By Sandy Robson
August, 21, 2020
CW: This report contains some content that documents racial threats and violence which may be disturbing or upsetting.
This is a companion piece to The Searchlight Review’s report on the July 5th Lynden March for Black Lives, published on August 14, 2020. It focuses on the events leading up to the march 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.
On the heels of the May 25, 2020, murder captured on video that shows Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer keeping his knee on the neck of a Black man named George Floyd for a total of nearly nine minutes until he no longer had a pulse, and after the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests arose, a daily demonstration in support of Black lives was started on June 3 by a young person who stood on a sidewalk holding a small sign in Lynden, Washington. Their name is Adri Tiesinga.
Lynden is a small city approximately five miles south of the U.S.-Canadian border, in Whatcom County. According to census.gov website’s most recent statistics (July 2019), the city of Lynden’s population is estimated to be over 15,000, and 88.8% of that population is white. Overall, Lynden is politically conservative, and at one time, the city held the world record for most churches per square mile and per capita.
The Searchlight Review contacted Tiesinga in late July to interview them about the daily demonstration that has grown since its origin. Also, more recently, Tiesinga shared some personal background which was posted on Facebook, in terms of their having started what has become a daily demonstration in support of Black lives in Lynden. They gave permission to The Searchlight Review to share any part of that story. In the Facebook post, Tiesinga, a 23-year-old who said they have lived in Lynden for all of their life, stated in part:
“As a white-passing child of a white dad and a Chicana mom, I’ve benefited from white privilege my entire life. Before this year, I was comfortable here in this tiny bubble town. I liked that nothing bad ever seemed to happen. I liked that it was quiet and sheltered…However, when Lynden had its first COVID case, my little bubble shattered. We weren’t any safer than anywhere else—we never had been. And when the protests began at the end of May, I realized that there never should’ve been a bubble.”
Tiesinga went on to say:
“I was sitting on my couch as I had been for the past two months of lockdown, reading not for the first time about the injustices of the world but seeing them for the first time as things that impact my life—as things I should’ve cared about this whole time, things that should’ve broken my heart long ago. This realization is what drove me out onto the side of the street with a tiny cardboard sign. I had to pop the bubble I had once cherished because I realized how unfair it had been for me to ignore the outside world and its effects that I had been blind to due to my privilege. And it didn’t take long to realize how toxic the bubble was.”
In the Facebook post, Tiesinga also said, that first week they were demonstrating, they were alone, and that while a few people stopped by to offer support, there were many people who saw their presence as a threat, as they were cursed at, flipped off, and told to get out of Lynden. “I had never seen such anger in the eyes of strangers being directed at me,” they said, “All I was doing was spreading awareness, simply asking people to take notice of the issues.” Tiesinga added that they know what they experienced is not even a fraction of what BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) face every day just for being themselves.
In their interview, Tiesinga told The Searchlight Review they have been joined in their daily, peaceful demonstrations consistently by two women, plus other people who have either learned of the demonstrations and come to join them, or by people who are connected to their Facebook group created on June 8, 2020, “Better Together: Lynden for BLM.”
The Better Together: Lynden for BLM Facebook group has over 560 members. According to Tiesinga, the group’s “main goal is to bring awareness and change to our city and surrounding communities, focusing on ensuring inclusivity and celebrating diversity, as well as emphasizing education on both topics.” They added, “Our leadership consists of the people listed as admins on the group.”
A counter-protest is organized by Gary Small
After a number of weeks of seeing the daily sidewalk demonstrations in Lynden in support of Black lives, Lynden resident, Gary Small, and a group of like-minded people he rounded-up who wanted to counter the daily demonstration supporting Black lives, decided they would hold their own protest on June 24, showing their pro-police/pro-USA position near the same area on the sidewalk along the same street the daily demonstrations were being held.
According to Tiesinga, they and other Black lives supporters had been demonstrating daily on the sidewalk across from the Fairway Center on Front Street since early June, and their group found out there was a June 24 counter-protest planned that would be held at or near the same space they had already been holding their daily demonstrations supporting Black lives. They made the decision not to hold their daily demonstration that day (June 24) in order to avoid a possible conflict with the counter-protest.
The counter-protest was held on June 24 on Front Street and was described by organizers and supporters as pro-USA and pro-police.
