Report on the July 5th Lynden March for Black Lives: ‘It’s always been about peace and coming together with a message’

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Photo showing Black lives marchers gathered in grassy area near City Hall during the July 5, 2020, Lynden March For Black Lives held in Lynden, Washington. Photo credit: Seaghan Ventura

By Sandy Robson

August 14, 2020

This report provides a detailed accounting of what occurred during the Lynden March for Black Lives held in Lynden, Washington, and the pro-police/pro-USA counter-protest which was organized in response to the march, both of which were held on July 5, 2020. 

A second report  will be published soon , focusing on the events leading up to the “Lynden March for Black Lives” held in Lynden, Washington, and the pro-police/pro-USA counter-protest which was organized in response to the march, both of which were held on July 5, 2020. 

[Editor’s note: The second report,  “Demonstrated support for Black lives met by organized opposition in Lynden,” was published on August 21, 2020 and can be found at this link: https://searchlightreview.com/2020/08/21/demonstrated-support-for-black-lives-met-by-organized-opposition-in-lynden/]


 

The Young Activists of Whatcom County organized and held their first event, the “Lynden March for Black Lives,” on July 5, 2020, in Lynden, Washington. Hundreds of people turned out to march in support of Black lives.

The march was intended “to promote education and awareness of people of color’s experiences and how as a community we can better ourselves in the future,” according to the Young Activists of Whatcom County website. The group has since changed its name to Young Advocates of Whatcom County on its Facebook page.

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Screenshot showing Young Activists of Whatcom County’s June 29, 2020, Facebook post promoting its July 5, 2020, Lynden March for Black Lives held in Lynden, Washington

In response to the news of the scheduled march, a counter-protest was organized by Lynden Freedom, and was held that same day, on July 5, which drew around 150+ participants. Lynden Freedom describes its group as local citizens who joined together to form a new pro-police, pro-American support group, and it characterized the counter-protest as a show of support for police and the USA, and to protect the town and monuments.

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Screenshot of Lynden Freedom’s July 1, 2020, Facebook event post promoting the group’s July 5, 2020, counter-protest, asking people to help them protect the town and monuments during the July 5 Lynden March for Black Lives, held in Lynden, Washington

In an interview with The Searchlight Review, one of several high school students who organized the July 5 Lynden March for Black Lives, Amsa Burke, said, “I was very proud of our team for putting everything together in a week, and was happily surprised of the turnout. But seeing the counter-protesters was discouraging.”

The day of the march was a sunny, warm Sunday, and participants first gathered together in the parking lot of Lynden High School with their signs they would carry, readying themselves for their nearly 3-mile journey through the city that would start that afternoon at 2:00 PM.

Alyce Werkema, a longtime resident of Lynden who marched in support of Black lives that day, told The Searchlight Review in an interview that it was exciting to be gathering at the high school, and it was memorable to have so many walk together and talk along the way. She said the march was an “amazing memory” and “very worthwhile.”

Lynden Freedom sees need to protect town and its monuments 

Meanwhile, at Centennial Park, located in downtown Lynden, a group comprised mostly of Lynden residents who were there for the pro-police/pro-USA counter-protest had been assembling at 1:30 PM next to the Veterans War Memorial which honors North Whatcom County veterans.

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Still frame from Wylin Tjoelker’s video of the July 5, 2020, Lynden March for Black Lives. The individual with rifle shown in still frame shows one of the so-called town protectors of the Veterans War Memorial in Centennial Park in Lynden, Washington

The Veterans War Memorial was one of the five locations that Lynden Freedom’s Gary Small had told The Searchlight Review that his group were protecting from potential vandalism they perceived could happen during the march.

The rest of the locations Lynden Freedom designated as needing protection were: City Hall; the Phoebe Judson (recognized as the “Mother of Lynden”) statue near the Chamber of Commerce; a memorial at the Lynden Cemetery; and the Lynden Police Department station.

After the July 5 march had been publicly announced on June 29, there had been a steady stream of fear mongering chatter being perpetuated by individuals on Facebook, claiming that Black Lives Matter and Antifa were coming to Lynden specifically to vandalize monuments and buildings in the town.

