Five people were arrested at a College Republicans rally on the University of Washington campus Saturday that attracted a large crowd of protesters.
The UW student Republicans invited conservative group Patriot Prayer to speak at their "Freedom Rally" in Red Square. They billed the rally as a free speech event, stating on their Facebook page that they’d teamed up with Patriot Prayer “to encourage conservatives to stand up for freedom in a far-left University.”
Several groups responded by organizing counter-protests and a large crowd marched into the square to oppose the rally shortly before speeches started.
A heavy police presence was visible on campus during the event. Officers from the University of Washington Police Department and the Seattle Police Department staffed two sets of barricades creating a buffer zone between the opposing sides.
The University of Washington had previously voiced concern about the event. A letter sent Friday from UW President Ana Mari Cauce to the university community encouraged people to stay away from Red Square during the rally.
“This week, UWPD obtained credible information that groups from outside the UW community are planning to join the event with the intent to instigate violence. For the safety of campus visitors and others not associated with the events, several organizations have canceled or postponed their campus events that day and access to Red Square will be limited,” the letter said.
Before the event started Saturday, College Republicans acted as gate-keepers, advising officers who was allowed to enter the space cordoned off for the rally that became the stage for speakers.
They were joined by several members of the Proud Boys, a group that has been referred to as alt-right, as well as Patriot Prayer supporters and conservative students. Some of those attending the rally wore red caps with President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” on them. Others wore purple caps with a play on that slogan, “Make UW Great Again.”
Protesters marched into Red Square chanting “Say it loud, say it clear, racists are not welcome here.” Supporters of the Patriot Prayer event responded by chanting “USA, USA.”
Protesters, who far outnumbered supporters of the rally, said they don't support the message of Patriot Prayer and the message is unwelcome on campus.
“We’re out here because we don’t think the Patriot Prayer group or any other fascist or extreme right wing organization should be allowed to come out into a public place like this and not be opposed, not have people come out and say, ‘this is not what we stand for’,” said protester Jane Cutter.
Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson said their message is freedom. Surrounded by metal barricades and police officers, he praised the College Republicans for going ahead with the event, despite being told by the University of Washington that they’d have to pay an estimated $17,000 security fee.
Gibson said Republicans at UW “deal with a lot of hate” and applauded them for putting on the rally.
“You guys are still strong enough, still courageous enough to stand up for what you believe in and to declare yourself as a Republican in the University of Washington.”
Earlier this week, the College Republicans sued UW over the estimated security fee saying it amounted to a tax on free speech and violated their constitutional rights.
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Marsha J. Pechman temporarily blocked the University from charging the student group for security. The case will continue to be argued in court.
UW officials say security fees have been charged to many groups in the past for events on campus and that the policy doesn’t require fees to be paid ahead of an event.
University of Washington spokesman Victor Balta said in a statement Friday that the school would continue to advocate for charging reasonable security fees.
Balta also said that the University anticipated spending more than $50,000 for security on Saturday and that while the UW backs public debate and the right to free speech, they don’t want the cost of security to fall to other students and taxpayers.
UW College Republicans president Chevy Swanson said Saturday that it was very important that the rally went ahead, “because we proved that we can’t be intimidated by these people out here who are protesting us or threatening us online.”
Most of the event was peaceful. However, despite the security measures, a couple of scuffles broke out ending in several people being taken into police custody. Officers also used pepper spray.
On some point, people attending the Patriot Prayer event left the area where the rally was taking place and went into the crowd of protesters. Police officers ended up having to intervene.
Patriot Prayer member Tusitala 'Tiny' Toese said he wanted to go into the crowd on the other side of the barricade to converse with protesters.
But he said most don't want to talk, "most of them just want to swing.”
Jordan Quinn is a member of Socialist Alternative and one of the organizers of Saturday’s counter-protest.
He said he believes the people who came from the College Republicans rally into the crowd of protesters were trying to provoke a fight. He said Patriot Prayer events attract more aggressive groups who want to provoke physical confrontations.
Quinn said he was glad to see how many people came out for the counter protest.
“Which to me indicates that a lot of students on campus, a lot of people in the community completely disagree with Patriot Prayer and want to actively fight back against them.”
Quinn said it’s important to make sure that demonstrations like the one on Saturday are as safe as possible.
In January 2017 a man was shot and badly injured when protests turned violent in Red Square. That incident took place outside an event hosted by the College Republicans that featured Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing provocateur. It was the same day as the inauguration of President Donald Trump.