Cops Confuse ‘ANTHRAX’ With ‘ANTIFA’ in Hunt for Violent Protester

·7 min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

A man who drew a gun and put a protester in a headlock at a “Back The Blue” rally during the peak of police-brutality protests last year openly displayed anti-fascist sympathies, according to a confidential police bulletin circulated months later.

“‘ANTIFA’ is a patch on the right shoulder of the subject,” reads the bulletin, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Beast.

But the patch does not say “ANTIFA” at all. It’s a logo patch for the heavy metal band Anthrax.

Last June, even as racial-justice protests swept the country, one pro-police event in Everett, Washington, made national headlines. There, in what critics described as an unequal application of justice, a teenager was arrested for taunting police with a doughnut, while a pro-police demonstrator was not arrested after putting a man in a headlock and drawing a gun.

But two months after the protest, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office did circulate an internal bulletin about the gun-wielding man, according to records obtained by the transparency group Property Of The People and reviewed by The Daily Beast. The only problem: the document appeared to misclassify the man as a militant leftist, based on a flagrant misreading of his shirt.

A representative for the band Anthrax did not immediately provide comment for this story. A Snohomish County Sheriff’s spokesperson said that after the bulletin circulated, investigators had checked with the gun-wielding man, and learned that the patch was unrelated to antifa.

“Through the investigation it was determined to not be an ANTIFA patch,” the spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “The subject was contacted and the vest was checked—patch related to armed forces service and a band and not in any way related to ANTIFA.”

The June 17, 2020, “Back The Blue” rally drew approximately 300 police supporters, and a small opposition crowd of Black Lives Matter activists. Outside the event, the two groups shouted opposing chants. Two teenagers reportedly taunted police with doughnuts on strings, leading to one of the teenager’s well-publicized arrest. (“Get that fucking shit away from my face or I’ll whoop your ass, boy,” an officer told the teen, before another officer shoved and arrested him. The young man was not charged in the incident.)

But when the pro-police crowd caught sight of the second doughnut-toting teen, a scuffle broke out, the Herald Net reported at the time. In the chaos, a long-haired man apparently from the pro-police side was filmed placing an opponent in a headlock and pointing a gun at the Black Lives Matter crowd.

Matt Lincoln, the man who was placed in a headlock, told The Daily Beast the attack came as a shock.

“Someone grabbed me from behind and started choking me,” Lincoln said. “I’m holding onto a sign with both hands, so I was vulnerable. I put the sign down and pulled the guy off me, and he turned around and pulled a gun on me. Everyone started yelling ‘gun!’ He started aiming it at the crowd, not just me. Then he casually put the gun back. The police just stood there, let him walk away. We couldn’t believe it. I was just shocked they brought guns to the protest.”

The gun-carrying man was not arrested, and police told the Herald Net that they were unaware of the incident until reporters asked about it days later.

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By late August, however, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office had circulated an internal bulletin on the gun-wielding man. The bulletin, which was also distributed by the Washington State Attorney General's Office, included pictures of the man, as well as a possible indication of his political beliefs.

“A physical confrontation erupted, and this individual put a protester in a headlock followed by displaying a pistol for a few moments as the crowds reacted to the confrontation and the tension escalated,” the bulletin reads. “Law enforcement responded, but the subject was not contacted or identified. No shots were fired and the weapon was drawn and secured on the right side pocket of the vest. ‘ANTIFA’ is a patch on the right shoulder of the subject.”

“Antifa,” short for anti-fascist, refers to a broad movement of leftist demonstrators who oppose the far right. The movement has served, at times, as a bogeyman for police and the far right in general, with Snohomish’s own police chief resigning last year, days before the Back The Blue rally, after he fueled rumors of an ominous antifa mob approaching town. Although the leftist menace never materialized, heavily armed groups on the right patrolled the streets, some of them toting Confederate flags or patches for hate groups. (The Snohomish Police Department and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office work together, but are separate agencies.)

The bulletin’s mention of an “ANTIFA” patch on the vest of a gun-brandishing man might have given police more reason to fear violence on the left. But, contrary to the bulletin’s claims, the patch did not say “ANTIFA.” It was the spiky, stylized logo of Anthrax, a metal band.

Kim Kelly, a labor journalist, organizer, and Daily Beast contributor who is also the former heavy metal editor for Vice, said the patch was unequivocally the Anthrax logo.

“This is hilarious,” Kelly told The Daily Beast. “That is absolutely an Anthrax patch. It’s the classic logo that dates back to their 1983 demo ‘Soldiers of Metal’ and was designed by lead guitarist Daniel Alan Spitz. You can see many more examples of that exact logo—including yellow versions—on everything from face masks and hand sanitizer to shot glasses in their official merchandise store.”

Ryan Shapiro, executive director of Property Of The People, said the mix-up was part of a broader trend of law enforcement cracking down on the left.

"Law enforcement is so consumed by panic over progressive dissent that cops are now seeing the ‘antifa' boogeyman in even the most ubiquitous mall-bought metal patches," Shapiro told The Daily Beast.

The Snohomish County Sheriff, Adam Fortney, has previously drawn attention for right-wing stances, including his refusal to enforce statewide COVID-19 restrictions last April. That decision, plus his reinstatement of three officers who had previously been fired for misconduct, became the subject of a now-dead effort to recall him as sheriff.

Lincoln, the man who was attacked on video, said he and other witnesses recognized the patch as that of a metal band. “We know for sure it was an Anthrax patch,” he said. “We think he had a Slayer patch. Pretty much old school thrash metal kind of guy.”

Not only was the man’s patch a Google-able metal logo, but it was surrounded on the man’s vest by other patches for uber-famous metal bands like Iron Maiden.

“The thing is, too, that Anthrax is not exactly an underground cult favorite, nor are they an explicitly political band,” Kelly said. “It’s not like dude was rocking a patch from Dawn Ray’d or Terminal Nation. Anthrax is one of the most famous thrash metal bands in existence, and rose to prominence in the 1980s alongside Metallica, Megadeth, and Exodus; together, they were and still are known as The Big Four.”

Lincoln, for his own part, is a musician in various punk bands himself. He said he’d been shown what activists believe are his attacker’s social media accounts, which indicate a belief in various far-right conspiracy theories. “It sucks. It takes advantage of naive people,” Lincoln said of conspiracy theories.

He said he didn’t wish to press charges against his attacker, but wished the man knew more about what they had in common.

“That’s what kills me. If the guy knew me, personally, he’d feel horrible,” he said. “These are bands I love.”

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