In Washington state, Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth McMullen has declined to press charges against Forest Michael Machala, the far-right gunman who shot and nearly killed a counter-demonstrator during a fascist rally in Olympia on December 12. Machala’s attack was the second far-right shooting in Olympia in seven days. Thurston County Superior Court found probable cause for McMullen to file first-degree assault charges against Machala on December 14—yet she chose not to file them, letting the deadline elapse without doing anything. Machala posted bail shortly after his arrest, while his victim was still in the hospital. The court went on to drop the no-contact order stipulating that he should not approach the victim; in addition to removing protection from the victim, this lays the groundwork for Machala to regain possession of his confiscated AR-15. In refusing to press charges against a known extremist who carried out a widely documented shooting in front of a large number of witnesses, Elizabeth McMullen is inviting fascists to come to Olympia and turn it into a killing field.
Elizabeth McMullen’s decision must be understood as an attack in its own right, no less than the shooting Forest Machala carried out. Permit us to spell out why.
At the close of the Trump era, we have become inured to tragedies that would have struck us as outrageous just four years ago. We were shocked on the night Trump was inaugurated when Trump supporters shot a person in Seattle, Washington at an event featuring pro-fascist Milo Yiannopoulos—and we were shocked that the media reported on the “violence” of the demonstrators they attacked rather than the shooting. We were shocked when a fascist intentionally drove a car into a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators seven months later, killing one of them. Today, we are accustomed to such things. Just this year, fascists have killed too many people at demonstrations to list here.
Prosecutors in Washington State want to push this further. They want to see if they can normalize not even charging those who are shooting and killing us. One law for them—another for us.
On the weekend of December 5, 2020, fascists converged on Olympia to demonstrate in favor of Trump’s belated attempt to steal the election. Concerned that they would carry out attacks of the sort that fascists have repeatedly perpetrated around the Pacific Northwest, Olympia locals organized a counterdemonstration. Clashes erupted; fascists triumphantly posted footage of themselves charging, attacking, and beating people. After one conflict, a Trump supporter from Port Orchard named Christopher Michael Guenzler stepped back, raised a gun, and shot a counter-demonstrator, “grazing” the victim’s chest with a bullet. This occurred in front of dozens of witnesses, but it still took the police quite some time to arrest Guenzler—in fact, the police first focused on violently attacking the same counter-demonstrators that the fascists had just attacked. In the end, police questioned Guenzler, and when he lied to them about the shooting, they arrested him and charged him with first-degree assault while armed with a deadly weapon. His bail was set at $50,000.
One week later, on December 12, many of the same fascists once again descended upon Olympia. Once again, violent clashes erupted between them and counter-demonstrators seeking to defend against the same attackers that had shot someone the previous weekend. At one point, a fascist drew his gun and advanced on the counter-protesters. He was subsequently arrested before he shot anyone.
Nonetheless, video footage from December 12 shows police forming a line at the front of the fascist demonstration and firing impact munitions at counter-demonstrators while fascists cheered them on, chanting “fuck antifa.” Some still consider it hyperbolic to refer to violent pro-Trump demonstrators as fascists, but this label seems apt enough when they identify themselves chiefly on the basis of their shared desire to attack those who oppose fascism. If that’s not enough, at least one participant in the demonstration—who has been identified as a well-known neo-Nazi—was captured on video shouting anti-Semitic abuse at counter-demonstrators, with the support of the other fascists present.
As they say in the South, cops and the Klan go hand in hand.
At the end of the afternoon, Forest Michael Machala opened fire with his handgun, shooting a counter-demonstrator in the back. Machala currently lives in Bellingham. He can be seen in the video footage, wearing gloves and shooting glasses, prepared to imitate the example set by Christopher Guenzler.
The charging documents state that Machala was arrested with a Glock handgun and two ten-round magazines. His Glock had a round in the chamber and seven rounds left in the magazine. Police found a single unfired round matching his bullets on the ground near the spot he was seen racking his gun in the video. Three different video angles capture Machala holding his gun immediately after the shot was fired. He was identified in the video and by witnesses as the shooter.
Prosecutors had already cited this evidence in the course of proving probable cause to the court. Yet they waited out the deadline to file charges, sending their “community engagement specialist” Jessie Knudsen to claim that they lacked sufficient evidence to proceed with charging Machala.
