Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, the Northwest-based Proud Boys leader with a long history of violence, was shot in the leg this weekend in Olympia, Washington. If you were to only read the news accounts in local media, you would know that the shooting Saturday afternoon was the culmination of another confrontation between the far-right street brawlers and antifascists.
However, that is a grossly incomplete picture of what happened. Videos and written accounts posted on social media—many of them posted by Proud Boys sympathizers—during the fracas show what really happened: When counterprotesters failed to appear at an anti-vaccination event for which they were providing “security,” frustrated Proud Boys formed a pack and began hunting for “antifa” on the streets of Olympia. They assaulted an independent female journalist who had to seek refuge in a local tavern. They also began assaulting random people on the street they identified as “antifa” and began chasing them with clubs, baseball bats, and Mace; in the end, one of their victims drew a gun at a bus stop and fired several rounds, one of which apparently struck Toese.
Consistent with their post-Jan. 6 strategy of attaching themselves to local right-wing events, the ostensible cause du jour for the Proud Boys’ presence in Olympia on Saturday was an anti-vaccination “End the Mandates” protest organized by a local far-right political candidate, Candace Mercer, held on the Washington state Capitol grounds. However, despite repeated warnings by speakers at the event that “antifa is expected,” no counterprotesters appeared at the rally.
So the Proud Boys, with Toese in the lead, went hunting for them, videos show. A group of about 50 of them, toting weapons like batons and bats and bear spray, marched through downtown Olympia toward Olympia City Hall, roughly a mile away, chanting “Fuck antifa!” as they went. Mercer was planning to shoot a video there later that afternoon, and the brawlers were responding to reports of counterprotesters at that location.
Along the way, they apparently encountered various activists, as well as simply random pedestrians, they identified as “antifa,” and began harassing them. One of these was the Portland-based independent journalist Alissa Azar, who had covered this group of Proud Boys at street brawls in Portland previously and was there to monitor their activities Saturday. They apparently recognized Azar and surrounded her, pulling on her hair and mauling her. She screamed and ran away, finding safety in a nearby tavern.
“I was at an intersection about to cross but when I looked to my right I saw that large group of Proud Boys,” she later tweeted. One of them, she said, shouted: “There’s Alissa! Get her!” She found herself surrounded by the men.
“It was terrifying,” she wrote. “They had their hands all over me [and] some men [were] cheering on the violence [and] others encouraging more of it. It all happened really fast but also it felt like time was frozen. There was a moment where I could tell they were contemplating what to do [and] my heart sank.”
She added: “I didn’t know what was going to happen but I also knew exactly what could happen. I remember seeing all the people on the street understandably confused and afraid, but I also remember just begging for someone to do anything but just watch me.”
Fleeing on foot, Azar dashed inside a nearby bar, which then prevented any Proud Boys from following inside. She tweeted that she was “Safe now and have protection.”
Random passersby were apparently assaulted as well. An African-American man with dreadlocks told a videographer that “I got a gun pulled on me by a Proud Boy earlier, for no fucking reason.”
Videos show Proud Boys apparently running through Olympia side streets in pursuit of “antifa,” at the end of which gunfire can be heard. In apparently pursuing “antifa” suspects, the men had diverted off their path toward City Hall and wound up at the city’s main bus-transit depot downtown near State Street.
It was there that Toese, as other videos show, encountered an antifascist who apparently took the baseball bat he wielded as a serious threat and opened fire. Video shows Toese limping away from the encounter, then collapsing on a nearby street corner and surrounded by people who provide him with medical attention.
Toese was transported to a nearby hospital, treated for his wounds—which were deemed non-life-threatening—and released.
A menacing figure at “Patriot Prayer” and Proud Boys street-brawling events dating back to 2017, Toese only recently ended his probation for his conviction in a previous assault. He has been heavily involved in recent violence in Salem, Oregon, and twice in Portland.
After Saturday’s shooting, Mercer tried to claim that both antifa and Proud Boys had “crashed my events uninvited,” but then had also extolled Toese’s presence in a Medium post in which she claimed that “thirty antifa” had shown up at her video shoot and that “antifa made open plans to attack me and shut me down,” even though none had showed up for her event at the Capitol.
“A man was shot in Olympia today protecting me,” she wrote. “I did not ask for his protection but he took a bullet for me. He is a Proud Boy. Antifa were coming at my video shoot, and on their own initiative, the PB were blocking antifa from my event when Tiny got shot.”
The weekend violence in Olympia reflects how the Proud Boys’ post-insurrection strategy—identifying local grievances that can provide opportunities for Proud Boys to involve themselves, then doing so by providing “security” for their events to protect against the “antifa” bogeyman—is an open recipe for spiraling street violence, especially as it manifests itself across the nation.
What became even more clear Saturday is that even when the “antifa” menace fails to materialize, the Proud Boys will go hunting for it, wherever they can find it. Moreover, these are men carrying weapons and threatening ordinary citizens, but local police forces are clearly failing to respond, having established a record of friendly relations with Proud Boys all the way up to Jan. 6 and beyond.
It’s not surprising that someone used gunfire in self-defense, if that was the case here. But what will also not be surprising will be when the violence ratchets up another notch at a Proud Boys event. Many “Patriots” could be heard talking on social media and Telegram channels about retribution after Toese’s shooting.
According to data collected by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project, Proud Boys have been among some of the most active far-right groups nationally since January 2020. Nearly one-quarter of all demonstrations involving the group have turned violent.