Deputies investigate Forks harassment report

Authorities planned to release this week a portion of a video showing the alleged harassment of a multiracial Spokane family who were mistakenly believed to be members of Antifa at a West End store.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office identified “several” persons of interest from the June 3 incident that began at Forks Outfitters and continued to the A Road north of the city, Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King said on Monday, June 8.

No arrests had been made.

“There’s no obvious criminal harassment on the video,” King said in a telephone interview.

“We’re still attempting to identify everybody in the video, but a lot of our investigation is really shifting and focusing on the tree-cutting and what happened up the A Road.”

King said the video would be posted on the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page on Monday.

Social media posts had erroneously said that Antifa, which President Donald Trump has blamed for escalating nationwide protests against racial injustice into violence, was busing members to the North Olympic Peninsula last week.

Members of the Spokane family— a husband and wife, their 16-year-old daughter and the husband’s mother who were traveling in a converted school bus — said they were confronted by several people in the parking lot when they stopped for camping supplies.

“We think that the video will paint a clear picture of at least what the initial contact was like,” King said.

Several vehicles, some with armed occupants, followed the family’s school bus to their campsite on U.S. Forest Service land off the A Road, the family told deputies.

Alder trees were illegally cut along the road, blocking the family’s exit, the Sheriff’s Office has said.

“This is really a series of events with not all of the same individuals involved throughout the course of the whole incident,” King said in a telephone interview.

“That’s created some of the challenges in investigating this. Some folks were only at the initial contact and didn’t have any involvement after that.”

Four Forks High School students used chainsaws to clear the trees from the roadway, allowing the visitors to leave.

“We continue to actively investigate and conduct interviews,” King said.

“We have been in communication with the FBI,” King added.

“They’re eager to participate in the investigation if the facts and circumstances determine that there was a federal crime committed.”

Sheriff’s investigators were trying to obtain more surveillance video from businesses in and around Forks, King said.

The Sheriff’s Office posted an image Monday showing at least four vehicles following the school bus.

“We are seeking information in regards to who the vehicles are associated with and who may have been in the vehicles at the time this photograph was taken,” according to the post.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to phone the Sheriff’s Office Tip Line at 360-417-2540 or leave an anonymous tip on the Sheriff’s website at www.clallam.net/sheriff.

The four students who helped the family had not been named by law enforcement.

“I think that we need to reach out to them and be sure that they’re comfortable with that just because of the potential that they’re going to be contacted by a whole lot of people,” King said.

“I don’t know that that’s something that they necessarily want.”

Forks Mayor Tim Fletcher posted an audio message Monday about the incident on the city’s website, www.forkswashington.org.

The Forks City Council was expected to discuss the case at its regular meeting Monday night.

“As we sort through the events of June 3 and allow our county sheriff to complete his investigation, I hope my City Council will join me tonight and apologize formally to this family and ask for their forgiveness so that we can begin to heal,” Fletcher said in the audio clip.

The alleged harassment was published on regional and national news sites.

“We found our community thrust into the nation’s spotlight by individuals that thought they were protecting our community from some outside destructive terrorist group,” Fletcher said.

“They should have relied on our local law enforcement to take care of any perceived threats to our community, real or totally imagined, but instead, they took things into their own hands, and that has never been good for anyone.”

Fletcher said he would support decisions made by the Sheriff’s Office.

“My community will be a better place after this,” he said.

Fletcher said he joined a protest in Forks on Sunday against racism and discrimination. The protest was the latest in a series of peaceful demonstrations on the North Olympic Peninsula.

“I have chosen to be a leader and not a follower of social media instigators,” Fletcher said.

“If you do not like this leader, it is your right to choose someone else this next local election cycle.”

Fletcher ended his statement by asking community members to volunteer.

“Stay Forks Strong,” he said.

Link investigated

Investigators into the reported harassment of a Spokane family in Forks on June 3 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.

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 last week 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.

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.”

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