Despite assurances from march organizers that they are simply high school students who are part of the Lynden community who wish to bring awareness to issues involving racial inequality in our country as they had explained to city officials with whom they had met personally prior to the march—and despite Lynden Police Chief Steve Taylor’s open letter to the community posted on July 2 on the Lynden Watch Facebook page, reiterating those assurances, some people who were opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement kept perpetuating the unsubstantiated rumors.

Wylin Tjoelker’s video recording of the July 5 events 

One of the people gathered at the veterans memorial was Wylin Tjoelker, of Sumas, Washington, who was making a video recording of the march and counter-protest. The video recorded by Tjoelker is posted on YouTube and is approximately 2 hours and 11 minutes in length. It was reviewed in its entirety by The Searchlight Review.

The video started out showing Gary Small addressing the group assembled there, giving some instructions to them. He announced there were five captains who would each take around fifteen to twenty people with them to each of the five areas they felt the need to protect.

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Still frame from Wylin Tjoelker’s video published on YouTube showing Lynden Freedom’s Gary Small in short-sleeved short with suspenders, addressing a group of counter-protesters along with so-called town protectors who would stand guard of five designated buildings and monuments during the July 5, 2020, Lynden March for Black Lives. Small is standing next to the Veterans War Memorial in Centennial Park, in Lynden, Washington

Tjoelker asked Small if he could speak to the people there and then addressed them, and announced:

“Brothers and sisters, listen I will be filming the event for our people today. For our patriotic American citizens today. It is important that this be filmed so that our story is told. You know what the liberal media does to you. Okay? So when you see me and you see me filming understand you’re being filmed for our side, alright?”

Tjoelker also appealed to them, saying, “show the world the kind of stuff that we’re made in, made of, in Lynden. We are kind, gentle, loving American people, alright?” Responding, a man shouted out from the crowd, “Yes, that don’t get pushed around.” After that, the captains and their teams made their way to their respective areas where they were supposed to go to stand guard, and others who were there went to where they wanted to stand for the march.

Lynden Freedom’s Gary Small answers questions about group’s objectives 

In his interview with The Searchlight Review, Small said that he and two members of Lynden Freedom’s steering committee met with Police Chief Steve Taylor, one police officer, and City Administrator Mike Martin several days prior to the July 5 event to discuss the group’s objective.

Small said he told city officials in the meeting the objective was to protect monuments, and he said, “they [city officials] were very appreciative of that.” He claimed that “they [city officials] knew they couldn’t do it because there’s only seventeen law officers in the city of Lynden—if there was going to be any kind of vandalism that would only be about three officers per monument. You couldn’t stop a mob, so they were appreciative that citizens were willing to come and defend those locations.”

Small also said during the meeting they discussed making sure the two sides would be kept separate. He said Chief Taylor assured them that all Lynden Police officers would be on duty, trying to maintain control. Small said he and his group didn’t know at the time of the meeting with city officials that there were going to be people that would come armed. “We told them if there were any altercations we were gonna call 911 and we were not going to take things into our own hands,” Small said.

Small was asked if when he saw counter-protesters who had AR-15s, or long rifles, or handguns guns strapped to their thighs, did he say anything to them. He said he did not, and added, “I view that as a deterrent to any possible trouble.”

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Still frame taken from Wylin Tjoelker’s video of the July 5, 2020, Lynden March for Black Lives. The individuals shown in still frame show some of the so-called town protectors, one of which is seated, carrying (on shoulder sling) a long rifle, next to the Veterans War Memorial in Centennial Park in Lynden, Washington

It’s difficult to understand how Small and his group did not know there were going to be armed individuals at the counter-protest because there was a good deal of talk on social media coming from some Lynden residents who said they would be armed and ready at the event to, as they described it, protect the town and monuments.

In viewing Tjoelker’s video recording, numerous individuals armed with AR-15s, long rifles, and/or hand guns can be seen standing at some of the five locations along the march route Lynden Freedom’s Small had arranged to have guarded such as the Veterans War Memorial, City Hall and the Lynden Police Department station.

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Still frame from Wylin Tjoelker’s video published on YouTube showing counter-protesters and/or self-appointed town protectors, one of which is carrying (on shoulder sling) a long rifle standing next to the Lynden Library during the July 5, 2020, Lynden March for Black Lives, held in Lynden, Washington

Checking with Lynden Police about validity of allegation

Wanting to interview one of the armed individuals who was present at the event, The Searchlight Review contacted, via Facebook message, a male individual who can be seen multiple times in the video recorded by Tjoelker, and asked him a few questions. The male individual had been standing amongst the counter-protesters in multiple locations that day, and he was carrying (on a shoulder sling) what appeared to be an AR-15.

