A leftist mob broke into Bellingham's city hall in the state of Washington on Friday, forcing the mayor to flee the building for safety and assaulting local journalists who tried to document the event.
The militants spray painted KGMI radio journalist Joe Teehan, threw hot chocolate in the reporter's face, and stole his microphone.
"There were shouts of, 'He's taking unauthorized photos. He's invading privacy.' Pretty soon I was surrounded by a fairly good number of people," Teehan told KIRO-TV.
Teehan appeared to cover the scene around 9:30 a.m Friday morning. Then shortly after, protesters turned hostile.
"I've never experienced that kind of belligerence. We've had protests in Bellingham and I've never seen anyone act that way," Teehan recounted.
That's when the crowd pounced to seize his equipment. When he started to back away, one individual grabbed his microphone.
The protesters also attempted to snatch his iPad, although unsuccessful. Teehan was not injured but rattled by the incident.
The Bellingham Herald's criminal and social justice reporter Denver Pratt reported that he and his colleague were pushed and cornered by the black-clad mob. Water was dumped on one of their cameras after the duo was asked not to take photographs on public property. Then they were shouted at until the two left.
"We tried to engage in a conversation and explain how we were trying to balance privacy but still document, and they told us to get out," Pratt tweeted.
HomesNOW! co-founder Doug Gustafson who leads the homeless advocacy group said protesters threatened to destroy his video camera. Other footage showed protesters tearing down an American flag outside and stopping on the banner.
The far-left protesters were supposed to be advocating for the homeless encampment—known as Camp 210—of approximately 100 tents stationed outside city hall. Several wooden structures were also erected on the city hall's lawn.
Homeless campers were living there since November to protest the lack of shelters in the area and ignored an order to move 25 feet away from the city hall. The city moved into action after several fires were set and county employees were harassed.
Protesters used cars to block Grand Avenue in front of the county courthouse, leading vehicles to drive across the sidewalk to circumvent the blockade.
A human barricade was formed around the intersections, holding signs that read, "Services now," "Do not sweep," and "Provide an actual solution for the homeless."
Bellingham Police told The Bellingham Herald that around 20 rioters stormed the lobby but no damage was done. No one was hurt and no arrests were made.
"We seek a peaceful end to this encampment and if there is confrontation, we will not be the aggressors," Mayor Seth Fleetwood's statement was tweeted out, pointing to how most homeless campers have not complied with the city's request.
Fleetwood acknowledged that members of the media were threatened and harassed by the present agitators. "Their actions are a disservice to people who are experiencing homelessness and putting them at increased risk," he said of the unruly protesters.
Then Fleetwood asked those involved to help the city encourage "unsheltered people" to seek services at Base Camp—a homeless shelter on Cornwall Avenue operated by Lighthouse Mission Ministries—and ensure an end to the encampment through peaceful means "in light of the significant public safety and health risks it poses to campers, volunteers, staff and community members."
"It was unsettling," Fleetwood told KIRO-TV. "They banged on the door and we got word they had somehow broken it open and were entering, and I was advised to leave."
The mayor evacuated through the back door and was driven away from City Hall to his own vehicle. Fleetwood compared the escalated situation to the Capitol Hill riot on Jan. 6. He noted that he did not know the extent of the damage caused inside the building other than the entrance's broken lock.
The Facebook group BOP Mutual Aid and the Instagram page Whatcom Focused Youth Movement both rallied protesters on social media; however, it was unclear if those organizers incited the violence.
Numerous homeless campers approach Camp 210 daily for supplies and food. Negotiations and communication with county officials have dissipated, leading advocates to believe that the city might sweep the encampment altogether. The camp's leadership cancelled the late December meeting, because the city was unwilling to meet their demands. Homeless residents at Camp 210 asked for 100 units—such as tiny homes or pallet shelters—and the city only offered 25.
The city offered to provide funding for the hire of credentialed professionals to help oversee an additional winter shelter option.
In collaboration with the Port of Bellingham and Whatcom County, officials proposed another site and additional tiny homes. After meeting 10 times, including Thursday afternoon, Camp 210 volunteers rejected the proposition, desiring every City Hall homeless camper at the same location.
A standoff remains but Fleetwood declared that the circumstances surrounding city hall and the library lawn are "untenable."
The city intends to clear the camp by the end of January. "This [protest] is not going to deter the city's plan?" KIRO-TV's Deedee Sun asked. "No. If anything, it hardens my resolve," Fleetwood answered.
The college town sits about 88 miles north of Seattle, a center for anti-police riots held hostage by Antifa's reign of terror since the death of George Floyd in May.