The North Bend couple walked through an alleyway, headed to the town’s Bank of America, when a man popped out from behind a building.
The man greeted Paige Silverman and her boyfriend Alecx Winklepleck. They started walking away, but when they turned back to look at him, the man had his phone up.
“It looked like he was probably taking photos of us,” Silverman said.
The man asked if the couple would be at the protest. When Winklepleck said they would, the man said he would also be there. The couple thought he was being friendly.
It was June 5, one day before a planned protest against police brutality toward Black people.
The couple didn’t know they would soon be featured in a conspiratorial article. One similar to others popping up across the country, which have been racking up clicks in recent weeks by promoting the idea that Antifa activists are coming to small towns to burn and loot local businesses.
As they stood outside their bank in downtown North Bend, the couple noticed more people standing near the street.
“I didn’t think anything of them, but it turns out they were taking pictures of us too,” Silverman said.
Silverman posted about the experience in a local Facebook group. Later that day, an acquaintance told her their pictures were being shown at an informal meeting between business owners who were worried about the protest and law enforcement.
“She saw it and let them know that we were locals, and there was nothing to worry about,” Silverman said. “We thought that was going to be the end of it.”
The next day the couple discovered they were being called members of Antifa and terrorists, by an article that was circulating on Facebook.
“We were frantic. It was pretty terrifying,” Silverman said. “To be called a terrorist is unreal. It’s not something that I ever would have expected to see.”
The article was titled “Town People Come Together, Prepare Ahead of Planned Antifa Protest” and was written by Leonard Bacani.
It featured photos of business owners boarding up their storefronts, and more than one photo of Silverman and Winklepleck.
Bacani wrote that Silverman was wearing a black beanie, with the words “go away” on the front. Winklepleck had the words “leave me alone” written on his right shoulder. Winklepleck was also wearing a black bag.
“All these signs are very typical of Antifa given the totality of the circumstances,” Bacani wrote. “I was able to snap a photo of the two.”
Patches like those Winklepleck was wearing can be bought from Hot Topic, where the couple met. It’s a popular alternative style outlet commonly found in malls.
When asked why he thought Winklepleck and Silverman were agitators, Bacani referred to his article. His evidence largely rests on the couple wearing black clothes, patches and a face mask with “666” printed on it.
“My article speaks for itself,” Bacani said.
Other headlines on C-Vine — a website that pushes conspiracy theories — include pondering about the so-called Deep State and alleged videos of Antifa activists training to break people’s ribs. Authors regularly end posts with quotes from Q-anon, a conspiracy theory which has rose to prominence in recent years.
Antifa, which is short for “antifascist,” is commonly cited by President Donald Trump. He recently vowed to designate the loosely-knit organization of people who organize against fascism as a terrorist organization, based on unproven claims that its members have been inciting property damage and violence at George Floyd protests. Floyd died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.
Bacani insinuated the North Bend protest was a planned Antifa event.
Salma Habashi, Mt. Si High School senior, planned the peaceful protest as a way to educate the community about racism.
“I have been following the Black Lives Matter movement for a really long time, and I recognized that there’s a huge racial injustice in our system,” Habashi said.
The protest went smoothly as planned. Habashi said protesters were respectful, even when a vehicle with a Trump and Confederate flag drove through.
But Silverman never made it to the protest.
With her and Winklepleck’s pictures being shared across the internet, she didn’t feel it would be safe for her to attend.
She attempted to curb the sharing of the article. She wrote to people on Facebook and told them she and Winklepleck were locals and not agitators.
Winklepleck called the Snoqualmie Police Department’s Chief Perry Phipps to talk about the article. The department serves both Snoqualmie and North Bend.
“I wasn’t going to let somebody scare me away, but I had my wits about me, and was for lack of a better term, on guard,” Winklepleck said.
Phipps told Winklepleck it would be safe for him to attend the protest.
“We never looked at him as a suspect in anything, or someone that was going to antagonize,” Phipps said.
The protest attracted hundreds of people. It was peaceful and no arrests were made. People stood on the side of the road with signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “White Silence is Violence.”
It was a stark contrast to the fears ginned up in the article. Visions of bricks, clubs and Molotov cocktails.
Leonard Bacani, the author, wrote the article as a contributor for C-Vine. His Facebook page states he runs a private investigations firm in Temecula, California. Bacani said he coincidentally happened to be in North Bend for another matter, and his visit coincided with the protest.
When asked why he believed Antifa agitators planned to disrupt the event, Bacani said it was “common knowledge” that Antifa would hijack the peaceful protest.
“Wittingly or unwittingly,” Bacani said.
He added “I understand that it was circulated as a peaceful protest.”
Nationwide, there has been a rash of false Antifa scares. Heavily armed men have taken a stand outside strip malls, chain restaurants and small businesses against the country. They believed they were there to defend against Antifa invasions. But these rumors of invasions turned out to be fake.
Twitter in recent days has begun removing fake Antifa accounts. These accounts were made by white supremacist groups intent on spreading false information, promoting fake events and agitating small and suburban communities.
In Klamath Falls, Oregon, hundreds of armed people showed up to a Black Lives Matter protest on May 30. These people were convinced that busloads of Antifa activists were on their way to destroy their town.
The Peninsula Daily News reported on June 6 that a multi-racial family camping in Forks was followed by vehicles filled with people holding guns. They trapped a family of four in their campground by felling trees in the road, before local high school students came with chainsaws to clear the trees and free them.
The family was repeatedly asked if “they were Antifa protesters.”
On the C-Vine Facebook group, the original story with the photos of Winklepleck and Silverman had been shared more than 200 times and had garnered more than 100 comments.
Those comments ranged from “I hope they kick some antifa ass” to “If they would start shooting the thugs this B.S. would end.”
That comment in particular alarmed Winklepleck, who works as a cashier. He’s concerned that someone could appoint themselves a vigilante and harm him.
In a second article posted after the protest, Bacani, the author, claimed “because of the previously written warning the public of preliminary activities by them, Antiifa (sic) did not hijack this protest.”
Winklepleck was frustrated that someone from outside the small community of North Bend, where he lives, came in and riled people up against him.
“He’s the one who came from out of town, and he’s the one who stirred up unrest,” Winklepleck said.