Seattle’s Chaotic ‘Autonomous Zone’

June 18, 2020

‘Seattle is fine,” tweeted Mayor Jenny Durkan on Friday, responding to President Trump’s criticism of the anarchist takeover in her city. “Don’t be so afraid of democracy,” she lectured the president. But who in Seattle voted to cede their neighborhood to armed vigilantes?

Early in June, while Seattle was rocked by protests that often turned ugly, Ms. Durkan canceled curfew, suspended use of tear gas, drew back the National Guard, and pledged no penalties for those arrested for protesting or previously violating curfew.

She then ordered Seattle police to evacuate on June 8 their precinct station house in the heart of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, effectively handing the roughly six-block area to demonstrators, who used police barricades to build a border wall and began screening people entering the area as men with AR-15s patrolled its streets. Welcome to the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.

Local businesses closed. A park became a rally site with speakers haranguing the committed and curious. During the day, the neighborhood had the air of a community festival, but things get uglier at night.

On June 9 an unsigned manifesto appeared online. Occupiers demand shutting down the police department and courts: “This means 100% of funding, including existing pensions for Seattle Police.” They insist on “abolition of imprisonment” and “retrial of all People of Color currently serving a prison sentence for violent crime.” Felons in prison must have the right to vote. Their economic demands include rent control, “de-gentrification,” free college and the hiring of “black doctors and nurses specifically to help care for black patients.”

A speaker at Friday’s rally demanded whites in attendance “give $10 to one African American person from this autonomous zone.” This was a test: “If you find it’s hard for you to give $10 to people of color, to black people especially, you have to think real critically about, in the future, are you actually going to give up power and land and capital?” He closed by saying, “White people, I see you. I see every single one of you, and I remember your faces. You find that African American person and you give them $10.” (He helpfully added they could use cash or Venmo.)

Since the mayor ejected police from the area, protesters have created their own security force. It’s led by Raz Simone, a bejeweled rapper whose favorite instrument is an AK-47 with its distinctive curved magazine, though he also straps a handgun low on his hip as a backup and fashion accessory. Mr. Simone can be seen in a YouTube video handing an AR-15 from his Tesla’s trunk to a young man he’s deputized. Mr. Simone’s posse laughs and jumps out of the way as their newest recruit tries removing his loaded rifle’s magazine while raising his weapon. Another member of this People’s Constabulary swills a Corona.

Mr. Simone and his deputies are later seen taking up station near the Autonomous Zone’s perimeter. After consulting with nearby civilians, one of the crew tells his chief, “They want to know why the guns tonight.” Mr. Simone answers, “The energy is high right now . . . possible threats or whatever,” before adding, “A little bit of education as well.”

In a revealing podcast with his cousin, Mr. Simone says, “I’m naturally an alpha male. I’m a protector.” He’s not a warlord, he says, but someone who selected himself to replace the police. Incredulous, he says city officials are going along with it: “They’re treating me like I’m the f— mayor!” At a moment when protesters across the country are criticizing inadequate police training, this seems more than a little ironic.



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