SEQUIM — Investigators into the reported harassment of a Spokane family in Forks on Wednesday evening said they did not know if there was a direct link between that incident and statements made by FREDS Guns 2.0 owner Seth Larson on his Facebook page earlier that day.
“At this point, we don’t know, but we will be finding out,” said Sgt. Ed Anderson with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, who is leading the investigation.
Larson posted that he had been told the protest group Antifa would be coming to Sequim during a protest there at noon Wednesday. He said they were being bused into town from Seattle and would be violent. He did not identify his source.
He issued a call to action for armed people to defend Sequim’s businesses against the group before he attended the protest, found it to be peaceful, and apologized, saying he had “jumped the gun” with a “knee-jerk” reaction.
Later on his Facebook Page, he claimed he had received threats, including one to burn down his shop in Carlsborg and his home.
He said he had armed supporters protecting his store and home on Wednesday night. Many, he said, were from Eastern Washington.
Larson could not be reached for comment on Friday or Saturday.
Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King said that there may be a link between the false reports about Antifa’s intentions and the Sequim and Forks incidents.
“That possibility is certainly there,” King said.
“There’s a lot of heightened emotions now that come from hours watching social media and news footage regarding unrest in local communities and nationally,” he said.
“A combination of all those things instills some panic and fear.
“That’s really what I saw Wednesday with a whole lot of misinformation going on out there.
“There was a belief among some that Antifa was here, whatever Antifa looks like.”
False social media reports of Antifa organizing protest forays into rural America were reported Tuesday by NBC News and The Associated Press, which said some were spread by a white supremacy group.
Antifa is not an organized group. The term is short for “anti-fascists” and it is used as as an umbrella term for leftist militant groups that confront or resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.
Larson showed up at the anti-racism rally in Sequim reportedly armed and, King said, accompanied by about nine armed supporters.
Larson said on his Facebook Page that he was responding to “intel” he had received and intended only to protect the town.
When he discovered the protest was peaceful, he said he apologized to those there.
Larson said in a Facebook post that most accepted his apology but that a few “wanted to make it that I was the terrorist, that I was inciting violence.”
Larson told Courtney Thomas, organizer of the Wednesday protest, that he expected Antifa members to arrive, she said.
“He said he heard on the Internet that Antifa would be going into rural areas to break windows,” Thomas said.
“He said it’s all over the Internet.
“He heard they would be busing Antifa into our area.”
Thomas, who said Larson was armed, recorded a lengthy exchange she had with Larson at the rally.
“They burn everything down, they destroy everything,” Larson is heard saying.
He also is heard apologizing to Thomas.
“Our intel was Antifa was here and that it was not going to be a peaceful event,” he explained.
Thomas said one man brought two German shepherds.
The sheriff’s office and Sequim Police Department were aware of “rumored observations,” King said.
One alleged there was a large purchase of bricks at the Co-op in Sequim, which was unfounded, King said.
“We had no intelligence or information that would have suggested from the very outset that Antifa would be involved, and quite frankly, it’s something difficult to anticipate,” King said.
“They are not going to advertise that, and at the same time, it makes no sense to us in law enforcement that they would show up here.
“You’re not going to get nearly the attention in such a rural community like you do in urban areas.”
Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain told Larson to tone down his Facebook posts.
“He was not in contact with law enforcement and he had no direct knowledge of any of the things he alleged,” she said Friday in an email.
“We asked him to stop putting out erroneous and inflammatory information and to message his Facebook followers that his information was incorrect, which he did.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]
Executive Editor Leah Leach cna be reached through calling 360-417-3530 or at [email protected]