PORT ANGELES — An estimated 200 to 300 anti-vaccine-mandate protesters rallied outside the Clallam County Courthouse on Friday morning before dozens entered the lobby, intent on confronting Dr. Allison Berry, the health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Law enforcement personnel blocked members of the crowd from proceeding down a hallway where a COVID-19 briefing was being held, upstairs to a courtroom that was in session, and downstairs to the basement, where the emergency operations center is located.
The meeting was not public and included Berry’s participation remotely via the county’s Granicus online meeting platform.
“The meeting was cut short once the crowd was attempting to make their way down the hall to the meeting room,” Brian King, Clallam County chief criminal deputy, said later Friday.
“There were a few folks who demanded to make their way into the meeting room.
“I did bring a couple of folks back so they could see Allison was not there. There wasn’t a whole lot of trust.”
Once they entered, men, women and children crowded into the first-floor area, where they continued to rally, shouting chants against Berry and demanding she be fired.
Her requirement for proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor restaurant and bar patrons in both counties went into effect Saturday. Those without prooof of vaccination or who do not want to provide proof can be seated outdoors or use takeout.
After about 45 minutes and several impromptu speeches by participants, a smaller version of the crowd slowly streamed out of the courthouse without incident, gathering to hear more speeches on the paved entryway.
Peaceful, insistent and sometimes angry before leaving, they challenged federal, state and local health officials’ justification for mandating the vaccine, now required statewide of most state, school, health care and child care employees.
They said that taking a vaccine is a personal choice.
The COVID-19 virus has infected Clallam County residents at a rate of 1,000 per 100,000 population.
Jerry Ludke, the former Port of Port Angeles airport manager, held a sign that said, “Unthankful for scary Dr. Berry,” about 30 minutes before protesters crowded into the courthouse. Berry’s former name while married was Unthank.
Ludke stood across Lincoln Street from the stately building, where hundreds of protesters crowded on the lawn and vehicles drove by, some drivers honking their support for the anti-vaccination-mandate cause.
“I’m out here to protest the vaccine mandate that is going into place tomorrow where people have to show their papers to go into restaurants and bars,” Ludke said.
“I think this is a free country, I think this is one more step towards tyranny, and people should have their freedom. They should be given health care information and people are smart enough enough to make their own decisions.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control said Aug. 6 that unvaccinated people who have had COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to get the coronavirus as those who are fully vaccinated (cdc.gov/media/releases).
Minutes later, a man shouted to the protesters through a megaphone, “To the front door, to the front door. We’re not here to hold signs.”
As the mass of people slowly moved to the Fourth Street entrance, to the blare of vehicle horns, a reporter wearing two masks for protection asked him for his name.
“If you took your masks off and you were a human, I would help you,” he said. No adults could be seen wearing masks.
A few seconds later, as the crowd kept moving, he identified himself as Anthony Banker, of Sequim, ” a freedom fighter from Washington,” he said. “We will not be stopped.”
He exhorted the crowd, “they don’t want us to go through the front door.”
Banker urged the crowd to be peaceful.
“This is why we don’t have to have violence. This is why we don’t have to tear down buildings. This why we don’t have to light fires. Because we will show up in numbers with love in our hearts.”
Horns kept blaring as the protesters slowly streamed into the courthouse and walked toward the hallway.
As the crowd pressed toward the officers, a woman asked King about the COVID-19 briefing as he stood with officers blocking the passageway to the meeting.
King told her it was being held online.
“I’ll take it from here. I can help you out,” Sheriff Bill Benedict said, asking the crowd to stand 6 feet away so he could take his mask off.
“The mandate will be enforced in the following way,” he said. “The sheriff’s office is not going to arrest anyone for not having a vaccine card or not wearing a mask anywhere around.
“If you go into a business and refuse to wear a mask and they request it, or you refuse to show a vaccine card and they request it, they will ask you to leave. If you don’t leave, our deputies will be called, and you will be asked to leave, and if you don’t, we will arrest you, not for not having a mask.
“We will arrest you for trespass.
“It is private property. That private property owner, as you would expect, has the right within the law to choose who comes and who goes into their business,” he said.
A woman shouted, “Amen.”
About a half-dozen officers were bunched up in front of the hallway leading to the county commissioners’ offices and the commissioners hearing room.
One protester shouted “let us in” a few times while Benedict urged them to leave.
“You’re more than welcome to demonstrate outside,” he said. “Here, where we’re not following our own guidelines, guidelines for this capacity, I’m going to ask everyone to leave.
“We have business we need to conduct. It isn’t going to do any good here.
“I’ll even go outside to talk with you.”
He was answered with shouts of “we the people” and “bring Dr. Berry outside,” and “we want Berry to answer our questions.” Others chanted her name or shouted, “Fire Berry.”
The crowd recited the Pledge of Allegiance twice, while some urged the crowd to remain peaceful and move outside.
“You can’t stop the citizens when they stand up and hold you accountable,” shouted one.
Some carried Donald Trump flags. One carried a sign that simply said “Nuremberg Code,” a set of 10 ethical principals for human experimentation that grew out of Nuremberg trials following World War II.
“This is child abuse, stop the mandate,” said one sign.
Another placard equated medical mandates with communism.
Several protesters also thanked the officers.
“They were direct,” Undersheriff Ron Cameron said, standing with his officers while the rally continued.
“And they confronted me.”
Cameron said he had not discussed the increase in COVID cases with the protesters. “That doesn’t seem to be the focus,” he said. “The focus is the order, not the reason for the order, but the order itself.”
Benedict said if a restaurant does not comply with the vaccination mandate, it is up to Berry to “take note of it” and report it to the regulatory authority.
“They will come and investigate it, and if they decide to shut the restaurant down, it will be a civil process. It won’t involve me at all.”
He said that one out of every 30 county residents has had COVID-19, considering there have been about 2,500 cases.
“Hell, I’ve probably been exposed to it,” he said of being in the lobby among the unmasked protesters.
“But I’ve been vaccinated, and I’m comfortable.”
Jodie Wilkie, an organizer of the rally, could not attend the event because she had to work, she said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.