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Ready for Anarchists and Antifa: How Vancouver LE prepped for the Patriot Prayer and Trump Rally

Solid planning, sufficient personnel and resources, mutual aid and a willingness to act were all key to ensuring a peaceful event


Antifa members often cover their faces with masks, making it harder to identify them.

AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus

In 1999, thousands of demonstrators converged on Seattle to make their views known on the World Trade Organization. A small segment of the group – Anarchists – received notoriety by the damage they caused to the city. Twenty years later, the Anarchists are still causing damage to cities where they assemble as counter-protestors.

The Anarchists in the Pacific Northwest are based in Seattle, Eugene and Portland and frequently travel between cities whenever a protest is held. I was well aware of their violent tendencies as a first-hand observer of their protests in Portland, located just across the Columbia River from Vancouver, Washington.

The city of Vancouver had not experienced the presence of Anarchists until after the election of Donald Trump. The Anarchists collectively opposed President Trump and some began calling themselves “Antifascists” or “Antifa.” The media picked up on this new label and portrayed them in a favorable light, for the first time, as part of a “resistance.”

Patriot Prayer and Trump Rally

Joey Gibson, a local resident of Clark County, Washington, leads the group, Patriot Prayer. Joey sponsored a “Trump Support Rally” at Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver on April 1, 2017. This is the oldest park in the State of Washington and is considered the city of Vancouver’s living room. It is located just across the street from City Hall and is a location for many community events. The seasonal Farmers Market is held every weekend from March to October, which brings in hundreds of people each weekend.

Add Antifa to the Trump Rally

The political rhetoric and resistance to President Trump had increased to a fever pitch in 2017. Joey Gibson’s Facebook page for the rally was commented on by Rose Antifa and other Anarchist groups. Soon, insults and threats were made on both Facebook pages, and the threat of violence, now credible, entered into the conversation. While Joey Gibson had a phone number and contact information on his Facebook page, the Anarchists did not, so I communicated to both camps through Facebook.

I used the Vancouver Police Facebook page to post the “rules” for Esther Short Park to both groups. The prohibition on weapons (including wooden poles that displayed the groups’ flags) was made known to both groups. The poles had been used as weapons in past conflicts, so we advised all parties that those poles would be confiscated until the event was over. This allowed people to hold their flags and banners, but not have a weapon at hand to strike their opponents.

Vancouver PD Commander Amy Foster had been deployed as our mutual aid commander to the Portland Police Bureau for Antifa protests in Portland. She had commanded the Vancouver Civil Disturbance Team before it was disbanded. Commander Foster saw the Facebook page posts by Rose City Antifa stating their intent to come to Vancouver and shut down the event by Joey Gibson. Commander Foster advised our department that if Antifa said they were coming to Vancouver they would bring at least 15 -20 members.

In planning for Antifa counter-protesters, I brought in 60 off-duty personnel for the event, which was all available off-duty personnel on that day. I noted that when Antifa and Patriot prayer groups were allowed to interact, violence occurred. My intent was to keep the two groups from coming in contact. I used a 4-foot orange plastic construction fence to separate the event site and the rest of the park. The fence was anchored to trees and metal stakes driven deep into the ground so they could not be pulled up and used for weapons. The grounds crew that set up the fence stayed on site until the event was over. They quickly repaired a section of fence that was slashed before any protestors could access the event site.

Operations Plan

Police personnel were divided into the following assignments:

  • 12 neighborhood response team detectives deployed in 6 two-person cars wearing police polo shirts and tan BDUs to roam the area and provide rapid response to any hot spots. Each officer carried a riot helmet and baton in case they had to act as a mobile field force. They would form one mobile field force squad of 12 if needed.
  • 36 uniform personnel were divided into three additional mobile field force squads comprised of four-person subsections. One 12-person squad was deployed inside the event area to act as a buffer while the other two squads were deployed outside the orange construction fence. Personnel moved to hot spots as they became known, both in front and to the rear of the protestors. Having police personnel behind the protestors caused them concern as they no longer had anonymity by being in the back. In addition, the Anarchist leadership maintained its command and control at the rear of the crowd. We stood next to them in the crowd and that impacted their ability to communicate with their members without law enforcement hearing the communications.
  • Six traffic unit officers roamed the area to provide a high visibility law enforcement presence and provide information about large groups of people gathering outside the park.
  • Six major crime detectives were assigned to act as a processing crew for all arrests. The detectives took photographs of the arresting officer and the arrested protestor. The officer wrote out a probable cause statement that the detectives used in processing the protestor into jail. The Clark County Sheriff’s Department staffed up in anticipation of mass arrests and made room at the jail for as many persons as we would bring them.
  • Two logistics teams collected the metal and wooden poles and other potential weapons from both groups and provided a receipt for the owner to retrieve their property at the end of the event. No Anarchist elected to provide a name and phone number for the receipt of their property.
  • A six-person quick reaction force with SWAT personnel and two tactical medics were deployed to be in the area in the event an active shooter event occurred but were not visible unless needed.