The individual replied via Facebook message and declined to answer any questions. The questions had been primarily about him coming armed to the event. In his reply message declining to answer those, he alleged that there had been violence that occurred at the event that day committed by a Black Lives Matter protester against a Lynden police officer.

Wanting to check the validity of that allegation, The Searchlight Review contacted the Lynden Police Department. Chief Steve Taylor responded, via phone, to the inquiry. The Searchlight Review explained to the chief that an individual present at the event on July 5 claimed there had been violence (such as an assault) against a Lynden police officer that had been committed by a Black Lives Matter protester during the event.

Chief Taylor immediately said he was pretty sure he knew the exact situation being referenced, and that there actually had not been any violence or assault committed.

The chief explained that toward the end of the event a young man riding in the back (truck bed) of a truck jumped out of it and approached a man on the side of the road. Chief Taylor said one of Lynden’s officers saw this, and stepped into the young man’s path. The officer told the young man to get back in the vehicle, which he did, according to Chief Taylor.

The Searchlight Review interviewed two people who said they witnessed the incident that appears to be the same one described by the Lynden police chief.

Both witnesses said that the male individual on the counter-protester side of the street had been antagonizing or instigating a young, male Black Lives Matter supporter riding in the truck bed of a white truck, causing him to jump out of the truck and move toward the area where the individual antagonizing him was standing. A Lynden police officer there stepped in, and the young male then went back to the truck in which he was riding, according to the two witnesses interviewed.

Rumors proffered on Facebook by some people opposed to Black Lives Matter about supposed rioting or looting or violence that would occur during the July 5 march were prevalent in the week leading up to the march.

When one of the co-organizers of the Lynden March for Black Lives, Amsa Burke, a Black 17-year-old Lynden resident, was asked her overall impressions about how the counter-protest affected the march, she told The Searchlight Review:

“It caused a little conflict between the two sides. The counter- protesters thought we were going to riot and I was surprised that they didn’t back down after they saw that it was peaceful. It was both very saddening to see, but also made people aware that they need to start these conversations with people so others can understand as well.”

The students marching in support of Black lives were moving along their route on the sidewalk, holding their signs and sometimes calling out chants as they made their way through the city.

Black lives marcher, Jayna Edmonds’ live-streamed video of the march

One young female marcher, Jayna Edmonds, 25, from Bellingham, was live-streaming to Facebook with her cell phone as she marched. The live-streamed video, approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes in length, was posted on Facebook. Her video captured elements of the march which were experienced by herself and some of the marchers from her particular vantage point along their journey.

In Edmonds’ live-streamed video, viewers can see parts of the long line of marchers in front of her and some behind her, and can see some of their signs and hear their chants carrying their messages to each other and to onlookers.

Edmonds’ live-streamed video shows the marchers as they walked along the route and at one point, passed under big, beautiful trees lining the street with the houses set back beyond well-manicured front lawns, and she can be heard remarking about the pretty flowers in one of the yards they passed, and about a little clump of mushrooms in the grass between the street and the sidewalk which seemed to delight her. Right after remarking aloud about that moment of nature, Edmonds was back to the business of the day — their march.

Some marchers would wave cheerfully to people who were in their yards watching them walk by, and sometimes they would receive a wave back. Other times there would be no waves back from the people in their front yards, instead they would simply stand with arms crossed and poker-faced looks on their faces as they watched the Black lives marchers go by.

There were some vehicles driving on the road alongside the march’s route in which the people inside those would offer supportive horn-honking and comments to the marchers.

In contrast, however, there were a number of pick-up trucks, often which were sporting American flags, that would drive slowly next to the marchers and would then rev their engines in such a manner that the truck would emit a cloud of polluting black smoke sometimes aimed at marchers walking nearby along the sidewalk. The term often used to describe this practice is “rolling coal.” 

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Still frame from Jayna Edmonds’ live-streamed Facebook video showing a red pick-up truck “rolling coal,” emitting a cloud of black smoke aimed at nearby Black lives marchers walking along the sidewalk during the July 5, 2020, Lynden March for Black Lives, held in Lynden, Washington

Also, some people in vehicles driving along the road near the sidewalk full of Black lives marchers would give them the middle finger, and/or shout out “All Lives Matter.” Sometimes responding, the marchers would then begin to chant, “Whose Lives Matter? Black Lives Matter.”

