Armed citizens stand along First Street to protect businesses from possible looters during a June 2020 rally in Snohomish. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Armed citizens stand along First Street to protect businesses from possible looters during a June 2020 rally in Snohomish. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

As film debuts chronicling hate, Snohomish mayor plans rally

Mayor John Kartak calls his city “the most wonderful community on earth.” A new movie offers another perspective.

SNOHOMISH — Mayor John Kartak and his campaign staff are advertising a “family friendly rally” Saturday, the same day a documentary debuts about Black Lives Matter protests in Snohomish that were interrupted by dozens of armed vigilantes in 2020.

What Happened on First Street,” a film by two recent college graduates who grew up in Snohomish, details how dozens of civilians carrying guns converged on the city’s historic downtown in response to a bogus threat falsely claiming to be from an anti-fascist group in May 2020. The film includes interviews with people of color who described their experiences living in Snohomish.

“A lot of us weren’t super surprised when we saw Proud Boys and Confederate flags being waved down on First Street,” filmmaker and Snohomish High School alumnus Drake Wilson told the Herald earlier this month.

Originally, the filmmakers planned to host a screening of their documentary at 6 p.m. at the Snohomish High School Performing Arts Center Saturday.

Kartak’s rally “United Snohomish,” slated for 4 to 6 p.m. at the Snohomish Sports Dome, is advertised as a time to “stand in solidarity, show support for Public Safety, Small Town Values, and the most wonderful community on earth.”

This week, Snohomish for Equity, one of the film screening’s sponsors, notified those registered for the in-person showing that it would be shifting to a fully virtual event due to COVID. The shift had been considered for about a week before the final decision, and Kartak announced his event in the meantime on social media, said Tabitha Baty, president of Snohomish for Equity.

“We decided the safety of the community is more important than having an in-person meeting,” Baty said.

Baty said she found the announcement of Kartak’s event “interesting and coincidental with regard to timing.”

“What documentary showing?” Kartak said in a brief phone call Wednesday with a Daily Herald reporter.

The trailer for the documentary includes a few brief clips of the mayor defending the armed residents’ presence.

Baty wasn’t the only Snohomish resident who took note of the timing.

“I’m just scared of what’s going to happen,” said Mary Lasky, a longtime Snohomish resident.

Lasky said she vividly remembers driving to First Street on May 31, 2020. She and her husband saw some social media chatter and wanted to witness it for themselves.

As they turned the corner into downtown, she said, they saw armed people who appeared to be “basically militia,” drinking beers from local bars, with some displaying Confederate flags.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, where am I?’” she said.

Even more alarming, she said, was the response from Snohomish leadership.

“Listening to John Kartak vomit from his mouth his explanation for why he is representative of our community and is inviting the Proud Boys … and his ability to just say that it’s no big deal?” she said. “It’s such a cavalier way to approach something when it doesn’t impact you.”

Snohomish City Council Member Judith Kuleta said she’ll be watching the film. Kuleta, who said her daughter experienced racially charged microagressions in Snohomish, said “it’s important for us to be intentional in our listening.”

Kartak said his campaign team organized the Saturday event, but “I’m the guy running, so you can do your own math as far as how much input I may have had.”

Snohomish Police Chief Rob Palmer said he understands Kartak is hosting a private, indoor campaign event — not a public rally.

“It’s not something that we’re doing anything with,” he said.

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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