SEATTLE—Mason McDermott and his father caught a would-be arsonist and put out the fire he set at their auto repair shop, but they couldn’t get police to come out and arrest him.
The McDermotts’ 49-year-old business is on the edge of central Seattle’s Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, six blocks controlled by demonstrators, and police were instructed not to go there.
“Multiple times, we called them,” McDermott told me on my radio show on Seattle’s KTTH-AM, referring to police. “They made it seem like they were going to come, [but] absolutely not. They did not.”
By McDermott’s count, he and his father, John McDermott, called 911 between 15 and 18 times two weeks ago about the man they caught trying to set their business ablaze.
But officers had been advised to avoid CHOP short of a mass casualty event, despite Police Chief Carmen Best’s claim June 15 that “there is no cop-free zone in the city of Seattle.”
Two weeks later, how much has that changed?
“We’re told we can’t go in. They won’t let us,” one police officer told me Saturday.
And early Monday, a drive-by shooting in CHOP left a 16-year-old boy dead and a 14-year-old seriously wounded.
“Enough is enough,” Best told reporters hours later.
The Rise of CHOP
Since early June, the country has turned its collective attention to a leaderless movement in Seattle, but fortunately, that movement never really had a chance.
Seattle’s experiment with an occupied, police-free activist zone of six blocks—now known as the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or CHOP—has turned out to be an abject failure after rampant gun violence, two homicides, at least one attempted rape, and frequent skirmishes.
CHOP sprang up after the May 25 death of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer 1,650 miles away in Minneapolis. Now it apparently is winding down as its population dwindles.
So how did we get here, and what has CHOP really been like?
Some admirers described CHOP as a marriage between a block party and a social justice commune. But rarely have so many activists, politicians, and journalists been so willfully ignorant or utterly inaccurate.
The Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, originally dubbed the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, never was what it proclaimed to be.
CHOP was born out of many nights of violent clashes between protesters and the Seattle Police Department, which had been ordered to protect its East Precinct from damage. Fearing escalating violence, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a first-term Democrat, decided to abandon the police station and pull her officers June 8.
That’s when protesters and radicals took the bustling neighborhood near downtown Seattle.
It’s true that CHOP enjoyed elements of a street fair. I saw Seattleites and tourists picking up complimentary snacks at the No-Cop Co-Op before lounging on the AstroTurf of Cal Anderson Park and taking in the rare agreeable weather during the early days.
The Conversation Cafe, a simple collection of secondhand couches, allowed progressive and socialist strangers and friends alike to discuss their activism. Gardens popped up in the north end of CHOP, surrounded by tents occupied by activists and the homeless. CHOP also boasted a mobile medical unit, a smoking area, and frequent documentary screenings and speeches.
But CHOP, which aligned itself with the Black Lives Matter movement, also developed segregationist policies. A portion of the park transformed into “Black Out: an all black healing space” from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
White allies guarded the area, allowing entry only “if you experienced oppression because you are black.” One garden was exclusive to “black and indigenous folks and their plant allies.”
The peaceful frivolity and activism lasted only about a day before violence broke out. Hellbent on proving that Americans can live without police—abolishing police being the first of 30 demands made to Seattle leaders—an armed and militant Antifa group handled security.
CHOP’s Security Forces
A group called the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club patrolled CHOP, communicating via walkie-talkies and text messages. Though these protesters once tweeted their support for open borders for America, they unironically helped guard CHOP’s fortified walls.
I watched as the gun club—along with like-minded protesters—monitored visitors they deemed suspicious and broke up or deescalated fights, sometimes with weapons.
They weren’t alone. Local rapper and Airbnb “superhost” Raz Simone, who the media dubbed a leader of the movement, took up security duties. He armed anyone who said they were over age 18 and ready to defend the fledgling “autonomous zone.”
It became an elaborate but dangerous game of dress-up.
Car Tender, the McDermotts’ auto repair business, was hit by an opportunistic criminal. Alerted to a break-in late June 14, the shop owners arrived to find a young man who they said was trying to set their business ablaze.
