BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Four people were arrested and three police officers injured during a clash between homeless advocates and law enforcement outside Bellingham City Hall Thursday.
A large homeless camp has been growing since November outside City Hall. City officials call it an "occupation."
Bellingham Police Chief Flo Simon said some of the protesters were members of antifa and other groups out to confront law enforcement.
Approximately 100 tents had been set up but only about half were occupied, according to the city.
The site has been the scene of drug dealing, harassment of city workers and violence, according to city officials.
When city workers tried to clear the camp last week, protesters encircled City Hall and confronted police.
Some broke windows, others pried open the building's doors and stormed inside prompting evacuations.
Since then City Hall and the public library across the street have been closed.
The plan was to sweep the camp Friday at 4 p.m. Instead, police moved in Thursday morning using the element of surprise.
Mayor Seth Fleetwood said the city received credible information that "outside agitators" planned to descend upon Bellingham to create chaos on Friday.
When police moved in Thursday, dozens of protesters formed a human wall fortified by wooden pallets to keep public works crews from cleaning up the camp.
Demonstrators taunted police relentlessly, calling them Nazis. Others, cell phone cameras rolling, dared police to "take a swing" at them.
Bellingham police were backed up by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Whatcom County Sheriff's deputies protected the county building with an armored personnel carrier.
As the heavy machinery moved in to demolish the camp, one man dove beneath a moving dump truck.
"I want my table!" he screamed as he was taken into custody.
While protesters confronted police, most of the people experiencing homelessness who had been living at the camp simply moved on.
Their belongings were taken to a city storage space. Owners have up to 60 days to reclaim their items.
Sadie Osterloh came to be part of the solution. She volunteered to bring tents and other belongings to the storage site.
"A lot of people here have struggles with mental health so it's very traumatizing for people. I'm showing up to support them and to show there is a community here to back them up," she said.
Some of those pushed out of the site went to Bellingham's Base Camp homeless shelter.
Hans Erchinger-Davis, who runs Base Camp, said violent protesters are doing more harm to homeless people than good.
"It seems to me a political move on their part to voice frustrations they have at some of the challenges our society has, but it does not help people in homelessness to be associated with violence like that. My hope is that those folks that are homeless aren't used as political pawns for people who have other agendas," Erchinger-Davis said.
By late Thursday afternoon, most of the protesters had left and the site had been mostly cleared.