By Paul Gottlieb and Christi Baron / Olympic Peninsula News Group
FORKS — The Forks City Council apologized to a multiracial Spokane family that reportedly was confronted in a parking lot June 3 by people suspicious they were members of left-leaning Antifa and then followed to their campsite, where they were barricaded by felled trees from leaving the area.
Council members unanimously voted to concur with a statement that Mayor Tim Fletcher read Monday.
He spoke as if the family were present before taking input from council members.
“I want to address, now, the family from Spokane who last Wednesday left Forks feeling harassed, intimidated and scared,” Fletcher said.
“I am very sorry about the treatment you encountered on your visit to Forks.”
According to the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, the family, which has not been identified, said they were confronted twice with questions from people who arrived in the Forks Outfitters parking lot in several carloads.
The Sheriff’s Office released a video Tuesday night in response to public interest.
While walking into the store and while walking out to their vehicle, they kept getting asked the same question after denying repeatedly they were part of Antifa, Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King said Tuesday.
“We’re learning that there were folks who were completely satisfied that they had no link to Antifa, and we’re also learning that there were some people, even though they know what their answers were to being identified to Antifa, that they still had concerns,” King said.
City Council member Michael Gilstrap told the council he was in the parking lot when the family was being confronted.
He said he openly defended them.
“I told everyone to leave them alone, even if they were from Antifa,” Gilstrap said.
Antifa is an umbrella term for left-leaning political groups affiliated by militant opposition to fascism and other forms of extreme right-wing ideology.
Last week, it was falsely rumored on social media as planning to converge on rural areas in buses to commit violence as part of nationwide demonstrations over racial injustice.
The family’s vehicle is a white converted school bus.
FREDS Guns 2.0 owner Seth Larson posted on his Facebook page Wednesday that he had been told that Antifa was coming in buses to a protest in Sequim. He and nine others armed themselves and went to the protest, which they discovered was peaceful. Larson returned to post an apology on his Facebook page.
Deputies have said they are investigating if a link exists between Larson’s posts and the alleged harassment of the Spokane family in Forks some 70 miles away on the same day.
In Forks, the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office has been moving away from investigating the parking lot confrontation as possible criminal harassment.
Investigators are focusing their efforts on vehicles in the parking lot that followed the family to their U.S. Forest Service campsite before vehicle occupants allegedly cut down trees to block the family’s exit, King said.
Four Forks High School students removed the barrier with a chainsaw, freeing the family — a husband, his wife, their 16-year-old daughter and the husband’s mother — to return to their Eastern Washington home.
Fletcher reread the statement that the council concurred with Monday on Tuesday in his daily “Mayor’s Message” on the city’s website (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-CouncilApology).
“While the sheriff and his officers continue to investigate the matter, I want to say that the events you experienced on June 3 were inappropriate,” Fletcher said.
“That behavior does not reflect the Forks community of which I am proud to serve as mayor.
“I do not condone racism or discrimination, nor will my government.
“Our 75th anniversary slogan is, everyone counts here, and to me that means absolutely everyone.
“Again, to the visiting family from Spokane, I apologize [for] how you were treated last Wednesday.
“I hope that you and your family can in time find a way to forgive our community for what you experienced.”
Gilstrap said no negative comments were made to the family and that their bus was not blocked at the parking lot. He said no guns were present. The family had told deputies that one person following them was carrying a gun.
“What happened to them after they left the parking lot upset me when people started following them,” Gilstrap said.
“This was not racially motivated,” he added.
Gilstrap would not comment Tuesday on the incident.
“I’ve got nothing to say,” he said.
King said the Sheriff’s Office is still examining a surveillance video of the incident at the parking lot and must still interview people who were present, including Gilstrap.
A family member said a person in a vehicle who followed them from the parking lot was carrying what appeared to be a semiautomatic weapon, but investigators have been unable to reach the family since June 3 to determine how the weapon was being handled, King said.
The family drove their bus up Sitkum Sol Duc Road, also known as A Road. They later heard power saws and gun shots, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Blocking the road and felling the trees is criminal conduct, King said.
Council member Juanita Weissenfels said the incident was upsetting.
“It is crucial that there are consequences,” she said at the council meeting.
“I understand the social climate at this time and people are scared, but it is not a reason to act foolishly,” Joe Soha said.
“Obviously people acted stupidly,” Jeff Gingell said.
This story originally appeared in the Peninsula Daily News, a sister publication to The Herald.