Law enforcement in Washington state on Thursday cleared a homeless camp that was dubbed an “occupation,” after the far-left Antifa network called for members to descend on the camp and confront officers.
Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood gave permission to police to clear the camp a day earlier than was previously announced because of information indicating calls to action were made to activists in the Pacific Northwest to try to stop the clearance.
“We took urgent, emergency action this morning outside Bellingham City Hall to protect the safety of all. … We acted today to reduce the risk of further injury, violence, and vandalism by those who are using the plight of our community’s most vulnerable to further their own agenda,” Fleetwood told reporters during a press conference.
“Some of the groups that came up here claimed to be from Antifa, and they were calling for groups all the way from Portland to come to Bellingham and disrupt the cleanup that was to occur,” added Interim Bellingham Police Chief Flo Simon.
“Some of the groups are just various extremist groups that wanted to be part of this protest,” she added, including people who had been at previous Black Lives Matter protests. Several people had traveled to the area on Thursday donning gear typically worn by Antifa members.
Bellingham is a city of some 88,000 about 88 miles north of Seattle, a primary hub of Antifa groups.
Antifa stands for anti-fascist but groups in the anarcho-communist network use fascist tactics and have repeatedly utilized violence to accomplish their goals.
The encampment sprung up outside City Hall in November 2020, ostensibly to protest a lack of housing in the area.
While officials gave a deadline of 4 p.m. on Friday to clear out, they moved in early because they received information that “certain groups known to have a history of confrontation” called for people to descend on Bellingham and disrupt the operation, the mayor said. He didn’t name the groups.
In a statement to the Bellingham Herald, the Bellingham Occupied Protest Mutual Aid Collective, which was assisting in resisting clearance of the encampment, said: “Claims of ‘outside agitators’ and denouncement of graffiti only serve to erase the very real and very valid anger and frustration that many community members feel. No amount of ‘playing by the rules’ of this current system will result in housing for all, because the current system is exactly what enables 1,500+ people in Whatcom County to live on the streets and in the forests in the first place.”
Officials tried moving on the collection of approximately 100 tents on Jan. 22 but were confronted by a group that the mayor described as including “intentional agitators” who were “far more intent on conflict than working towards any social good.” The group broke into City Hall as part of the effort to stop the clearance.
That was a clear “show of force,” Simon said.
City officials were negotiating with people in the encampment but reports of incidents greatly escalated in recent weeks. The city received multiple calls for assistance from the camp. Reports included people being assaulted with hatchets and baseball bats, and a fire started on the site last month after a propane tank exploded.
People at the encampment were conducting crimes such as drug deals, threatening city employees, and constructing a fortified wooden structure, from which someone recently hurled a rock through windows at City Hall.
The range of incidents prompted the closing of City Hall and a nearby library.
Officials said at least four arrests were made as they cleared the camp, primarily people who assaulted officers during the clearance.