After the McDermotts realized police weren’t going to show, a new problem developed: 100 to 200 protesters gathered outside the repair shop, threatening to burn it down unless the McDermotts turned over the man they had caught, identified later as Richard Hanks, 21.
Protesters “knocked down the chain link fence that surrounds the business and rushed the yard,” according to a police report on the incident. “To appease the protesters, the suspect was released to them.”
Police said Hanks was held and questioned briefly, then physically assaulted by the group—some of the same protesters who argue that police too quickly turn to violence.
Hanks got away, but King County sheriff’s deputies arrested him several hours later while, they said, he was trying to steal a car.
So due process doesn’t exist at CHOP. Get accused of a crime and you may answer to angry people with weapons.
One man, falsely fingered for stealing a cellphone June 11, faced an angry mob that included one “security” member who pointed a metal bat at him menacingly.
No Freedom of Press
President Donald Trump weighed in June 10 on central Seattle’s autonomous zone, saying it had been taken over by “domestic terrorists.” While this was somewhat overstated, CHOP protesters had their own media narrative in mind.
With the help of reporters from CNN, The New York Times, and the Daily Beast, media outlets opposed to Trump, a media lie developed: Despite evidence to the contrary, CHOP was overwhelmingly peaceful.
Fawning over CHOP, some reporters were free of harassment and intimidation because they either pushed approved talking points or didn’t leave nearby hotel rooms after dark. But your media affiliation, and the time of day you reported from CHOP, dictated how those in the streets treated you.
A mob accosted and assaulted Brandi Kruse, a reporter with local KCPQ-TV (Q13-FOX), because of her perceived connection to Fox News Channel. She is a friend, and the video is terrifying.
And after a Fox News cameraman readied a live hit for me June 14 on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the crew pulled out for safety. We ended up filming at a safer location nearby.
Inside CHOP, protesters helped shape the media narrative by blocking anyone from recording violence. Without images, it’s easier to claim critics are lying about the violence.
First, they identify you as an unfriendly reporter and post your photos to Twitter alerting fellow protesters to, at best, be on their best behavior or, at worst, harass and intimidate. Second, they interfere.
Townhall’s Julio Rosas and I were inside CHOP on Saturday, June 13, documenting the scene. Within minutes, we saw multiple fights break out.
When we began to record the conflicts, protesters routinely bumped into us and blocked our views.
A co-worker got the same treatment Friday, he told me, when he tried to film a man who was pointing a cocked rifle at people in the crowd. Several others blocked the reporter from recording as someone warned him: “You are not recording this … because I said so. You don’t want to mess around with this.”
And protesters aren’t above using threats to coerce reporters into deleting video, even if the footage wasn’t particularly revealing.
Shawn Whiting, a Seattle-based video game designer, was confronted by a CHOP protester who demanded that he stop filming, “for your own safety.”
When Whiting called for help, a second activist asked: “What do you mean help? Who’s going to help you?”
Weekend of Gunfire
On June 11, a tent resident of CHOP allegedly attempted to rape a 25-year-old woman who is deaf. Police said they arrested a 37-year-old suspect.
But CHOP’s inevitable downfall began after deadly gun violence during the weekend of June 19 to 21. When cops don’t patrol, criminals tend to congregate. CHOP was no exception.
By many accounts, Seattle gangs descended into CHOP, where an open-air drug market flourished. Meanwhile, normal inter-CHOP skirmishes continued.
Then CHOP became deadly. Early on a Friday morning, June 19, an argument broke out.
“It’s getting heated down here,” a witness said on Facebook Live as the argument turned into a fight. “I saw a brother pull out a f—–g 12-inch f—–g blade out of his backpack.”
According to a CHOP organizer, the fight began when a young man identified as Lorenzo Anderson, 19, warned someone against using fireworks. The fight ended in gunfire.
Protesters prevented Seattle police, and consequently emergency medical technicians and fire personnel, from entering the zone. Anderson, who was black, later was pronounced dead.