Marcher stands up to counter-protester 

In watching Edmonds’ live-streamed video posted on Facebook, an incident that occurred during the march was captured on film involving a tall, young male wearing a red, white and blue stars and stripes tank top, jeans, and an olive-colored cap, who was standing with a young female in the truck bed of a red pick-up truck.

The red truck was driving slowly along the road next to the marchers on the sidewalk. The young female in the truck bed yelled out to the marchers, “All Lives Matter,” multiple times.

Edmonds’ live-streamed video shows the young male wearing the red, white and blue tank top, jump out of the truck bed and onto the street near the marchers, walking with his arms outstretched, appearing to taunt one of the marchers. When none of the marchers responded to his actions, he jumped back up into the truck bed.

Because vehicle traffic on the street was moving slowly, that same red truck would end up driving alongside the marchers multiple times along their route. According to the live-streamed video, around 5 minutes after the young male had jumped down from the red truck, the same truck appeared again in the video, driving alongside the marchers where Edmonds was filming.

He stepped-up onto the right sidewall of the truck bed, looming very tall, looking as if he were going to jump down toward the marchers. Edmonds turned and faced him from the sidewalk, looking up while pointing her outstretched arm and hand up toward him and yelled, “You stay in your truck,” and repeated it again, “You stay in your truck.” She added, “We’re all filming you.”

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The young male stayed up there on the truck’s sidewall, and yelled down to her, “You’re not my mom.” Edmonds responded, “You’re mom should have raised you better.”

She can then be heard in the video saying out loud to co-marchers alongside her that the young male had called her a bi***. The video’s audio quality was such that it made it difficult to hear that phrase, but it appeared that Edmonds and some co-marchers near her had heard that, as they remarked about it. The young male standing on the truck’s sidewall stayed there, but did not jump down this time as he had previously done about 5 minutes before. That same red pick-up truck was one of the trucks that emitted clouds of black smoke aimed at nearby marchers walking along the sidewalk that day.

Throughout Edmonds’ live-streamed video, some people driving in vehicles and some standing along the road can be seen and heard shouting the phrase, “All Lives Matter” as the marchers walked on their journey that Sunday.

The Searchlight Review contacted Edmonds, via Facebook message, and interviewed her. When asked for her overall impressions about how the counter-protest affected the march, she replied, via email:

“I was disappointed with how the counter-protesters conducted themselves. I’m not upset that they were supporting the police or protecting their monuments— we are all free to believe in and protest whatever we want. However, I have no patience for grown adults mocking, threatening, and belittling young people in the name of Patriotism and Jesus.”

Edmonds said, “It’s literally the opposite of what Jesus would do. So while I understand that the counter-protestors do not represent the opinions of ALL of Lynden, they made all of Lynden look bad.”

Marchers gather near City Hall to hear speakers

The Black lives marchers passed near City Hall where, according to Wylin Tjoelker’s video, a sizable number of counter-protesters and self-appointed defenders of Lynden buildings and monuments were assembled there, standing guard. Some of them were armed with rifles and/or handguns. Seven or eight American flags and several Blue Lives Matter flags can be seen peppered throughout the group around the building.

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Photo showing Lynden City Hall where counter-protesters and self-appointed town protectors assembled holding Blue Lives Matter flags and American flags during the July 5, 2020, Lynden March for Black Lives held in Lynden, Washington. Photo credit: Seaghan Ventura

Eventually many of the counter-protesters started to walk away from City Hall and move toward another area nearby. Tjoelker followed, and he and the counter-protestors came upon a large grassy area just north of City Hall, where the marchers had stopped and gathered to rest and to listen to the individuals who were slated to speak. When Tjoelker saw the Black lives marchers gathered there he said, “They don’t seem like they’re intending anything terrible right now.” Talking about the young marchers he saw there, he added, “Western Washington University, where new communists are trained and indoctrinated.”

Tjoelker started reading some of the marchers’ signs they were holding and he commented about those as he recorded on video. When he saw a sign that read “BLM is pro all life,” he then remarked, “No they’re not [he chuckled to himself]. If you say ‘All Lives Matter’ they will not be happy with you — they may even kill you.”

