I made a somewhat impromptu decision to spend the 4th of July weekend in Seattle. I’m working on a writing project (I’ll tell you about it in the future), and it was kind of irresistible to pass up a chance to explore the former Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), which was re-branded as Capitol Hill Organized (or Occupied, depending on who you talk to) Protest zone (CHOP). What better place to spend the holiday?
On June 8, protesters drove the Seattle Police Department out of their East Precinct and claimed a six block area (with the East Precinct and Cal Anderson Park as the center) as a “cop-free zone.” After that, “Free Capitol Hill” was held down to various results. Some described it as a summer of love street fest and others an anarchist warzone. The truth is, according to various people I interviewed, more complex than a quick label allows.
After a fatal shooting in the CHOP, a battalion of police and city workers opened it up and cleared protesters out early in the morning July 1, arresting anyone who resisted, removing tents and barricades.
Police kept everyone but residents out for a couple days after that, setting up a perimeter around the entire zone, giving the area the new nickname POOCH (Police Officer Occupied Capitol Hill). I wasn’t sure what I’d find, post-CHOP, but I thought it was worthwhile to go out and see the terrain and interview a few people.
On Friday night, after a long day of wandering around Capitol Hill I met up with some Real-life Superheroes (RLSH). This is, if you didn’t know, an extremely familiar topic to me. My first book, Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real-life Superhero Movement (Chicago Review Press, 2013) was a thorough look at this adventurous lifestyle. My upcoming book American Madness revisits the subculture briefly, too. I was particularly interested to talk to the Emerald City Heroes Organization (ECHO) because they had been spending a lot of patrol time in the CHOP.
My wildest moment over the weekend was observing the clash between a “patriot march” of the Alt-Right. They had proclaimed that “thousands” would be descending to dismantle the CHOP, but after police cleared they area, they said they would perform a “victory lap.” In reality, about 30 showed, including former Proud Boys, a group called Patriot Prayer, militia-types, and at least one openly showing off Nazi tattoos.
I’ll write in detail about what happened in the future, but the short version is Antifa, protesters, and Cap Hill residents chased the group out of town. Police broke up the conflicting sides at the beginning, but at some point just disappeared. The Alt-Right group tried to deter the protesters chasing them down by spraying clouds of bear mace into the street (several Cap Hill residents sitting on their porches got sprayed and joined in angry pursuit). I caught a good whiff of it. They would spray a huge cloud and then when protesters caught up with them again, they’d spray again– they did this 4 or 5 times (one time it backfired when the wind changed direction and they sprayed themselves).
Last time I was in Seattle (in 2011), by the way, I was following RLSH Phoenix Jones and witnessed an event called the “Pepper Spray Incident,” which I wrote about in Heroes in the Night. I guess every time I go to Seattle, I get a taste of pepper spray!
Eventually police reappeared and gave the Alt-Right enough of a buffer to escape.
Converge Media is an independent news site based in Cap Hill and are out livestreaming protests and other actions every day. You can see their footage of the first part of the protest (keep an eye out for me– big, tall guy in a green Milwaukee Record shirt and black Fuel Cafe baseball hat) here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1022231294913417
The last day I ventured into the CHOP area was Sunday. It was a beautiful afternoon and I ran into several tourists to the CHOP taking pictures of the remaining graffiti, trying to capture this moment of Seattle history.
Here’s a couple random shots I took:
And here’s a postcard I designed for you:
My upcoming book American Madness features a journey through conspiracy culture. It’s out August 25, 2020 from Feral House. To pre-order: Lion’s Tooth: CLICK HERE Bookshop.org: CLICK HERE Amazon:CLICK HERE
It’s on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52486773-american-madness
“Tea Krulos has forged a fascinating collection of work by immersing himself in various sub-cultures that exist on the fringes of society.” —Cult of Weird