That same morning, a second gunshot victim was rushed to the hospital, where he is recovering.
Early June 22, a 17-year-old boy was shot in the arm and CHOP denizens stole a phone to delete potentially incriminating or revealing footage.
Up until this point, as mayor, Durkan didn’t simply permit protesters to occupy this part of her city illegally; she enabled it. The city delivered portable toilets, cleaned the park, and installed heavy concrete barriers to protect the protesters from incoming cars.
Fearing a far-left challenger for reelection, Durkan kowtowed to the occupiers and turned the situation into a Seattle vs. Trump brawl. But more residents and businesses started to speak up.
Over the previous couple of weeks, business owners routinely told me—and my colleagues—that they wouldn’t speak out publicly for fear of retribution. But the firearms incidents made it untenable to pretend CHOP wasn’t violent.
Business owners and residents had filed two class-action lawsuits as of Thursday, arguing that the city abdicated the land to a mob, preventing the plaintiffs from enjoying their own neighborhood or using emergency services.
“The city chose to give it away and we have not seen it do anything to get it back or to work this out,” plaintiff Bill Donner, owner of a label-printing business in the heart of CHOP, told me on my Seattle radio show. “So the point of the lawsuit is to end the stalemate, clear the streets, clear everything.”
Residents that live in the CHOP zone also went on record with local media, complaining about the situation. With pressure mounting, Durkan was forced to act.
CHOP Winds Down. Sorta.
Durkan began to take a different tone on CHOP on June 22. No longer was it the “summer of love,” as the mayor had claimed to CNN.
Durkan apparently concluded that CHOP had become too violent and must be disbanded. But she offered no plan or timeline, perhaps hoping that the gun violence alone would drive protesters away.
Over the next few days, my latest visit showed, many protesters did leave. Now, the population of CHOP looks to be a fraction of what it once was. That gave the city an opening to move—or so officials thought.
City crews surprised remaining protesters early Friday by arriving to remove barriers, but the activists weren’t happy. They blocked the crews from working, and one protester reportedly pulled a gun on a city worker.
Durkan again retreated, and no one was arrested.
Durkan met that afternoon with handpicked protesters to negotiate an end to the occupation. Seattle officials barred media and the mayor told the only citizen journalist in attendance, Omari Salisbury, to stop live tweeting and streaming the meeting.
Afterward, Salisbury relayed that the protesters didn’t seem prepared to negotiate. Indeed, many of their demands, from ending qualified immunity for police officers to restoring the vote to those they deem disenfranchised, are not in the purview of the city.
Protestors eventually agreed to start the cleanup Sunday. That never happened. And early Monday, the drive-by shooting left a 16-year-old boy fatally wounded and another youth, 14, in critical condition.
Police said the two teens presumably were the occupants of a white Jeep Cherokee SUV into which “several unidentified people” had fired shots, MyNorthwest reported.
Like Lorenzo Anderson a week earlier, the dead teen was black.
“We need to be able to get back into the area,” Best, Seattle’s police chief, told reporters. “This is dangerous and unacceptable.”
What CHOP Could Have Been
The Capitol Hill Organized Protest suffered an existence of contradictions.
Called to action by the police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis, the protesters demanded an end to police brutality while they beat up or threatened those they viewed as suspects.
Protesters who previously declared borders racist and unnecessary quickly created their own borders to keep out unwanted elements.
They said they supported a free autonomous zone, but actively stopped a free press from doing honest reporting there.
Rather than be honest about what was happening on the ground, politicians turned a blind eye, giving the neighborhood to fringe activists and hoping it would help them politically.
They’ve been rewarded with class-action lawsuits.
Meanwhile, some media outlets reported on what they apparently wanted CHOP to be instead of what it actually was.
Imagine if all media outlets had been honest about CHOP. If they had called out the violence, maybe some of it could have been prevented. If they had criticized CHOP’s lack of leadership and organizing, some could have developed.
In the end, CHOP failed to meet what it had said would become its potential. Seattle remains without a functioning police precinct there, and the mayor still has no public plans to take it back.