His voice was deep and gruff. His message was unmistakable. He questioned my right to live. He was upset that I presented an alternative view to his about the clinical operations of the new community cancer center in Sequim.
He didn’t leave his name, let alone an invitation to dialogue over his concerns.
The threat didn’t worry me because the messenger already exposed himself as a coward in shielding his threat in anonymity. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss and weariness that he was representative of part of our American culture that felt justified in intimidating another person, no matter how innocent.
This incident occurred a few years after the turn of the century. Little did I know then that such threats would become commonplace and escalate to open actions of intimidation and, in some cases, terrorization.
Most of us have read Peninsula Daily News reporting of the events that took place in Forks in which a family of people were interrogated by a group of local men as they left a grocery store, followed and trapped by felled trees at a campsite they reserved for a weekend of touring the location of the “Twilight” sagas. The harassers are said to have believed social media postings that “Antifa” was coming to rural communities in buses to create mayhem. The family was driving a bus that doubled as a living space.
Did I mention the family of three women and one man were greatly outnumbered by a group of men apparently bent on cornering these “Twilight” adventurers?
Meanwhile, the day before, a group of greater Sequim folks gathered to stage a demonstration in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. They were joined by a group of men carrying rifles. The armed men apparently read similar social media postings about “Antifa” coming, although it is said that these men were more concerned about “Antifa” staging violently disruptive demonstrations.
Fortunately for all involved, the Sequim situation was resolved peacefully when the armed men could see that this group of young to middle age to old people were neither armed nor violent protesters.
The Forks story is unfinished.
PDN reporter Paul Gottlieb is continuing to report on the Forks story and related recriminations and investigations. We’ve learned from his reporting that the family was traumatized and that several Forks residents are ashamed and embarrassed by the treatment of the family, enough to put an apologetic ad in the family’s hometown paper and start a community roll of paper with signatures to send to the family.
We recently learned that County Sheriff Bill Benedict is diligently investigating the incident to establish accountability for the trauma experienced by the family, the destruction of property and the embarrassment if not shame of the Forks community, goals not shared by the harassers.
The men have formed a wall of silence. So far, it’s not entirely clear why except there could be trouble ahead for the men who felled the trees and for everyone involved for “false imprisonment” which Benedict says is a felony.
Here on the North Olympic Peninsula we had two cases of what I will call deliberate and unwarranted intimidation under the guise of “protecting” the community. In Sequim, the armed men came prepared to use lethal force. In Forks, the group of men harassed and cornered an innocent family.
No one has been charged in either case. Seeking to intimidate and threaten people doesn’t seem to be a crime. Neither is social media spreading lies about threats in an effort to incite fear, anger and potentially violence.
Just what meets the test of crying “fire” in a movie theater?
Prelude to answers
My brain churns trying to understand why a swift prelude to justice occurred for a man who threw eggs at demonstrators and used racial/other slurs. He was quickly charged with a hate crime in Clallam Bay. The charge was malicious harassment which is a class C felony coupled with a threat or assault.
I don’t think I’m the only person who thinks guns on a mission are more deadly than eggs and stalking a family into the woods is at least as terrorizing as speaking hate on sidewalks of a town.
Neither Sequim nor Forks incidents involved racial slurs or eggs, but each involved intimidation and provoking if not instilling fear for the safety of people present. All three of these incidents were people taking causes and law into their own hands. I can’t account for the egg-thrower, but I can wonder why those so fearful of “Antifa” did not alert law enforcement.
Do they not trust local law enforcement to defend them? Why do they feel safer with a gun? What were their plans once they had the family trapped? Why were these actions seen as the only alternative? Their fears need to be addressed.
Something needs to be done about balancing the laws related to carrying weapons for safety and carrying weapons (guns or eggs) as a threat or as a defense against a specious threat.
People are trying a variety of methods to calm the tensions and bring interested parties together. I’ve read letters to the editors asking for leadership to step in and bring the cause of public safety into consideration. I contacted Police Chief Crain to offer my support and ask questions. Someone else started a “GoFundMe” account for the family harassed in Forks.
A petition was circulated recently calling for controls on displaying firearms at public gathering and outlawing “vigilantism.” This followed a petition that was successful in calling upon the Sequim City Council to denounce systemic racism in the community.
I call all these efforts public cries for help, for peace and, perhaps for redemption.
Perhaps, we should start with redemption. Just how does a community of people who’ve live in wide-open spaces and small towns arrive at such drama during a pandemic yet? We can change the intimidation prospective. We all can stop fighting ghosts.
We can arrive at the place where we all have space, understood boundaries, respectful interdependence, collaboration for the common good and well-knitted community that has parades of small children and old cars on holidays.
Bertha Cooper, featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at email@example.com.