In so doing, they passed responsibility back to the Washington State Patrol to provide more evidence in the case. The Washington State Patrol themselves are hardly unbiased. Indeed, immediately after the shooting took place, Washington State Patrol officers once again attacked the same counter-demonstrators that Machala had just attacked, shooting impact munitions and chemical weapons at them, while at the same time providing medical care and support to Machala’s compatriots. It really could not be clearer that the prosecutor, the police, and the fascists are united in a single front.
The reality is that the prosecutors could have brought half a dozen different charges against Machala in addition to first-degree assault. If they wanted to prosecute him, they would have filed all the charges and tried to intimidate him into taking a plea—this is the strategy they routinely employ against anti-Trump protesters, poor people, and people of color in general. They obviously intend to avoid prosecuting him altogether. Machala’s attorney has stated that he will argue self-defense if Machala is charged—a tacit admission that Machala was, indeed the shooter. Self-defense claims are almost always decided by a jury, not by a prosecutor refusing to bring charges.
If anti-fascists had begun shooting at either of these demonstrations, the police would likely have shot them immediately. The police always face towards anti-fascists at these events and inflict the vast majority of their violence upon them. The relatively restrained police response to this week’s far-right invasion of a government building in Salem, Oregon confirms this.
Let’s compare this to other local precedents.
Jon Tunheim, the elected county prosecutor who likely calls the shots behind Elizabeth McMullen’s decision, is in fact a Democrat. But when Olympia police officer Ryan Donald shot two young Black men, André Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, in 2015, claiming that they attacked him with a skateboard, Tunheim pressed assault charges against both of them.
A cop shoots two young Black men and the county prosecutor presses charges against them when one of them is permanently paralyzed from the waist down and the officer is unharmed. A white fascist shoots a Black man in the back and receives no charges. This could be the antebellum South.
The shooting on December 12 took place less than seven miles from the street where police and federal marshals urged on by Trump extrajudicially murdered Portlander Michael Reinoehl to punish him for shooting an armed fascist who was in the process of attacking him. Afterwards, in a series of speeches around the country, Trump explicitly congratulated and praised the police for carrying out this murder.
Trump has pardoned 49 people in the past two days, including four Blackwater mercenaries who ambushed Iraqi civilians with unprovoked gunfire—murdering 14 people and injuring 17 more. As we saw in Ferguson in 2014 and more recently all around the country in the repression of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the tactics and technologies that soldiers and mercenaries test out overseas are later employed in the United States against US citizens. With these pardons, Trump is showing that the laws that apply to poor people, people of color, and protesters do not apply to his supporters—but he is also seeking to curry favor with actual mercenaries with blood on their hands, in order to lay the groundwork for a future in which they can murder US citizens professionally.
Biden’s electoral victory has done nothing to curtail the escalating violence of the far right. It has only emboldened them, while at the same time giving liberals an excuse to leave the most vulnerable sectors of the population to face their violence alone.
It is certain that fascists in the Pacific Northwest—who have already killed several people in the past few years—will interpret Elizabeth McMullen’s decision to dismiss the charges as permission to shoot anti-fascists, provided they stage the shootings as acts of self-defense. Surely they are discussing how to accomplish this right now. When they do so, the blood will be on her hands.
With deeds rather than words, Elizabeth McMullen has announced to fascists around the United States that they can shoot people in the back with impunity. In effect, she is inviting fascists to converge on Olympia to carry out lethal attacks every weekend. Alongside Donald Trump, she is showing everyone that the law is not, as liberals foolishly believe, a measure for the sake of the public good that applies equally to all citizens. On the contrary, it is a weapon in the hands of racist authoritarians, just like the guns in the hands of fascists and police officers. She is doing her part to speed the coming of the day when blood will flow regularly in the streets of her own town. Presumably, she takes it for granted that her own blood will never pour into the sewers of America, mingled with the blood of those whose slaughter she is doing her best to facilitate.
But once such a cycle of violence gets underway, it’s hard to know where it will end.
Prosecuting Attorney’s Office: (360) 786-5540
The State of Washington v. Forest Machala case file is #20-1-01506-34.
Donations to the survivor of this shooting can be sent via CashApp to $UnlimitedHands or Venmo to @UnlimitedHands.