Police chased down ridiculous tips about Antifa and Black Lives Matter called in by panicky conservatives all over the Pacific Northwest.
Fox News helped inflame fears of leftist protesters last summer, as demonstrators marched all over the country against police brutality and racism, and calls came pouring in about suspicious individuals and implausible plots, reported The Daily Beast.
"There was a young man with very short bleached blond hair who walked around in the street right in front of us and read every one of our signs," said one woman from Anacortes, Washington, notified police via the NextDoor social network. "Paticularly [sic] the Support your Local Police. He had a mean look on his face and looked inside my Jeep where the tail gate was up and he could see more of our signs and American Flags."
"I thought it was odd but one of our group is a retired school principal and very astute," she added. "He, with all confidence said that the young man was an Antifa or BLM scout. When he said that to me it immediately rang true and I was quite sure he was right."
That woman, and many other small-town residents whose tips were revealed through a Freedom of Information request, had been whipped into a state of panic by conservative media about the protests that followed the police murder of George Floyd in May.
"My ex husband is in a group with antifa," another tipster told Anacortes police the following day. "He called me and said do not go anywhere. stay home on Sunday because they are coming to Anacortes to break up a group on Commmercial [sic] street on sunday. I love Anacortes. I left Seattle to live a better life here with my kids. And I do not want anacorte burned up and people hurt and cops hurt."
Anacortes Police Chief John Small shared both tips, which came in mid-June, to five local law enforcement agencies that rely on one another for mutual aid, but neither amounted to anything.
"I received the below e-mail from Undersheriff Clark yesterday which was interesting," Small wrote at the time, according to newly released records. "Today I received the attached anonymous letter alluding to Antifa coming to Anacortes this Sunday to wreak their havoc... We will be increasing our staffing on Sunday, but in reality it's still not many people. If we start to yell for help on the radio I didn't want it to be a surprise."
A tipster in nearby Concrete, Washington, spotted the acronym "ACAB" -- short for "all cops are bastards" -- and an anarchy symbol spray painted the following month in a gravel pit, along with two overturned portable toilets, and immediately suspected an Antifa plot.
"Looks like Antifa has been up to Lake Shannon," the tipster wrote in an email passed along to the Skagit County Sheriff. "That's incredibly worrisome. The anarchy symbol, 'ACAB' (all cops are bastards)... that's an Antifa signature. Too close to town, for sure... but really worrisome when you consider Antifa is now using explosives in cities, organizing with firearms, and... by being at the lake, they were right next to the dam. Just sayin'. Can'tbe [sic] too careful, you know? Not in these times."
A sergeant ordered deputies to monitor the area, worrying that anti-fascists might be using the gravel pit for training, but government transparency advocates say law enforcement's receptive response to the far-fetched complaints shows how right-wing media whipped up fears about left-wing protesters last summer -- and even now.
"When individuals and law enforcement have been whipped into such a paranoid frenzy that they're primed to see 'antifa' or 'BLM' terrorist conspiracies literally in the toilet, the situation is a powder keg," said Ryan Shapiro, executive director of Property of the People. "There's a direct line from this sort of deliberately induced political hysteria to violent, repressive crackdowns on progressive dissent."
"Conservative and law enforcement panic about antifa and BLM hasn't gone anywhere," Shapiro added. "These documents aren't even a year old, and we've had an attempted coup in the interim. It's not like tensions have cooled. We now have tens of millions of people collectively consumed by manufactured paranoia about social justice movements, who also believe the presidential election was stolen with the aid of antifa and BLM. We're likely to see a new round of mass protests against police violence, and I expect the right-wing response will in some ways be even more ferocious than last year."