Benjamin Anthony Varela, a 36-year-old resident of Olympia, was taken into custody on Sept. 23 on suspicion of assault and vandalism. Varela was later charged with assault in the first degree for shooting Tusitala Toese, a Proud Boys leader, according to court documents obtained by The Epoch Times.
The Proud Boys, a right-wing group that has engaged in violence in the past, clashed with members of Antifa, a far-left, anarcho-communist network, in Olympia on Sept. 4. The Proud Boys had volunteered to provide security for anti-vaccine mandate protesters and Antifa mobilized to try to shut the protests down.
Surveillance footage showed Proud Boys pursuing members of a group allied with Antifa when the groups confronted each other at the Intercity Transit Station.
Shots were fired “by someone from the Antifa group” and a bullet struck Toese, known as Tiny, Olympia Interim Police Chief Aaron Jelcick said in a statement.
According to a probable cause statement filed with the court, surveillance video showed a man pulling a gun from his waist area and opening fire at Toese and those near him. Five rounds were fired, one of which hit Toese’s foot, and five 9mm shell casings were discovered at the scene.
Toese told detectives he was shot by an Antifa member. Andy Ngo, a reporter, said that Varela has a history of posting far-left content on social media, that Varela’s profile on Twitter described him as a “professional anarchist, thug, and paid protester,” and that his YouTube account featured an Antifa flag as its profile image.
Detectives were able to find video of Varela unmasked before the shooting and of the Olympia man changing clothes after the shooting. The individual was spotted with Jessica O’Connor. Police had pulled O’Connor over in August and she was driving a vehicle registered to Varela. Additionally, surveillance of O’Connor on Sept. 21 showed her with Varela.
Varela was interviewed after being arrested and O’Connor told a detective that she and Varela, who are dating, went to downtown Olympia on the day of the shooting dressed in all-black, which is Antifa’s style. She also said they were in the area to “protest.” She said she did not witness anybody firing the shots.
Law enforcement executing a search warrant for the couple’s apartment found a handgun in a locked container under a bed.
It’s not clear if Varela has hired an attorney and he could not be reached for comment.