President Trump warned again Monday that he will swing into action if state and local leaders don’t dismantle the protest takeover in Seattle.
The president emphasized that his administration is ready to crack down on leftists who have barricaded a six-block section of Seattle’s Capitol Hill and warned that radicals will be encouraged to spread their lawless tactics to other U.S. cities if Democratic leaders don’t stand up to them.
“The problem with what happened in Seattle is it spreads,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “And all of a sudden, they’ll say, ‘Let’s do some other city. And let’s do another one.’ We’re not going to let it happen.”
Asked what action he is weighing, after vowing two weeks ago to use U.S. troops if necessary to quell rioting, the president replied, “Timingwise, we’re all set to go. We’re watching the process.”
The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ — which was renamed over the weekend the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP — has confounded Seattle leaders, who abandoned the East Precinct police station last week to de-escalate rioting and wound up with an occupation with a cast of hundreds.
Mr. Trump, who said he had spoken with Attorney General William Barr about the protest, said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan have been far too weak in dealing with the radicals who created the autonomous zone.
“We have a governor who’s a stiff, and we have a mayor who said, ‘Oh, this is going to be a lovefest,’” the president said. “These [activists] are violent people. … I saw what went on with the hitting and the punching and the beating and all the other things going on in Seattle. You have a governor that doesn’t do a damn thing about it, and you have a mayor that doesn’t know she’s alive. We have a mayor who’s scared stiff. She doesn’t know what’s happening.”
Ms. Durkan has said the occupation is “not that big a deal” and that widespread reports of armed civilians guarding the zone are overblown. Mr. Inslee was greeted with skepticism by claiming at a Thursday press conference that he had never heard of CHAZ.
“I think it reflects that outside of the chattering classes, it’s not that big a deal,” Ms. Durkan said Sunday on “The Divide,” a public affairs TV show on Q13, the Fox affiliate in Seattle.
Her office said Monday in a statement that city officials have been “meeting daily with CHAZ/CHOP leaders to work with the organizers on sanitation, hygiene, and any other needs since June 9.” The city has provided the protesters with port-a-potties, according to local reports.
In addition, the Seattle fire and transportation departments have held meetings to discuss how firefighters can access the zone. Protesters have barred the police from entering the “no-cop zone.”
“Over the last few days the CHAZ has been predominantly peaceful with activities including street painting, teach-ins, concerts, a community garden, spaghetti potluck, and movie night,” the mayor’s spokesperson said.
Indeed, the protest has been depicted as everything from a peaceful block party straight out of the “Summer of Love” to a lawless insurrection carried out by armed domestic terrorists. It could be both, but one thing becoming increasingly clear is that the protesters may have settled in for the long haul.
Over the weekend, hundreds passed through barricades to enter the zone to hear speakers and visit food tents along a street emblazoned with a Black Lives Matter mural, flanked by a slapdash produce garden and buildings emblazoned with anarchist anti-police graffiti.
At the same time, video posted on social media showed protesters breaking down a fence to a car shop inside the zone. Another video showed a confrontation between occupiers and a person trying to set fire to the precinct. The Times has not verified the authenticity of the footage.
“I wish I had the answer to how long it might last. I can tell you that we want to move it forward as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “But my concern as a police chief, besides that I want to be back in our precinct doing the work, is that we don’t want anyone there to be harmed.”
Therein lies the problem for local leaders under pressure to restore the neighborhood, which includes businesses and apartments, without reenacting police-protester riot scenes from the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“We don’t want this to be something that devolves into a force situation,” said Chief Best. “So we’re really trying to take a methodical, practical approach to reach a resolution where everyone gets out of here safely.”
Police options narrowed further Monday as the Seattle City Council voted 9-0 to ban the use of crowd control methods tear gas and pepper spray, as well as chokeholds.
The changes were not only adopted in reaction to protests over the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody but also after the Seattle Police Department used tear gas to disperse crowds on densely populated Capitol Hill. The mayor and police chief had said the gas would not be used.
“This legislation is absolutely the least that the Seattle City Council can do,” council member Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative, said in MyNorthwest.
Dislodging protest camps is tricky. In the past decade, public officials have grappled with Occupy Wall Street, the Bundy occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and the Dakota Access pipeline protests with varying degrees of success.
The 2016 Malheur occupation took only 41 days and ended up with a protester shot dead by law enforcement. The others took longer: The 2012 Occupy Wall Street protest lasted seven months, and the Dakota Access encampment on federal land stretched 10 months. Most left a few months earlier when blizzards hit the North Dakota plains.
Seattle has never had a blizzard, meaning that the CHOP occupation could last until November’s elections — or longer.
That may be why other cities have taken immediate action to short-circuit other encampments. In Nashville, Tennessee; Portland, Oregon; and Asheville, North Carolina, police quickly cleared would-be occupiers from the public square last weekend before they could become established.
“Lawlessness, autonomous zones, and violence will not be tolerated,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, said in a statement. “Further, Tennessee law expressly prohibits camping on state property not expressly designated as a campground area, and that law will be enforced.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, echoed his comments, telling Fox News on Monday that “to come in and do a takeover is something that is not allowed, and the governor has said that if you try to do this, we’re not going to stand for it.”
Mr. Trump made it clear that he also has no patience for a long, drawn-out protest.
He said of the Democratic leaders, “They don’t do the job. I’ll do the job, but I’ve already spoken to the attorney general about it. If they don’t do the job, we will do the job. We can do about 10 different things, any one of which will solve the problem quickly.”
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.