Reading aloud another sign that he said read, “Jesus is a person of color,” Tjoelker remarked, “Well, we’re all people of color aren’t we? I look out here I see all kinds of color here.” He added, “It’s not like white is not a color. Seriously. We just tan at different rates.” He chuckled again to himself after he said that.

The group of counter-protesters who had come over from City Hall were now there on the grassy area, but further back. Separating the two groups, was a line of around seven uniformed Lynden Police officers.

None of the police officers were wearing masks/face coverings even though due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there was/is a statewide mandate to wear face coverings when a 6-foot physical distance cannot be maintained. Also concerning, is the fact that, during this pandemic, the video shows one or more officers who would shake hands with, and even hug, some of the counter-protesters they appeared to know. It should be noted that throughout the videos viewed by The Searchlight Review, almost all of the Black lives marchers were wearing masks/face coverings. There were only a very small number of counter- protesters and self-described town protectors who were wearing masks/face coverings.

Seven young speakers in support of Black lives gave heartfelt speeches about their experiences in Lynden as BIPOC, which stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color: Amsa Burke, Kate Lohrer, Isaiah Baseden, Kobe Baseden, Marco Gutierrez, Estela Cruz, and Daniela Gutierrez. Black lives marcher, Cora Lange, also spoke.

Amsa Burke’s full remarks from her speech she delivered that day can be found on Young Advocates of Whatcom County’s website. She started telling her story by saying:

“As the riots and protests have escalated these past few weeks, I have been wanting to share my voice. I think one thing that is important to understand is that racism happens everywhere, even in a small ‘Christian’ town. I have experienced it myself, but I have shrugged it off, or put it to the side because I am afraid of causing conflict, or people not understanding that what they say actually affects me. As I have had time over the years to mature and rethink over the instances, I have become aware to the fact that I shouldn’t be so complacent. Ever since I have come to Lynden, being black has been really hard. I have felt isolated and lonely and unheard.”

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Photo showing Black lives marchers gathered in grassy area near City Hall during the July 5, 2020, Lynden March for Black Lives held in Lynden, Washington. Photo credit: Seaghan Ventura

Watching Tjoelker’s video, it was difficult to hear the speakers deliver their remarks because the audio system’s volume was low, and due to the fact that many of the counter protesters there began shouting chants such as “All Lives Matter, All Lives Matter,” or “USA, USA, USA,” and “thank you police, thank you police,” drowning out the speakers who were trying to tell their stories to the crowd.

Final destination, Lynden Police Department station 

After the short rest and the speeches, Black lives marchers started back on their route, walking toward their destination, the Lynden Police Department station located on 19th Street.

At the same time, most of the counter-protesters then made their way, via their vehicles, to the police station on Front Street. They parked their vehicles in the large parking lot of the Tractor Supply Co. store that is across the street from the police station and joined a group of like-minded counter-protesters and so-called town protectors who were already assembled there, lining the sidewalk along 19th Street directly across from the police station. In the crowd standing on the sidewalk, lots of American flags, a number of Blue Lives Matter flags, and a smattering of Trump signs and pro-police signs can be seen in Tjoelker’s video.

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Photo showing a so-called town protector sitting in truck bed with his rifle leaning against truck‘s rear window during the July 05, 2020 Lynden March for Black Lives. Truck is parked in Tractor Supply Co.’s lot across from Lynden Police Department station. Photo credit: Seaghan Ventura

Tjoelker walked up and down the line of counter-protesters standing there and he would ask them questions. He asked some people if they thought Lynden was a friendly town, or if they were happy to be there that day. He asked one older male individual there: “Are you happy to be here to defend America, to defend our town?” The individual responded, “Absolutely, born and raised. This is our town.”

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Photo showing counter-protesters and self-appointed town protectors standing across from the Lynden Police Department station during the July 5, 2020 Lynden March for Black Lives in Lynden, Washington. Photo credit: Seaghan Ventura

After a while, the Black lives supporters could be seen marching on Front Street, approaching the intersection at 19th Street, which is very near their destination, the Lynden Police Department station.

As the marchers walked past Tjoelker filming, he would comment about some of their signs and chants. He read a sign that displayed the message “White silence is violence,” and interpreting that, he remarked, “That means they can beat you up.”