Three days later, on Saturday, June 27, Gary Small and his compatriots organized and held a second counter protest, again choosing to do that at or near the same space along Front Street where the demonstrators in support of Black lives had already been holding their daily demonstrations.
Tiesinga told The Searchlight Review that they and their fellow demonstrators had found out about the news of the planned June 27 counter-protest, so they decided to move the location of their daily demonstration in support of Black lives that would occur on the 27th, choosing to hold it instead at Centennial Park, across from the library in Lynden. Tiesinga explained that in addition, the park location also accommodated the larger group of supporters for Black lives which they expected for that particular day.
In an interview in mid-July with The Searchlight Review, Small said that he had sent out an email to approximately 35 people about the June 27 counter-protest that he was organizing at that time. According to Small, around 140 people showed up there near the Fairway Center on Front Street for the counter-protest, and showed their support for the police.
Photos of the June 27 pro-police/pro-USA counter-protest were posted on Facebook which showed participants there holding numerous American flags, several signs in support of police, one sign that read “All Lives Matter,” and at least one Trump/Pence sign.
The photos were featured in a June 27, 2020, Facebook post promoting the counter-protest made by Tami Dockter, a resident of Whatcom County, on her personal Facebook page. Dockter’s post was shared that same day by several people including Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo, who had shared it on his personal Facebook page.
The Searchlight Review first came across Tami Dockter’s name after viewing a live-streamed video she had posted on Facebook while she was participating in the May 9, 2020, Lynden Freedom Parade. In the May 9, live-streamed video, Dockter was inside her large motor home/RV at the parade, and one remark she made in the first couple of minutes of the video was particularly noteworthy. She had said:
“We’re in the ‘Trumper home.’ For those of you who do not know, the motor home that we own was the green room for President Trump during the 2016 rally in Lynden, Washington.” The rally Dockter referenced was the May 7, 2016, Donald Trump campaign rally held at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds in Lynden.
Whatcom Republicans promotes Small’s June 27 counter-protest via its email list
One factor that could have contributed to the large turnout for the June 27 counter-protest was the fact that on June 25, the Whatcom County Republican Party (referred to as “Whatcom Republicans”) email mailing list was used to distribute an announcement recruiting people to attend the scheduled counter-protest to the June 27 sidewalk daily demonstration in support of Black lives. The email was signed by the vice-chair for the Whatcom Republicans, Karl Uppiano, however the message contained in the email was written by someone who Uppiano referred to simply as “a community member.”
The Searchlight Review contacted Small to confirm if he was the author of that message contained in the Whatcom Republicans’ email its organization distributed. He confirmed that he was indeed the author, and that it was the same email that he had originally sent out to 35 people about the June 27 counter-protest he was organizing back at that time. Small emphasized, however, that he did not send his email to the Whatcom Republicans. He said that one of the people he sent his original email to must have sent it to the Whatcom Republicans.
In the June 25 email the Whatcom Republicans sent out via its email mailing list, above Small’s message, vice-chair Uppiano placed an introduction of sorts that read:
“Recently, we have witnessed a distressing amount of chaos, anarchy, anti-American sentiment, loss of our freedom, and attacks on our natural rights. A community member sent us this. We thought you’d like to know:”
Small’s original email message started out with the following paragraph:
“This afternoon 40 anti-police, pro-Black Lives Matter protesters showed up across from the Fairway shopping center in Lynden to protest against American values and the police. They have been coming for several weeks.”
There was no evidence provided in Small’s email to substantiate his claim that the demonstrators in support of Black lives protested “against American values and the police.”
Small’s email message went on to say that it is “time for the so-called ‘silent majority’ to find their voices,” and asked for 100 or more patriotic Lyndenites and those from outside Lynden to come on June 27, from 2:00 to 4:00 PM to stand with his group “to support our police and our flag.” He stated in the email that while their protest was not meant to be confrontational, that “we need to take a stand for our values.”
In the final paragraph of his email message, Small wrote:
“There is one ‘catch’: please do not post anything about this on social media because the Left has ways of finding these things out. Most of it will have to be done by word of mouth and by phone or e-mail. I would like this to be a pleasant surprise for them. Let’s show the Left that we are proud to be Americans.”
