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CHOP does have armed guards, but weapons are concealed

The CHOP at 12th and Pine, next to the East Precinct. (Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

News outlets around the world have described the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or CHOP, as a “war zone” in which armed protesters are threatening those who enter at gunpoint.

The six-block area, comprised of the streets around Cal Anderson Park and the now-empty East Precinct, was thus named by protesters Monday night after Seattle police left the East Precinct at 12th Avenue and Pine Street.

President Trump himself tweeted about “domestic terrorists” and “ugly anarchists” taking over Seattle, and talked of sending in the military to reclaim the area. (Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan later assured there would be no military take-back of the CHOP.)

However, while organizers confirmed there are some armed guards at the CHOP entrances, the weapons are not visible.

A look inside Seattle’s newly-formed ‘Autonomous Zone’

“It’s not our intent to try to create any paradox to try to incite violence or have that be a motif,” said demonstrator Maurice Cola. “We’re not trying to use our guns to flash around — it’s for defense.”

Cola said that people are welcome to come and go freely, without being stopped; the guns are only to guard against violent white supremacist groups.

“There’s local groups of white supremacists who facilitated in trying to give us threats by marching up with their own weaponry, so we are utilizing our rights and bearing arms,” Cola said. “There are a few people who are monitoring the gate just for our safety, as we already had an active shooter on site.”

That was in reference to Sunday night, when an armed man drove through the crowd and allegedly shot a protester in the arm.

KIRO Radio reporter Nicole Jennings walked in, out of, and through the CHOP several times on Thursday, and was never stopped or asked for ID.

Extortion rumors in the CHOP

Police Chief Carmen Best said earlier this week that the Seattle Police Department had heard anecdotally that protesters were forcing businesses in the CHOP to pay a fee if they wished to continue operating.

However, on Thursday, Best clarified that the police department hasn’t gotten any official reports of extortion in Capitol Hill.

Lauren, a cook at Dumpling Tzar, just down the street from the East Precinct, said there have been no problems between businesses and protesters.

“I have yet to see it, I’ve been here this whole time,” she said. “I think that they’re rumors spread by people who want to see this fail.”

Lauren said she is in a group text with other businesses nearby, and no one else has reported any issues.

“The last few days, it’s been beautiful, it’s been amazing, a community has formed, I have watched people come together,” she said. “The organizers are working with businesses — they moved the barricades back so we can get some of our clients back. It’s been a really amazing experience.”

Protest organizers also said no extortion was happening.

“Definitely not, there’s no aspect of extortion — unless someone is individually of their own accord doing something that I’ve never heard of,” Cola said.

Cola said they’re just there to exercise free speech … not to harm businesses.

Though King County has now moved into Phase 1.5, many shops and restaurants in the CHOP are still using the Phase 1 system of curbside pickup and to-go orders.

Capitol Hill resident Joseph Suttner, who lives within the Autonomous Zone, told Seattle’s Morning News that he had to get a piece of paper for his dashboard to be allowed to drive through the car-free streets to get to his parking garage.

“The last week was so literally insane with the police — that was crazier than this, to be honest, from my perspective,” he said. “I feel like, at least now, it’s at least calm.”

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