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'Patriot' Protesters, Counter Protesters Face Off At Evergreen State College

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Tom Banse
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Northwest News Network
Washington State Troopers arrive at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, Thursday afternoon to keep peace at a ''free speech'' rally held by a pro-Trump group called Patriot Prayer.

Law enforcement prepared for protesters and counterprotesters on the Evergreen State College campus in Olympia, Washington, Thursday afternoon—the day before this year's graduation ceremony.

The demonstration was planned by the same pro-Trump group that drew opposition and police action in Portland on June 4.

The standoff would be the latest disruption in a tumultuous spring at the 4,000-student public university. Campus buildings closed early Thursday afternoon, although the effect was limited since spring classes ended last week.

Friday’s graduation ceremony for Evergreen's Class of 2017 was moved from the Olympia campus to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma for security reasons. Tickets will be required to enter the parking area and stadium and attendees will be screened before walking to their seats.   

Evergreen is the latest university to become a punching bag in the national debate about campus intolerance, free speech and racial sensitivity. Campus tensions simmered for many months before the state and national media took interest. Since last fall, groups of Evergreen students have staged demonstrations, disrupted events or occupied buildings to protest racism alleged at the liberal arts school.

Anonymous telephoned threats prompted the college administration to suspend classes for three days at the beginning of June. Professors, students and campus organizations also reported receiving direct threats or online harassment.

The "Free Speech Evergreen State College" rally on Thursday was organized by a group called Patriot Prayer, which is led by a Vancouver, Washington, activist named Joey Gibson. On its Facebook page, Patriot Prayer listed multiple grievances with Evergreen.

"Political Correctness and Hatred has taken over the campus," the group posted on its event page. "No leadership in the school will step up then the civilians will. NO MORE FUNDING FOR EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE."   

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Credit Tom Banse / Northwest News Network
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Northwest News Network
Supporters of Evergreen State College make posters for a counter protest under the library awning on the Olympia campus.

Self-described anti-fascist groups put out calls for counter demonstrators to "Defend Evergreen!" Puget Sound Anarchists portrayed Patriot Prayer as a "far right group" that provides cover for white supremacists, fascists and Nazi admirers.

In an op-ed column published by the Seattle Times Thursday, Evergreen State President George Bridges wrote that his school is plotting steps "to preserve freedom from discrimination and of expression for all at Evergreen.”

"Freedom of speech belongs to all. Freedom to threaten does not," Bridges wrote. "I am talking with Evergreen faculty and students, alumni, legislators and others about how we can strengthen and clarify the rules for conduct."