A tense afternoon at The Evergreen State College campus Thursday ended before 8 p.m. with just one man arrested for disorderly conduct.
Prompted by announcements of multiple demonstrations planned for the campus Thursday afternoon, Evergreen officials announced they would close campus about 3 p.m. Shortly before that, about 75 demonstrators arrived holding signs reading “Community Love” and other peaceful slogans.
Then about 65 Washington State Patrol troopers in riot gear armed with rifles arrived on campus.
Both groups were anticipating the arrival of an off-campus group called Patriot Prayer at 5:30 p.m. When 5:30 p.m. arrived, there was no sign of the Patriot group, but the gathering had grown to about 120, with some wearing masks.
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Patriot Prayer — which announced earlier this week that they planned to have an event called “March Against Evergreen State College” then later renamed the event “Free Speech Evergreen State College” — finally arrived about 6:30 p.m. Troopers stood between the two groups for more than an hour, as various members shouted and tried to provoke each other. The counter-protesters sprayed Silly String and threw some pine cones.
However, just the one arrest was made before the event broke up about 8 p.m. A mask-wearing 25-year-old man was arrested for disorderly conduct.
Olympia resident Kathy Baros Friedt was among those demonstrators who arrived early in the afternoon. She said the troopers’ appearance made her a little uneasy — that they symbolized violence.
“It’s not that I think they would start it,” she said. “But it doesn’t make me feel safe.”
Baros Friedt said she came to Evergreen on Thursday to promote tolerance and understanding. The college, she said, is known nationwide for those traits, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done right now.
“People just need to practice listening to each other,” she said. “And these problems are not going to go away. They’ll still be here in the fall.”
Gabe Hayword, a former Evergreen student who showed up Thursday afternoon, was sprayed with Silly String by a group of people wearing masks. He said he’s not affiliated with Patriot Prayer, but he thinks things have gotten out of hand on campus, and he supports Bret Weinstein, the professor who has become the face of a controversy over alleged racism at Evergreen.
“He didn’t do anything and these guys are trying to slander him, make him out as a white supremacist fascist,” Hayword said.
Dozens of people had turned out for a rally Wednesday afternoon at Olympia’s Percival Landing to show their support for the public liberal arts college in west Olympia. The college has made national headlines in recent weeks because of racial tensions, protests, threats and student unrest. Two state legislators have introduced bills that would pull the school’s funding.
Evergreen’s commencement ceremony will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma. The college traditionally has its commencement ceremony outdoors on Red Square on campus, but officials decided to move the festivities to a more secure location. It’s going to cost about $100,000 for Evergreen to rent the Triple-A baseball stadium for the event.
About 1,000 students are expected to participate in the ceremony.