vests — rallied in the rain for hours. They were protesting officials’ decision to close the state Capitol to the public over COVID-19 concerns, contending lawmakers’ hearings and debates should remain open to the public. 

It was at least the third day of protest outside the state Capitol since Wednesday, when President Donald Trump incited a mob of his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol in Washington. 

Amid the heightened tensions on Wednesday,  a group of far-right demonstrators were able to open a gate door and make their way up a driveway to the Washington state governor’s mansion. On Sunday, protests in Olympia remained largely peaceful, after a chain-link fence was erected as a new security measure and Gov. Jay Inslee authorized the National Guard to secure the Capitol. 

“We have turned a page in history,” Chris Loftis, a spokesperson for the Washington State Patrol said Monday. “All government officers and installations are simply going to have to realize we’re in a new world.” 

Increased security at the Capitol could become an everyday fact of life moving forward as a result of both the insurrection in Washington, D.C., and the events at the governor’s mansion on Wednesday, according to Loftis.

“That doesn’t mean some draconian world where democracy dies and the rain always comes and the sun never shines. It just means we’re in a different place,” Loftis said.

Sgt. Darren Wright said the state had the staffing and manpower to keep anyone from attacking the Capitol to interrupt the Legislature’s business. 

There were two arrests Monday. The first occurred around 8 a.m. when an RV blocked one of the checkpoints surrounding the Capitol. Most of the people in the vehicle left when given the option, but one woman refused and was arrested, Wright said. 

Around 11 a.m., authorities arrested Thomas Hughes, 30, of Everett, when he walked toward the Capitol and attempted to make his way past police and National Guard troops. Earlier in the morning, he had repeatedly announced to others that he planned to try to cross the security line because he believed he had a state constitutional right to enter the building.

He held an umbrella and stretched his arms open as he walked toward authorities. He was promptly arrested while other protestors shouted obscenities at police and the National Guard troops. 

One person yelled that officials should allow him to “see his lawmaker.” 

While the legislative session will still be streamed online for the public, some Republicans have stated internet access remains limited for some.  

Loftis, the state patrol spokesperson, said Hughes had also been among the crowd that crossed onto the lawn of the governor’s mansion Wednesday. He has been charged with criminal trespass in connection with that foray last week. 

Amid the protests, some of the roughly 30 protesters who gathered outside the Capitol taunted authorities, telling them to uphold their oath of office and saying some were there just to collect a paycheck. 

At one point, several gathered around Miguel Louis, a progressive activist and journalist from Olympia, trying to engage him in a shouting match over his political views. While alone, Louis said he showed up at the Capitol to provide an opposing voice at the small rally. 

He also said he was troubled by the group’s opposition to public health measures, including the decision to keep the Capitol closed, as well as alignments in the group among those who attacked the U.S. Capitol. 

“It’s disturbing to me,” Louis said. “This is an ideology that leads to hatred and people in cages. … Part of my role here is to stand up as dissent.” 

Philip Anderson, a Trump supporter who said he was from Texas, was among the protesters in Olympia on Monday. He said he had been in D.C. last week and was trampled outside the door of the building where federal lawmakers were meeting to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory. 

Anderson said he feared he would not survive the panic that ensued as police used tear gas and rubber bullets outside one of the building’s doors. 

”Everyone turned around to run and I got pushed down,” he said. “It was a pile on … and I accepted that I was going to die.”

Anderson said he briefly lost consciousness, and when he came to he had been carried by others to safety. 

In Olympia on Monday, he lifted up his blue “Trump, 45th President” sweatshirt to display a fresh wound from the trampling.

He said he remains haunted about the fate of a woman who also was trampled. “She was holding my hand, then she let go and stopped talking,” Anderson said. 

Anderson is a veteran of other protests during the past year. He is missing two front teeth that he attributed to a blow from an assailant during an Oct. 20 “free speech rally,” in San Francisco. Anderson helped to organize that event, which was canceled minutes after it started as violence flared, according to a news report by KGO ABC 7.

Anderson said one of the reasons he flew to Washington this week was to visit a dentist here who offered to help him get implants for the missing teeth. 

Doug Casity, a self-described patriot from Tacoma, said the national outrage over the siege at the U.S. Capitol and other factors may have led some to decide against gathering Monday in Olympia.

“Since they are calling us insurrectionists now, I’m sure that weakened morale and scared quite a few people out of going,” said Casity, who was carrying a semi-automatic handgun, and had a pump-action shotgun strapped across his body. 

After the Legislature convened, Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, attacked the Democrats’ decision to conduct business via Zoom in remarks to a few protesters who continued to gather outside the fence that surrounds the Capitol.

Walsh said business owners and others need to be able to come to Olympia to speak out against COVID-19 rules and say, “Stop hurting us. Stop putting us out of work.”

“What this Zoom session does — it cuts you guys out of that process,” Walsh said. He vowed to continue to fight the rules.

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