Misinformation campaign leads to violent arrests at Bellingham homeless camp


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Right now, many in Bellingham, WA are reeling as a result of a misinformation campaign directed by the mayor in which roughly 300 local residents were framed as “domestic terrorists” by the international right wing media, leading to a violent militarized crack down Thursday Jan. 30th that resulted in 5 arrests occurring over a span of 2 days.

 Video footage of this militarized raid can be found here:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CKsWs0Mp89M/?igshid=1auj7mbgpld1k

Here are some photographs:

https://www.facebook.com/beccastrausphotography/posts/213920730441492

As you can see from the above footage, police officers from Bellingham Police Department (BPD), Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO), and Washington State Patrol (WSP) were joined by Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) Agents. There were also snipers on the roofs of City Hall and the District Court building.

The raid also included a bearcat tank, at least one drone, two helicopters, and many officers carrying large semi-automatic guns that they pointed at homeless residents of the camp.

No one in the City of Bellingham can recall seeing this level of state force present in this city in their lifetimes.

This raid was directed towards roughly 300 homeless people and neighbors who had been bringing them food and offering material support. The homeless and their allies have been labelled “domestic terrorists” as part of a misinformation campaign directed by the mayor of Bellingham.

Here is an article that ran in the UK-based Daily Mail based upon the mayor’s false claims that his own citizens and residents are comparable to domestic terrorists:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9179695/Mayor-rushed-City-Hall-Washington-state-protesters-storm-building.html

The so-called “domestic terrorists” are residents and advocates of a local homeless camp called “Camp 210.” They had been in negotiations with the Bellingham mayor for months in an effort to leverage city resources towards housing the homeless. Many of us in Bellingham feel the homeless should be housed immediately due to the pandemic and the dangerously cold winter temperatures in Bellingham, which frequently drop below freezing.

Homeless people began camping out on the lawn in front of Bellingham City Hall in late October of 2020.

A homeless sweep had been announced for Nov. 12th, 2020, but that morning, around 70 neighbors showed up in solidarity with the homeless, preventing the camp’s removal. Neighbors and allies did not want the homeless to be “swept,” an inhumane practice that spreads disease and only causes more pain and trauma for those who are already suffering.

Following the successful prevention of the sweep on Nov. 12th, negotiations began between the Bellingham’s mayor and the camp’s residents and allies, and many in town camp together to support Camp 210.

Roughly 100-200 neighbors from the local community visited each day, building a network of food and clothing donations, and working strategically to meet the needs of the residents of Camp 210 while all of us waited for the city. Many more in town donated and offered shows of solidarity, and local businesses such as Aslan Brewing Company even offered matching donations in support of Camp 210.

Care was taken at Camp 210 to practice social distancing, use hand sanitizer, and take other precautions to attempt to avoid the spread of COVID. Some residents did test positive, however, leading to an increased sense of urgency. Many of the homeless suffered from medical and emotional problems, including addiction and PTSD, and needed care and treatment. We trusted that the city would soon provide a solution, as the mayor engaged in negotiations with the camp and its allies.

Over the following weeks, the mayor made a number of offers that would have only provided partial housing, or broken everyone up. Residents of the Camp 210 care deeply for each other, and made a pact that no one would accept housing until everyone was offered housing. Likewise, the local network of neighbors feared that dividing the camp up may make it more difficult to share resources.

In early January, Mayor Fleetwood suddenly stopped negotiating with Camp 210’s residents and allied neighbors, and instead declared that the camp would be cleared on Friday, Jan. 22.

On Friday Jan 22, many neighbors again showed up, and successfully prevented Camp 210 from being cleared through non-violent tactics.

Following the events of Friday Jan 22, the mayor engaged in an aggressive misinformation campaign, painting his own citizens as “domestic terrorists” and “outside agitators.” Stories carrying these lines were run in a number of local and international right-leaning publications, including The Bellingham Herald and the London-based Daily Mail.

Mayor Fleetwood couldn’t get his own citizens to do what he wanted, so how he was now framing them as domestic terrorists.

Last Thursday, Jan. 30, following nearly a week the mayor’s misinformation campaign, militarized police and CBP officers appeared in town and violently raided Camp 210.

The militarized raid occurred a day earlier than the announced deadline to vacate the camp. Because of this, many homeless residents did not have time to move their belongings, which were violently seized.

Here is a video of a homeless man named Mike, being violently arrested while attempting to rescue one of his belongings that day:

https://www.instagram.com/tv/CKm7Ys2gGxW/?igshid=1t9rm7r6yzxn5

Mike was one of over 100 homeless people who had to face snipers, a bearcat tank, and CBP agents with semi-automatic weapons pointed at them on Thursday Jan. 28–all because the mayor successfully leveraged local and international media to paint the homeless camp and allies as terrorists.

