The New York Times and the Washington Post have in recent days provided sympathetic and even outright celebratory coverage of the Seattle “Autonomous Zone,” emphasizing the “freedoms” secured by the far-left anarchists who drove the police out, rather than neutrally reporting on the phenomenon of militia-style checkpoints choking off American streets.
The Seattle Police Department abandoned its East Precinct on Monday after days of clashes with George Floyd protesters. As the police withdrew, activists moved in and assumed control of the precinct and the surrounding blocks of the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, setting up barricades and spraying graffiti on local businesses and residences, including the message “Leaving USA,” to designate their new fiefdom.
The occupiers have released a list of demands to the government, including the “abolition” of the Seattle Police Department and its attached court system, free college for all people in the state, as well as “the abolition of imprisonment, generally speaking, but especially the abolition of both youth prisons and privately-owned, for-profit prisons.”
While the situation has so far been peaceful, far-left groups such as Antifa have called for “people with guns at the CHAZ” on Twitter, while others have vowed to “fight to keep” the area. Journalists have documented armed guards at the entrances to the zone.
Armed members of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club — which identifies itself “an anti-fascist, anti-racist, pro-worker community defense organization”— have also been seen in the area. Last year, Willem Van Spronsen, a former member of the group, attacked an ICE facility in Tacoma, Wash., with a rifle and “incendiary devices” before being shot and killed by police. “If the rest of us were all more useful towards compassion and justice then he could have stayed with us,” the group wrote on its Facebook page at the time of his death.
Seattle police chief Carmen Best did visit the abandoned precinct on Thursday, and told reporters that her department was taking about three times longer than average to respond to 911 calls with the loss of the building. “These are responses to emergency calls — rapes, robberies, and all sorts of violent acts that have been occurring in the area that we’re not able to get to,” she said.
But the Times’ coverage of the situation made no mention of the armed occupiers, instead framing the story around how activists had “liberated” the streets and created “a homeland for racial justice.”
“Free Food, Free Speech and Free of Police: Inside Seattle’s ‘Autonomous Zone’” reads the headline of the article on the CHAZ, which the Times describes as an “experiment in life without the police — part street festival, part commune.” Left unmentioned was the new delay in police-response times to crimes in progress.
The Post, meanwhile, has framed the story around the outraged response of prominent conservatives to the site of lawlessness in an American city.
The paper’s initial article on the situation — titled “‘This is not a game’: Trump threatens to ‘take back’ Seattle as protesters set up ‘autonomous zone’” — focused on the president’s insistence that Washington’s Democratic governor Jay Inslee take control of the situation.
“Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stopped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!” Trump tweeted Thursday afternoon.
During a Wednesday afternoon press briefing, Inslee was asked to weigh in on the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, but said he had not heard of the situation, despite its widespread coverage. Inslee did respond to Trump on Twitter, saying “a man who is totally incapable of governing should stay out of Washington state’s business. ‘Stoop’ tweeting.”
The Post also gave top billing to the reaction of prominent conservative lawmakers, including Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and even reported on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s opinion of the unrest. But it did not initially mention the occupier’s list of demands, and only briefly cited the Seattle Times buried well into the story to note that “at least one man with a long gun was seen in the area,” before adding a caveat that “the scene has been peaceful since police left the area.”
The stories are a far cry from the 2016 coverage of a similar situation involving armed far-right agitators who seized unoccupied federal buildings in Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. In a Twitter thread, conservative communications strategist Drew Holden displayed side-by-side comparisons of headlines from the two outlets and others to demonstrate the point.
Both the Times and the Post framed the standoff — which lasted 40 days and resulted in the death of Robert LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher, who was shot by authorities — as part of a broad right-wing extremist push against the federal government.
“The occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon may seem like the ravings of a small group of armed activists, but it belongs to a much larger movement in the western United States,” the Post explained in an article titled “The Oregon standoff is far bigger than a group of armed men in a refuge.” The paper explained that the ranchers were protesting the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, which confirmed the policy of federal retention of public lands.
In its own analysis piece, the Times quoted a former analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, who warned that the government had failed to “provide the analysis and intelligence to track these kinds of things before it gets to the point of confrontation.” The government “has failed to gather the intelligence needed to fight right-wing extremism in the United States,” the Times explained.
They also quoted Keith Ellison, at the time a Minnesota congressman. “The Department of Homeland Security needs to deal with Muslim extremists, but don’t ignore every other kind of threat,” Ellison told the Times.
Two years later, Ellison took a photo with an Antifa handbook. “I just found the book that strike fear in the heart of @realDonaldTrump,” he tweeted.