The True Story of the Antifa Invasion of Forks, Washington

In a calmer spring—when facts weren't so slippery, social media so noxious, the country so ready to combust—what happened in Forks, Washington, on June 3 might have been a perfect plot for a farce. A giant white school bus known as Big Bertha puttered into a two-stoplight town far north on the Olympic Peninsula, in desperate need of a new battery, on the very day the town was on alert for a different bus, one full of violent antifa activists ready to riot. But this was not a calmer spring. A week had passed since a Black man named George Floyd died while a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck. People who had been trapped at home during a tense pandemic spilled into the streets, first in Minneapolis and then in other cities and even tiny towns. They marched and carried signs and chanted that Black Lives Matter. A much smaller number looted liquor stores and burned police precincts. The president tweeted threats—“when the looting starts, the shooting starts”—and smeared all protesters, including millions of peaceful Americans, as the Radical Left, “thugs,” or, most menacingly, antifa, an ideology ascribed to a diffuse group of antifascists who sometimes stoke chaos and aren't opposed to fighting the far right with violence. , , and Nextdoor crackled with claims that antifa was coming to suburbs and rural towns. They were coming on buses, on planes, wearing black, coming, always, from somewhere else.

This feature appears in the November 2020 issue. Subscribe to WIRED . Photograph: Kevin Cooley
On the night of May 31, a Sunday, a new Twitter account styled @Antifa_Us issued a call to arms: “Tonight's the night, Comrades. Tonight we say ‘Fuck The City’ and we move into the residential areas... the white hoods.... and we take what's ours …#BlacklivesMaters #FuckAmerica.” A brown hand emoji raised a middle finger. Donald Trump Jr. posted it to his Instagram. “Absolutely insane,” he remarked.If the tweet sounded just a little on the nose, like shark chum tossed to a certain kind of white person, it was. The next day, Twitter deleted @Antifa_Us; it was not, as advertised, an antifa account, but rather one secretly run by a US-based white-supremacist group called Identity Evropa, one of the organizers of the infamous 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Seth Larson didn't notice Twitter's fact check. The 45-year-old manager of Freds Guns, a firearms store 70 miles east of Forks in the town of Sequim, had already reposted the tweet on his Facebook. A few days later, when he saw a notice for a Black Lives Matter demonstration planned in his hometown, he worried that antifa rioters would come. Someone had to be on the alert.On the day of the march, June 3, just hours before Big Bertha would roll into Forks in need of a battery, Larson cued up his Facebook Live. He walked by shops downtown, narrating the scene of people striding down the sidewalk carrying Black Lives Matter signs. “Sequim just got a busload of people ... They're not breaking windows yet.” He also claimed to see out-of-towner antifa, 25 to 30 of them, pointing to people with skateboards and training his phone's camera on an occasional bicyclist whizzing by. “Head to Sequim, boys!” he told his followers. “All patriots, call to arms right now!” Over the next 50 minutes, he kept ringing the alarm. “The fuckery is here!” “It looks like Clallam County is going to get hit tonight.” “There's the antifa group. You can totally smell the wanting-to-break-shit-up off of their body. They look sketchy as shit.”
He told his viewers to buy bear mace and “less lethals” at Freds Guns. He said to fetch their gear, their long guns, and meet him at City Hall. A dozen followers showed up at the Sequim protest with pistols, some asking protesters for ID. At least one was carrying an assault rifle. Rumors about buses spread across the county—a guy called 911 about seeing a yellow bus at a gas station between Sequim and Forks, “all of them in black,” cutting off the call frantically with “I gotta meet people!”