Protest fears prove to be unfounded

Posted 6/10/20

CLEWISTON — Late in the afternoon on June 2, Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden declared an 8 p.m. curfew for eastern Hendry County for June 3. In a video published on his Facebook profile, …

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Protest fears prove to be unfounded

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CLEWISTON — Late in the afternoon on June 2, Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden declared an 8 p.m. curfew for eastern Hendry County for June 3.

In a video published on his Facebook profile, Sheriff Whidden announced why the curfew was needed.

“We have received some information that the Black Lives Matter movement may be protesting tomorrow night in Clewiston at the Walmart at 6 p.m.,” said Sheriff Whidden in the video, which had over a thousand shares. “Due to this I’m going to implement a curfew in eastern Hendry County from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. That way it gives us more teeth to be able to act if these anarchists come in after dark to start their criminal activity.”

The video racked up over 400 comments from residents with some thanking the sheriff to others wondering why a curfew was needed. One commenter on the video said, “Don’t let them gather! You know what they want to do already! Shoot to kill!” while another added, “If you need help from a trigger-happy redneck, let me know.”

Clewiston City Police Chief Aaron K. Angell decided against a curfew in the Clewiston city limits, saying that an emergency declaration of that nature should be used as a last resort option.

“The City of Clewiston Police Department is confident in its ability to lawfully police our community without unnecessary suppression of constitutional rights of the citizens we serve,” Chief Angell explained.

Ultimately, no anarchists showed up to ransack Clewiston on June 3.

Janet Taylor, of Glades Lives Matter, said the social media post promoting a June 3 Black Lives Matter protest at the Clewiston Walmart was a fake and that no one in her organization knew anything about it.

“When I saw the post, the first thing I did was to call people in Tallahassee,” Ms Taylor said. “All of it came back that it was 100 percent a fake page.”

On June 4 Sheriff Whidden defended his decision to enforce a curfew, saying that hard-working people do not deserve to have their lives destroyed because of a few anarchists.

A similar situation played out in Okeechobee. On June 1, a few Okeechobee residents stood on the sidewalk of Flagler Park in downtown holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe.”

The sight of the protest caused some residents to post misinformation on social media, which spread like wildfire.

“Apparently the coast is coming to Okeechobee tonight to participate in a violent protest,” read one post written in all capital letters with nearly 100 shares on Facebook. “I’d hate to show them how country people survive.”

People who shared the status added their own commentary such as “locked and loaded” and “I’m prepared.”

Once again, the panicky social media fear of the moms, grandmas and kids in attendance at the protest proved to be unfounded.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Natasha Kachine
A child holds a sign at one of the multiple protests that took place in Okeechobee over the last week.

The phenomenon of the “phantom outsiders coming to destroy our town” wasn’t limited to the Lake Okeechobee area, either. In the state of Washington during the first week of June, a local gun store owner posted a video to Facebook urging people to carry guns to a protest organized to protect local businesses. He said he had heard the group Antifa would be busing in people to protest.

Antifa didn’t show up, but a family who happened to be driving a bus en route to a camping trip in the area was harassed and followed.

“The family was confronted by seven or eight car loads of people in the grocery store parking lot,” read a press release from the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office in Washington. “The people in the parking lot repeatedly asked them if they were ‘ANTIFA’ protesters. The family told the people they weren’t associated with any such group and were just camping. The family had to drive their bus around vehicles in the parking lot in order to get back onto Highway 101. The family then drove northbound out of Forks while at least four vehicles followed them. Two of the vehicles had people in them carrying what appeared to be semi-automatic rifles.”

According to press release, after arriving at the camping site and hearing gunfire, the family made the decision to leave early. However, upon leaving, the family found the road they had traveled on suddenly blocked off by trees that were cut down, trapping them. Local high school students helped the family remove the trees with chainsaws and deputies from the sheriff’s office escorted the family back to the station to give a statement.

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