[The title of this article has been updated to reflect the story more accurately] After the interruption of a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle this Saturday by activists claiming to represent the city’s Black Lives Matter faction, many in the progressive sphere were left scratching their heads.
It was an awkward and confrontational spectacle, ultimately causing Sanders to leave without speaking and ending with the mostly liberal crowd booing and hissing the two women who commandeered the podium while speaking for this country’s fastest growing civil rights movement.
Now the focus turns to Marissa Jenae Johnson — the woman who grabbed the mic from Sanders — and story gets downright weird and confusing.
The Internet is awash in conspiracy theories on Johnson’s motives: She’s a a paid operative from the Hillary camp sent to sow turmoil among Sanders supporters; she’s actually a Sarah Palin supporter (a cursory examination of the comment thread on the Facebook post where this originated, reveals that Johnson was referring to her early political leanings in high school which have since changed); she’s a conservative Christian who supports Sarah Palin (it’s true that she spouts some pretty nutty religious rhetoric on social media — she’s definitely a devout Christian of some sort — but there is no evidence that she is a “conservative” Christian).
Conspiracy theories aside, Johnson’s affiliation with the Black Lives Matter movement is questionable.
According to a group familiar with BLM operations on the ground in Seattle, Johnson and fellow protester Mara Jacqueline are “opportunists” from a group called Outside Agitators 206 who co-opted the BLM label — an easy thing to do considering that BLM is essentially a leaderless movement.
On the same Saturday as the Sanders rally disruption, a Facebook page claiming to represent a “registered” chapter of BLM in Seattle was created (apparently there are already two BLM-Seattle Facebook pages). Later that afternoon after the incident at the rally, someone posted a press release to the page, describing operation #BowDownBernie:
Today BLM Seattle, with the support of other Black organizers and non-Black allies and accomplices, held Bernie Sanders publicly accountable for his lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and his blatantly silencing response to the #SayHerName #IfIDieInPoliceCustody action that took place at Netroots this year.
That very same press release — listing Johnson as one of BLM Seattle’s co-founders — was posted to Outside Agitators 206’s website on Saturday as well.
Making things even more confusing, a rash of social media posts from a BLM faction calling on Johnson and Jacqueline to apologize to Sanders for their actions were subsequently deleted. The tweet below was later deleted along with the entire account that posted it.
At the very least, this suggests that there’s some infighting amongst BLM factions as to whether or not Johnson, Jacqueline and their cohorts should be embraced.
This got deleted alongside many tweets from account which is making me think BLM Seattle has some infighting tonight pic.twitter.com/LguudcYlQr
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) August 9, 2015
As of now, it looks like the two women who stormed Bernie’s stage on Saturday are part of fringe movement looking the use the BLM moniker to draw attention to their message. For all intents and purposes, it worked.
[Update, 8/10/15]: It turns out that the Twitter account from the screen grab above was operated by a teenager who was not officially representing the BLM movement in Seattle.
[Update, 8/10/15, 10:32 p.m.]: Apparently, the connections between Johnson, Jacqueline, and the group Outside Agitators 206 to the BLM movement are not as unclear as we believed. Posting on her Facebook page today, the Los Angeles co-founder of BLM Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac openly embraced the Seattle activists and defended them against attacks from bloggers and the media. Please see our important update to this story here.
Featured image: Alan Berner/The Seattle Times