Seattle police revealed Wednesday that they had seized a van containing explosives at a weekend protest that had been organized in solidarity with demonstrations in Portland, Oregon.
Best explained that a group of protesters headed to the Youth Service Center over the weekend and tossed “incendiary devices, Molotov cocktails,” into a construction site, destroying several trailers.
The group then moved to the East Precinct. A van reportedly followed them, and people were spotted “removing items and distributing them to people within the group.”
The items described, according to the police chief, included “baseball bats, pyrotechnic explosives, APR respirators, improvised shields, and face masks.”
“Moments later an explosion blew an 8-inch hole into the wall of the East Precinct,” Best said. “Because of the manner in which the vehicle was parked and abandoned, there was a real fear that it would contain explosive devices that could detonate.”
Best said the vehicle was “impounded” and a judge granted detectives a search warrant. Investigators discovered “one pyrotechnic explosives [sic], smoke bombs bundled together — and lit and unlit but able to cause large amounts of smoke that are caustic to humans — bear spray — using it on anything but bears is a federal offense — pepper spray, stun guns, [and] improvised spike strips,” she said.
Best reminded reporters that 59 officers were injured as a result of the violent riots, and added that the evidence demonstrates that “not everyone that comes to these protests is peaceful.”
Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, have defended the demonstrations in Portland and nationwide as “peaceful protests,” though some began to walk that back this week. Biden clarified on Tuesday: “Peaceful protesters should be protected, and arsonists and anarchists should be prosecuted.”
While Chief Best acknowledged that some protesters and protests have remained peaceful, she refused to ignore the reality of bad actors within the groups, stressing that “there’s a group of folks that are embedding themselves within these peaceful demonstrations.”
“Peaceful protesters do not show up with a van full of bear spray, stun guns, spike strips, and explosives,” Best said.
Best said the department is planning to follow up “aggressively” in the investigation and provide details as they come:
“Acts of destruction, violence and hateful speech, none of that gets us where we need to be, it’s not just a distraction, it undermines the central message and the actions we want to take as a city,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D), who has accused federal officers of escalating violence “night after night after night,” stated at the press conference.
Durkan also expressed confidence in Chief Best but emphasized her fundamental belief in “reshaping the Police Department.” She emphasized that the city must “admit and apologize that our systems in our city and across this country were built on systemic racism.”
Seattle has been the site of violent protests connected to the Black Lives Matter movement, including the so-called “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest” (CHOP). The mayor defended the protest until protesters targeted her house; it was cleared shortly thereafter.
Last week, a new city council resolution went into effect that prevents police officers from using pepper spray to disperse riots. That, in turn, caused the police chief to warn residents it could not protect them.