YAWC organizes the Lynden March for Black Lives
Two days later, a Facebook page created that day, on June 29, “Young Activists of Whatcom County,” posted a June 29 Facebook post that featured a graphic, announcing a July 5 event, the “Lynden March For Black Lives.” The group has since changed its name to Young Advocates of Whatcom County. YAWC also posted a Facebook event announcing the July 5 march.
The march was organized by several Lynden High School students, and according to YAWC’s website, it 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.”
One of the organizers, Amsa Burke, a student at Lynden High School, told The Searchlight Review in an interview that their motivation for holding the march, “was to bring attention to the racial injustice here in Lynden, and to elevate the voice of the very few POC [people of color] in our town.”
YAWC’s June 29 Facebook event post stated the July 5 march would start at 2:00 PM at Lynden High School, would stop at City Hall, and at the Lynden Police Department. It also stated that the organizers would be speaking on the Black Lives Matter movement. Because of concerns relating to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the announcement also specifically requested that people wear masks.
Lynden Freedom is formed, calls on Lyndenites to help protect monuments
Gary Small told The Searchlight Review that upon learning of YAWC’s announced July 5 Lynden March for Black Lives, a steering committee was formed because they “knew it was very possible there could be people who would be more radical in the Antifa/Black Lives Matter arena who would come co-opt the march.” The committee is comprised of 10 people, Small said.
According to Small, a July 1 email was sent out to some number of people, alerting them of the scheduled march and asking them to gather on July 5, at 1:30 PM at Centennial Park, for a “Freedom assembly.”
The July 1 email provided to The Searchlight Review by Small, started out by saying there had been a “tremendous turnout this past Saturday [June 27] in Lynden to support our police and to stand as a protest to Black Lives Matter,” and that, “140 patriots came and lined Front St. with signs and American flags.” The author of the email claimed:
“BLM people are also going around Lynden taking pictures of houses that have conservative candidate’s yard signs. When one of them was confronted by a homeowner, the BLM supporter told the homeowner that he was taking pictures to record where all the racist Republicans live.”
There was no evidence provided in the email to substantiate that anyone was in Lynden taking pictures of houses that have conservative candidates’ yard signs; that any person affiliated with Black Lives Matter or with the group, YAWC, was in Lynden taking pictures of houses that have conservative candidates’ yard signs; or that any person affiliated with Black Lives Matter or with the group, YAWC, was confronted by a homeowner and told the homeowner “that he was taking pictures to record where all the racist Republicans live.”
The claim that “BLM people are also going around Lynden taking pictures of houses that have conservative candidates’ signs…” as described in the July 1 email is a rumor that was also circulated via Facebook. Additionally, the email stated:
“We are going to protect our local monuments and public buildings from potential damage. We are asking you to bring either an American flag or a Blue Lives Matter police flag.”
The email went on to explain that, “local citizens have joined together to form a new pro-police, pro-American support group called Lynden Freedom.” The signature line of the email was signed, “Lynden Freedom/Lynden Pro-police Support Group,” and Small confirmed that the email was sent by the Lynden Freedom group.
Included in the July 1 email, was a link to a Facebook event post that was made by Lynden Freedom’s Facebook page, and the event post promoted the July 5 counter-protest/pro-police event. According to the “Page Transparency” section on Lynden Freedom’s Facebook page, its page was created on July 1, 2020. Details listed on Lynden Freedom’s event post read:
“WE NEED YOUR HELP!! Protesters are coming to LYNDEN Sunday July 5 at 2PM.
Objective: Help us protect our town, monuments, and keep the peace. (Do not engage BLM)
Please join us at Centennial Park at 1:30 pm (4th & Grover)
We are Pro USA, Freedom, & support police.
Bring your U.S. and Pro-Police flags only. No signs. Thank you.”
Some people in Whatcom County reported on Facebook that they had seen flyers disseminated around Lynden which were promoting the counter-protest. Photos posted on Facebook showed that the flyers were printed on reddish/pinkish-colored paper, and the information printed on the flyers regarding the July 5 counter-protest was the same as the details listed on Lynden Freedom’s Facebook event post.
When asked about the flyers, Small said Lynden Freedom had distributed those. The same flyers had also been seen distributed at Bender Field, which was the staging area for the 4th of July Freedom Parade/Rally in Lynden, and when asked about those, Small said the Lynden Freedom group had distributed the flyers there that day too.
