They came, they yelled and then they talked about ICE, immigrants and America

Protesters clash outside of the Northwest Detention Center

Protesters from various groups in Washington argued with – and filmed – each other outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
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Protesters from various groups in Washington argued with – and filmed – each other outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

It was a Facebook argument come to life.

Two groups of people, from opposite sides of the ideological divide, screamed at each other outside the Northwest Detention Center on the Tacoma Tideflats on Saturday.

In the end, some were having quiet conversations with their political opposites. Some even shared snacks.

The group, 3% of Washington, organized the rally outside the federal immigration detention center to support the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency for whom the GEO Group prison is run.

Last Saturday, Vashon Island resident Willem Van Spronsen was shot and killed outside the facility by Tacoma police when he was found carrying an assault rife and throwing Molotov cocktails.

Down the street from the pro-ICE gathering, groups opposed to ICE, immigrant deportation and the detention center itself held a competing demonstration. Groups included La Resistencia, the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites and some who identified as antifa (anti-facists).

“We believe that nobody should be detained, that there shouldn’t be a Northwest Detention Center in the city,” said organizer Carly Brook of Seattle.

At first, the two groups kept their distance from each other.

Tacoma police shut down the road in front of the facility, but sidewalks and dirt lots were open to anyone. Several people watched the demonstration from the top of the detention center’s roof.

“We are not here to engage with the other protest,” Brook said.

Tacoma police did not want to engage with either group.

“As long as people are peacefully protesting, we’ll just be standing by and making sure no one gets hurt down here,” said police spokeswoman Loretta Cool.

It didn’t take long for the two groups of about 60 demonstrators to confront each other. A man wielding a bullhorn approached the anti-ICE crowd.

“You are defending a terrorist attacker,” the man, who refused to identify himself, yelled at the other protesters. “You all are terrorists.”

His megaphone was covered with Infowars stickers.

The 3% group says it is a religious and patriotic group that supports the Constitution and vows to “defend our country, our community and our families from all enemies foreign and domestic.”

The group says its members are armed and are firmly against any form of gun control.

Members of the pro-ICE group on Saturday included Proud Boys and 3 percenters. The group carried two Donald Trump flags, numerous American flags and were well armed with open carry pistols and knives.

Angie, who refused to give her last name, was a regular anti-ICE protester, calling it her “summer job.” She said she knew Van Spronsen.

“He was down here for the same reason I’m down here,” the 34-year-old said. “Because there are people in cages.”

The shooting of Van Spronsen, she said, has radicalized her.

Nearby, two men with the 3% group unfurled a gay pride flag superimposed with the Gadsden flag symbol of a coiled snake and the words, “Don’t tread on me.” Then, they kissed.

Doug Carson and Hunter Hicks, a couple for nine years, are Tacoma members of the 3% group, they said.

“I’m an openly gay patriot,” Carson said. “They are not a bigoted group.”

Spurred by last weekend’s attack on the facility, Carson said he was there to support law and order.

Meanwhile, the hype man with the megaphone repeatedly called a protester on the anti-ICE side a pedophile because he had seen him at a recent Drag Queen Story Hour at the Des Moines Library.

At one point, the anti-ICE group unfurled a length of building wrap to block out the pro-ICE group. They also blew on whistles and banged on pots and pans to drown out the megaphone man.

At its most heated point, a line of two dozen protesters — equally divided — got nose to nose as they screamed, yelled or tried to talk their viewpoints at each other.

The anti-ICE group chanted “Not one more deportation” and “Abolish ICE” while the pro-ICE crowd let megaphone man do most of the talking. At one point, the pro-ICEers chanted, “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A.”

Two protesters at Saturday’s demonstration were both new to the scene — but on opposite sides.

Trisha Perkins, 27, of Tacoma was at one of her first protests. She’s been marching with La Resistencia for three months. She was motivated by children being held at detention centers.

“That really got to me,” she said. “That pushed me over the edge into activism.”

On the opposite side of the street and holding an American flag stood Glen Tallman, 57, of Lakewood. He was at his first protest.

He came down to support ICE’s deportation efforts.

“I believe that if you’re here illegally, you should be removed,” he said. “Everybody is an immigrant. It’s not that they’re saying they don’t want immigrants. But, we have an in door.”

After an hour of screaming, both sides seemed to lose their steam.

The yelling turned to talking. Otter Pops were passed around.

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.