There was a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. There were students chanting about democracy and immigrant rights. There were police officers keeping watch from the library roof.
And there was a giant inflatable beach ball, on which students scribbled political messages with black markers.
This was the scene Tuesday at Washington State University after the College Republicans club invited Joey Gibson to campus.
Gibson founded the far-right group Patriot Prayer, which is known for engaging in armed, violent clashes with counterprotesters in Portland and other cities. He traveled to Pullman from his home in Vancouver, Washington, to share his views on God, freedom and, as he put it, “unity.”
Gibson was joined by Matt Marshall, who leads the Washington Three Percenters, a wing of the militia movement that has been urging sheriffs and county commissioners across the state to oppose or ignore Initiative 1639 – the gun control law that voters passed in November. The group’s name comes from the erroneous notion that only 3% of colonists fought in the Revolutionary War.
Both Gibson and Marshall have been accused of giving platforms to white supremacists, but on Tuesday both denied that, saying they can’t control who shows up at their rallies. Marshall noted that the Three Percenters recently worked with a left-wing gun rights group to resist a white supremacist group in Tacoma.
“We’re constitutional conservatives … who are willing to go out and talk and educate and explain our points of view,” Marshall said. “And unfortunately people are thinking, especially today, that we’re anti-immigrant and we’re a hate group, and that’s not true.”
Tuesday’s event, which had been billed as a “Build the Wall – Bill of Rights Bash,” was much smaller than a previous demonstration by WSU’s College Republicans.
In October 2016, shortly before the presidential election, the club built a plywood mockup of a border wall, dubbed the “Trump wall,” prompting hundreds of students to protest in the center of campus.
There was no wall this time, but Gibson spent much of the afternoon debating what the United States should do about its border with Mexico. Whether it requires a wall or other measures, Gibson said the border should be closed.
“What we need to do, though, is we need to have a system so people can come across faster, legally,” he said. “I mean, they’re coming across anyways, so why not do it the right way?”
A few dozen students, mostly members of Latinx student organizations, showed up in orange T-shirts to show support for their undocumented peers.
“We’re here to support all Cougs,” said Monica Chavez, a freshman. “We’re here to support, especially, our undocumented students, especially when they feel like sometimes they don’t have a voice, or sometimes they’re not comfortable putting themselves out there and having the rights that they deserve.”
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