Negative and threatening comments about the march posted on local Facebook pages
While there was a lot of support for the Lynden March For Black Lives expressed on Facebook by many Whatcom Countians after news of the planned event circulated, there were also numerous negative comments posted on Facebook about the then-upcoming march.
Some of the negative comments perpetuated racism and/or were threatening. Those comments were posted on individuals’ personal Facebook pages as well as in a number of Facebook groups and on Facebook community pages.
A number of the negative comments put forth misinformation or disinformation and rumors about the march and/or about the Black Lives Matter movement, and also smacked of fearmongering.
In a comment thread under a June 30, 2020, post about YAWC’s July 5 Lynden March for Black Lives displayed on the Bellingham Metro News Facebook page, which sometimes posts inaccurate, unsubstantiated information, an individual named Andrew had posted the following comments:
“I’ll be there with my AR 15 to defend Lynden!”
“Why do you feel the need to protest in Lynden when it is 0.7% black? You’re allowed to to exercise your first amendment rights even though I think it makes no sense and I can exercise my second amendment rights even though you think it makes no sense.”
“BLM, Burn, Loot, Murder.”
“There is nothing to loot huh? I live in Lynden and if someone wants to hurt my family or burn my house down it will be the last mistake they ever make.”
“It is alarming that this march will end at the police station. Honestly we do not have enough police in Lynden to handle a riot situation. That is why we need to find out and support the police.”
Another commenter on that thread, Cheri, wrote, “when are these idiots going to realize all lives matter NOT just black ones.”
An individual named Steve posted a comment which read:
“The only problem with this is you are bringing destructive forces from out of town whose main motivation is to cause trouble. We certainly don’t need this in Lynden. Do something constructive with your time. Protesting is just like a watered down temper tantrum. And nobody cares about your protests anymore.”
Around a day or so prior to the July 5 Lynden March for Black Lives, there was a disturbing and racist comment inciting violence posted on Facebook (this was not part of the comment thread referenced above) by a commenter named Keith, who wrote:
“I’m sick of these blm protesters. Come to Lynden causing trouble mabey [sic] the kkk should meet them main street has a lot of tall trees along the way good hanging trees.”
Lynden police chief’s letter about the march posted on Lynden Watch Facebook page
With tensions rising in Lynden due to the rumors and concerns being passed around during the days leading up to the July 5 march and the counter-protest, a July 2 post was made on the Lynden Watch Facebook page which featured a letter/statement from Lynden Police Chief Steve Taylor about the scheduled march and counter-protest.
According to the Facebook page’s “About” section, “The Lynden Watch Program is an active cooperative effort between the Lynden City Council, the Lynden Police Department, and the residents of Lynden.” The program’s goal is, “to work together to deter, resist and stop crimes in our community through raised awareness.”
In his letter, Chief Taylor said that he and other city officials met with the organizers of the march, and that the group they met with was comprised largely of local Lynden teenagers. The chief stated that the group was not looking for any type of confrontation, and they stressed that the group want the event to be completely peaceful. He explained that the group’s stated goal was to simply bring awareness to issues involving racial inequality in our country.
Seeming as if Chief Taylor was entertaining the rumors and concerns that some Lyndenites had been expressing publicly about the march, in his letter he listed numerous things that he said the group supporting Black lives was not about, as well as things the marchers would not be doing during the march.
The chief additionally stated that he and city officials had spoken with a separate group (representatives from Lynden Freedom) “who were planning to be out on Sunday in order to show their support for police officers and our city.” He said, “This group has indicated to their members that they are not seeking to turn this event into anything but a peaceful show of support for our community, and our police officers.” Chief Taylor added, “They do NOT wish to confront or harass participants in the march.”
In concluding his letter, the chief wrote:
“As your Police Chief, my hope is that the best ideals of our exceptional city will be on full display. Let us endeavor to treat each other with the respect and dignity that seems sorely lacking in other parts of the country.”
To see if Lynden’s “best ideals” of its city were on display on July 5, readers can check out The Searchlight Review’s report on the July 5th Lynden March for Black Lives, published on August 14, 2020. The report offers details regarding the actions on July 5 of counter-protesters and the self-proclaimed town protectors, some of whom were armed with long rifles and handguns. The report also highlights the experiences and actions of Black lives marchers and some of their responses regarding the actions of the counter-protesters that day.