Five were arrested on Jan 28th and Jan 29th, including both homeless people and allies of the camp. Some were merely arrested for being seen downtown the next day.

We estimate that the per-hour taxpayer cost of this terrifying ordeal could have housed all of the residents of Camp 210, many times over.

We believe part of why this “domestic terrorist” narrative spun out of control so quickly is because we don’t have a single left-leaning or even liberal news source in the region (we are just barely too far north of Seattle to be covered by their news sources, and too far over the border to be covered by the ones in Vancouver).

It is very scary to have that type of militarized repression happen in Bellingham. No one can remember seeing anything like it here in their lifetimes.

Many of us are nervous that now that the mayor has directed the national anti-terrorist apparatus against his own citizens, it’s not going to stop.

Some of the local homeless advocates have reported that police have been stalking their houses, driving by slowly, or parking outside and staring into their homes.

Meanwhile, the residents of the camp have just lost everything, and resources have now been cut off from them, as many neighbors are afraid to interact with the homeless now, for fear of militarized oppression.

All we wanted was to get these folks into some tiny homes. We have a network set up that can bring them food and resources after they’re housed. But now everyone is traumatized. What is going to happen to the residents of Camp 210?

If you Google this story, here is some of the misinformation you will encounter:

“Members of Camp 210 are domestic terrorists”

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9179695/Mayor-rushed-City-Hall-Washington-state-protesters-storm-building.html

The above Daily Mail story is tagged “Domestic Terrorism.” It discusses a moment on Friday Jan. 22 in which a handful of homeless advocates walked into Bellingham City Hall, and then, when police arrived and asked them to leave, they peacefully left. In the above article, however, the mayor sensationalizes the scenario, acting as if he fled for his life.

Contrary to the mayor’s framing, the police officers who were on scene on Jan. 22nd saw no reason to arrest anyone who entered City Hall. A small group simply walked into a public building, were asked to leave, and peacefully walked out. And yet, the above article tags the incident as “domestic terrorism.”

“Coffee-gate”

During the events of Jan 22nd, a journalist from KGMI, the local Rush Limbaugh syndicate, violated residents’ rights by trying to non-consensually film them, after they had explicitly expressed that they did not consent to be filmed.  It seems someone responded by throwing coffee at him after he refused to stop filming. This incident was dramatized in “Unite America First,” a national far right publication:

https://uniteamericafirst.com/loony-leftists-storm-city-hall-in-bellingham-wa-for-homeless-camp-attack-journalists/

The above article also uses the derogatory term “woke supremacists” to attempt to create a false equivalency between homeless advocates and right wing extremists, while likewise mocking and downplaying efforts by Black Lives Matter to bring attention to white supremacy in this country.

“The people of Camp 210 are the same as those who attacked the US Capitol on Jan. 6th”

According to the Bellingham Herald:

“Fox News reported that [Mayor] Fleetwood compared the incident to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol […] He said CNN and other major news organizations tried to reach him, but “I didn’t want to pour any more gas on the fire.”

(The Bellingham Herald, Jan 26).

The above quote shows a key aspect of the misinformation campaign that was coming out of the mayor’s office: wrongly comparing the neighbors preventing a homeless camp from being cleared on Jan 22nd wrongly to the Jan 6th insurrection at the US Capitol.

Again, on that day, a handful of homeless advocates walked into City Hall, and then, when police arrived and asked them to leave, they peacefully left the building.

Additionally, in the above Bellingham Herald quote, the mayor admits to having refused to speak with any other TV news channels than Fox News. By refusing to speak to any other news channels than Fox, the mayor denied his citizens access to fair and unbiased reporting.

“Camp 210 has brought in outside agitators”

In his ongoing misinformation campaign, the mayor has claimed the earlier-than-scheduled removal of the camp was due to his fear of “outside agitators”:

https://www.bellinghamherald.com/news/local/article248848999.html

It has been very confusing to residents and allies (who are all local neighbors) to have been labeled “outside agitators” by our mayor. According to Harvard Professor Law Justin Hansford, the term “outside agitators” is commonly used by those with anti-democratic political intentions to attempt to delegitimize local movements.

“There are already other resources for the homeless in town; they don’t need help”

The mayor has falsely claimed that there are adequate other resources for the homeless in town, such as Base Camp, a homeless shelter too small to safely house everyone. Likewise, the other scattered resources have problems that make them inadequate at best, and dangerously unreliable at worst. These “resources” waste the time and energy of the homeless people who use them, making it more difficult for them to get out of homelessness and into safety.

Local residents have to set up a network of food and resources to fill in the gaps, and have been working to meet the needs of the people of Camp 210. We were ready to keep that network going once they were in temporary housing. Now, many of us are afraid to help.

Why has helping the homeless been deemed an act of “domestic terrorism”?

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