Lieutenant Tom Ryan was tasked as the Operations Commander and Commander Amy Foster was the Planning Chief. A Unified Command Post was set up with representatives from law enforcement, fire, state patrol and emergency services. Portland Police Bureau was notified. I was the Incident Commander located at our police headquarters, a half-mile from the park. We had several pole cameras at the park to provide real-time intelligence.

There were three entrance points in the construction fencing material for the organizers to allow invited guests into the site. The organizers managed all the entry points. I saw three Anarchist scouts in the park when I made a final walk-through about three hours before the event. I was photographed by the scouts at that time.

When I returned to the event site after our incident briefing, I saw a group of approximately 20 Anarchists with wooden and metal poles that had flags attached at the south end of the park. I thought that was the extent of their participation until I passed another group of 20 jogging toward the park a few blocks away. I then heard one of the roaming detective units call out the location of another group of 20 coming down from the northwest area. I quickly added the three groups and realized I had 60 police personnel and Antifa had the same number and began to fear the worst could happen.

Shortly after the event began, a small group of Anarchists rushed to get into the event site through the northeast opening. Our interior and exterior park patrol personnel quickly interceded and six or seven Antifa were arrested and taken to a staging area where we had a jail van waiting. We staged the van in the event we had to implement a mass arrest protocol. That seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the protestors as they were not used to being physically arrested when recently protesting in Portland. During the arrests, members of the group tried to “unarrest” people by grabbing them from officers and pulling them back into the crowd. We were successful in retaining all those we took into custody.

A second incident occurred later that day when a subject in a gorilla mask and bright yellow gloves threw a smoke bomb into the event site and then fled. Based on his attire, he was easily identified and arrested. His backpack carried numerous smoke bombs and other tools of disruption. The Antifa backpacks carry weapons, smoke bombs, clothing and other supplies. The backpack was collected and entered into the evidence system for court.

The rest of the event was spent with the main group of protestors walking to and fro around the construction fence attempting to find a way in, without success. They were put off balance by the police both in front and to the rear of them. The suspects who were arrested were physically booked into jail and had to make bail to be released. The Vancouver bail bondsman refused to post bail for the protestors, which required one protestor to spend the night in jail until his court hearing the following day.

In debriefing after the event, we determined the successful components of our plan were:

  • Keeping the groups separated with the construction fence;
  • Having the operations crew on hand to rapidly repair the fence;
  • Having law enforcement personnel both in front and behind the protestors;
  • Taking decisive action immediately and making physical arrests;
  • Transporting those arrested to jail immediately;
  • Having sufficient personnel and resources on scene to counter a large group of protestors.

Part of the success of our response to this Antifa event involved deploying a significant number of uniform personnel in a highly visible manner to project the ability we could quickly address public disorder with physical arrests when needed. We have coupled our high visibility with our willingness to act immediately before a crowd gets out of control. Once our history of action was established, we were able to discourage Antifa from engaging in protests this year with as few as 25 highly visible uniformed personnel. We identified and photographed their scouts prior to the main group deploying from Portland in February 2019, which discouraged the main group of Antifa from coming to Vancouver.

Solid planning, sufficient personnel and resources, mutual aid and a willingness to act were all key to a peaceful event with no injuries or property damage.

Dave King began his law enforcement career in 1983 as a reserve deputy for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department (SBSD). Hired full time by SBSD in 1986, he worked gang investigations and patrol duties for a 250-square-mile mountain substation. Dave joined the Vancouver Police Department in Washington state in 1993 and has served there as a patrol officer, detective, detective sergeant and patrol sergeant. He served on special operations (both as a lieutenant and commander), oversaw SWAT, K9, the civil disturbance team and traffic, and partook in a police practices exchange in Northumbria England and the Mounted Patrol Unit. He recently retired as a patrol precinct commander where he oversaw police services to over 85,000 citizens and has served as the incident commander for multiple Antifa/Proud Boys protests. Dave is a graduate of the 248th session of the FBI National Academy.