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Photo showing marchers in support of Black lives during the July 5, 2020, Lynden March for Black Lives held in Lynden, Washington. Photo credit: Seaghan Ventura

As Tjoelker heard chants of “Black Lives Matter”, he said:

“Apparently other people’s lives don’t matter, just Black lives. In Lynden we don’t use the words white or black. We just refer to everybody as Americans. That’s because we are not racists. The fact of the matter is whenever color is introduced in the conversation for whatever reason that’s kind of racist. It really is.”

Tjoelker also claimed, “Americans are Americans. Those who make a point of color are themselves racists. Because to do so is a racist act.”

A police officer at that intersection announced to the counter-protesters, “Folks, they’re gonna be coming right through and they are going across the crosswalk here, so we are going to allow them do that. Okay?” Tjoelker, who was near him said, “Okay, thank you sir. We’ll do our best to have your back.”

Parked along the perimeter of the Tractor Supply Co. parking lot, at the intersection of Front Street and 19th Street, marchers had to pass by a conspicuous, older model, light gray vehicle. Affixed to the top of the vehicle’s roof, was a makeshift wooden platform which held four large Blue Lives Matter flags, as well as a rectangular, red wooden sign featuring the slogan “Make America Great Again!” painted in white. There was even a life-sized, painted cardboard cutout of President Donald Trump placed in the passenger side back seat, to appear as if he were looking out from the vehicle.

Photo showing counter-protestor, Michael Thompson’s conspicuous, light gray vehicle parked in Tractor Supply Co. parking lot in Lynden, Washington, during the July 5, 2020, Lynden March For Black Lives. Thompson is shown on far right in red cap, holding a Blue Lives Matter flag. Photo Credit: Jennifer Nestle

The driver/owner of the vehicle is the same individual, Michael Thompson, a Whatcom County resident, who, last year, disrupted the “Hate Has No Home Here” community meeting event hosted by the Riveters Collective, that was held on August 27, 2019, at the Ferndale library. Thompson, who is deaf, reportedly entered the meeting room and made racist comments in ASL about Black people in general to at least one Black, deaf woman, upsetting her to the degree that she left the room.

During the July 5 Lynden March for Black Lives, once past Thompson’s striking vehicle, as the marchers walked up to the crosswalk they can be heard chanting “No justice, No peace.” Spinning the meaning of that chant while filming his video, Tjoelker, said, “They say they are not gonna let us have peace.”

The long line of marchers began walking through the crosswalk, and then turned right on 19th Street, filing into the sizable lot next to the police station where they would gather to hear speakers once again. Tjoelker’s video shows that when the marchers finally arrived at the police station, a large assembly of counter-protesters and self-appointed town protectors, some of whom were armed, were awaiting them.

There, the marchers were faced with more loud chants of “All Lives Matter, All Lives Matter” and “USA, USA”; trucks sporting American flags parading past them driving up and down 19th street, some with horns blaring, which ignited roaring cheers from the counter-protesters; a male counter-protester who abruptly took an American flag from the hands of someone near him and stepped out from the sidewalk onto the street, brandishing the flag at the marchers across the street from him; and a street preacher sometimes taunting them with his anti-Black Lives Matter megaphoned messaging.

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Photo shows male counter-protester who stepped out from the sidewalk onto the street, brandishing an American flag at the Black lives marchers who were across the street in front of the Lynden Police Department station in Lynden, Washington on July 5, 2020. Photo credit: Seaghan Ventura

Street preacher’s anti-Black Lives Matter messaging

The street preacher was a Black, male individual wearing a red, white and blue stars and stripes cowboy hat and a red long-sleeved T-shirt, who was holding a megaphone while standing with the counter-protesters across the street from the police station. Earlier, while the marchers had been walking on their route, the same man can be seen multiple times, standing in the truck bed of a white pick-up truck that was driving on the road alongside the marchers, using his megaphone to shout-out his street preacher message to anyone within earshot.

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Photo showing street preacher speaking into his megaphone while standing with the counter-protesters across the street from the police station during the July 5, 2020 Lynden March for Black Lives in Lynden, Washington. Photo credit: Seaghan Ventura

While standing across the street from the police station with the counter-protesters, the street preacher faced them to talk to them and quoted some scripture. He also said to them, “When I heard that this movement was coming, I’m like, ‘no not in Lynden.’ I live around the corner, or, I live on Main Street, so I’m like, ‘nope not in my hood.’” That statement was met with loud cheers from the counter-protesters. He added, “Yeah, we need to stand up.” He also told them, “You know, I love Trump.”

