Disturbing footage has emerged of a so-called “warlord” handing out assault rifles in a six-block stretch of Seattle that has effectively become a lawless free-for-all.
After tensions escalated between protesters and police last week, Seattle city officials ordered the police force to stand down and evacuate the Capitol Hill section of the city, leaving it free for activists to take over.
Renaming it the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) and later the Capitol Hill Organised Protest (CHOP), demonstrators have turned the six-block area into a self-sustaining commune and a police-free zone.
Now a hip-hop artist has been accused of establishing himself as a “warlord” within the area, allegedly patrolling the area with an AK-47 and a crew of armed men.
RELATED: Decision that could enrage America
Raz Simone, 30, is believed to have assumed the role of leader in the rebel state after he was seen urging licensed gun owners to guard the area and allegedly assaulted a protester for disobeying his orders, City-Journal reported.
Before the zone was established last week he called for the long-term occupation of the area, tweeting: “Come out now and hold it down.”
“We’ll be here as long as it takes so bring a tent and a blanket,” he wrote.
Now footage from the rapper’s live stream, which has been viewed almost 500,000 times on social media, shows Mr Simone handing out guns to strangers from the boot of his Tesla.
The footage from June 10 – two days after the CHOP was established – shows him walking down the street holding one of the guns and two young masked men also holding the weapons.
“We’re just being ready,” he says to the camera in the footage. “We’re not doing anything illegal.”
Responding to the sight of activists holding guns, the city’s Seattle Police Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette told reporters that Washington is an open-carry state but it is illegal to threaten or intimidate with firearms.
Further footage taken on Wednesday shows Mr Simone and several other men confronting a man who had been tagging over someone else’s graffiti within the CHOP.
“We are the police of this community now,” one member of Mr Simone’s entourage is heard telling the man, who shrugs them off and continues spraying the side of a building.
“We are the leaders of this community now,” they say.
The video shows the confrontation escalate quickly as Mr Simone’s entourage tells the person to leave, as shoving begins and someone shouts, “Chill, chill.”
This continues as the man is driven away and followed for several blocks.
“For your own safety, you need to go,” the woman filming the video can be heard saying.
“We had to get to the point where physically addressing it was the best way to get our point across.”
Mr Simone later responded to the incident in a tweet saying: “This actually went beautifully and we all hugged it out and spoke with his dad. His dad now wants me to mentor him. It was great black dialogue and men apologising to each other, abandoning pride. We all hugged each other, cried it out and it was beautiful.”
According to City-Journal, on the night the area was seized, Mr Simone had been seen toting an AK-47 as well as a pistol attached to his hip as he shouted: “This is war!” from a megaphone.
A week on, the area is still under the control of activists. Seattle Police officers have been instructed not to respond to calls for service within the area unless it is in response to a “mass casualty event” like an active shooter, or a structural fire “likely to endanger human lives”.
During the daytime, the area is filled with speakers, information booths, free food and music.
Speakers emphasise three demands that protesters want to see from the city – to defund the Seattle Police Department, invest in the black community and release any protesters arrested during the recent George Floyd protests.
Some have described its atmosphere as more street fair or a music festival than a protest. Others have pointed to the presence of armed grassroots street guards as a sign that it’s run by anarchists.
US President Donald Trump wrote on his Twitter account: “Domestic terrorists have taken over Seattle.”
Mr Simone responded to the tweet, which didn’t mention him by name, writing: “The President really put a hit on my head. I’m not a Terrorist Warlord. Quit spreading that false narrative.
“The world has NEVER been ready for a strong black man. We have been peaceful and nothing else. If I die don’t let it be in vain.”