Earlier, when the Black lives marchers were gathered at the grassy area near City Hall, the street preacher shouted via his megaphone, “When you are saying or say that Black Lives Matter, you make a racist statement — Jesus Christ would never do that.”

It is unclear whether the man preaching throughout the day from the white pick-up truck and from across the street from the police station was an actual preacher or minister. Later in the video, when he was asked by someone what church he is from, he said, “We meet differently, we go from house to house and have fellowship that way.” His street preaching that day was sometimes hostile toward the Black lives marchers and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Marchers’ views about counter-protesters’ effect on march

A number of the marchers expressed that it was discouraging to see all the counter-protesters. In response to The Searchlight Review’s question asking how the counter-protest affected the march, Amsa Burke said:

“It caused a little conflict between the two sides. The counter-protesters thought we were going to riot and I was surprised that they didn’t back down after they saw that it was peaceful. It was both very saddening to see but also made people aware that they need to start these conversations with people so others can understand as well.”

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Photo showing march co-organizer, Amsa Burke, speaking to a crowd of Black lives marchers during the July 5, 2020, Lynden March for Black Lives, held in Lynden, Washington. Photo credit: Seaghan Ventura

When Burke was asked how it felt to see that there were some people armed with rifles and handguns who were at the counter-protest, she replied, “I wasn’t afraid of the guns as much as I was emotional hurt from them.” She added, “I was hurt that people would arm themselves against teenagers and threaten us because we were standing up peacefully for human rights.”

Black lives marcher, Alyce Werkema, was asked if she thought the large group of counter-protesters lined up across from the police station acted welcoming or friendly toward the marchers who were there to support Black lives. She responded, “In no way were they friendly to us…It was not at all welcoming.” She did say, however, that when they were marching through neighborhoods, there were people who were not counter-protesters who waved to them in support.

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Photo showing marchers in support of Black lives gathered in lot next to the Lynden Police Department station during the July 5, 2020, Lynden March for Black Lives. Photo credit: Seaghan Ventura

One of the marchers, J.R. Nelson, a 26 year-old male from Lynden who describes himself as being mixed race, half Black half white, told The Searchlight Review in an interview that, “One of the things that was frustrating to me was when we showed up to the police department the counter-protesters were in our face, and the police officers did a great job of de-escalating the situation. I hadn’t really seen the counter-protesters until we got to the police department, and then they were there in full force.”

In a July 5, 2020, Facebook post made by Nelson on his personal Facebook page, he had written in part:

“Just so you know, the majority of people in support for BLM were white! They also happen to be residents in the same town as these folk. That shows the change we’ve been craving in this country. We just need that mentality of having a protest of a protest gone. People here understand and they are standing up, that is why there was so much pushback.”

Asked to elaborate on that during the interview, Nelson explained that the pushback he was referring to was the counter-protest. “They really came out in full force to show their opposition,” he said.

“They were there to intimidate — and it was people who, and this is the crazy part, because I live in Lynden, there were people who were with me there, and we all live in Lynden…I was with some of the best Lynden Christian athletes to ever come out of Lynden, they were with me in the group, and we had people who also live in the town look at us and say, ‘Well, where are you guys from, what are you doing here?’” He said, “In their minds, the counter-protesters, they couldn’t fathom someone in their town believing in this type of stuff.”

Nelson said he felt there was even more pushback to the march for Black lives because they knew that people from Lynden were gonna be a part of it. He expounded, “And it’s like a community thing here in Lynden to where we all gotta believe in the same thing, and any type of different perspective is not really wanted.”

Nelson was asked about the group that organized the counter-protest, Lynden Freedom’s framing of things in its July 1 Facebook event post where they said they were protecting Lynden, protecting monuments, and keeping the peace. He responded:

“Basically what I took from that was you saw something, whether it was on the news, you saw something in the media and you immediately put me in that category.” Nelson added, “Why would you think — this is a peaceful protest, the people who organized it, they went above and beyond, to contact the police department, to have a route we purposely walked away from the Main Street downtown so — we don’t want people to even — it wasn’t about violence, it wasn’t about tearing things down. It’s always been about peace and coming together with a message.”