What was originally planned as a protest against a local business owner over a sign in his shop deemed to be transphobic turned into a large show of support in the latest chapter of the Star Wars Shop saga.
Dozens of supports arrived at the Sucher & Sons Star Wars Shop on Wishkah Avenue in Aberdeen on Saturday in what was originally scheduled to be a protest by pro-LGBTQ demonstrators after a controversial video went viral earlier this week.
In the video, store owner Don Sucher, a Vietnam veteran who has been owner/operator of the Star Wars Store for over two decades, engaged in a heated exchange with Aberdeen City Council Member Tiesa Meskis, who identifies as a transgender woman.
The point of contention was a hand-written sign inside Sucher’s shop that read in part: “If you are born with a d***, you are not a chick.”
In the few days since the video was posted online, the argument has made national and international headlines, being reported on by the New York Post, the Daily Mail and multiple well-known independent online news and opinion channels.
A report on Thursday from KING5 stated Meskis said “her supporters plan on demonstrating in front of the story Saturday, Aug. 7 at 10 a.m.” but was updated on Friday to state “Meskis had planned to have her supporters rally outside of the store on Saturday, and Sucher said he would look for his backers to offer him a show of support as well, but the demonstrations have since been canceled.”
While demonstrations organized by the group Chehalis River Mutual Aid Network — an organization billing itself as a “grassroots disaster relief network” but has been described by journalist Andy Ngô as an Antifa group — were cancelled late Friday, plenty of supporters of the Star Wars shop showed up Saturday morning.
Approximately 30-50 supporters of Sucher were visible in front of his store throughout Saturday morning and into the afternoon, with an estimated 400 supporters in total visiting the store on Saturday.
Members of the group flew United States and anti-Antifa flags, held signs that echoed Sucher’s sentiments, and represented locals, former residents and often vilified right-wing groups.
“I’m good friends with Don. We’ve been friends with him for a long time,” said Tony Kunkle, a former Wishkah High School graduate that now lives in Modesto, CA and once sold his Star Wars collection to Sucher.
Kunkle didn’t make the lengthy trip up north for the protest, he was in town to celebrate his brother’s birthday. But with the possiblity of Antifa groups harming his friend’s establishment, Kunkle felt he needed to show his support.
“I just came down to talk to Don about it, ask what’s going on and tell him I’m here to support him,” he said. “He’s a great guy. He’s a pillar of the community.”
Former Bar Manager Barbara Clinton said she felt the need to attend in support of Sucher’s store after seeing her livelihood affected in a similar fashion in 2017.
Clinton was one of the employees of The Black Pearl Tavern in Hoquiam that eventually closed after a dispute between bar owners and a local LGBTQ group.
“I was very angry because I thought how dare they do this to another business,” Clinton said after watching the video online. “If they could close the business where I was they could do it to Don and I was not going to let that happen.”
Clinton felt, as did 100% of pro-Sucher supporters asked, that the confrontation was set up by Meskis as a publicity stunt.
“I absolutely believe it was planned,” she said. “If it wasn’t planned, why would there be somebody there video taping it. It’s almost a mirror image of what happened at the bar. … I’m not against these people, everybody has a right to be who they want to be, but nobody has the right to take down a business.”
Approximately a dozen pro-LGBTQ protesters lined the opposite side of the street across from the store in the morning then later moved to the intersection just west of the store on Wishkah and F Street.
Pro-LGBTQ protester Aaron Doull said believed he was partially responsible for the video going viral after sharing it to Reddit and that he “felt a kinship” with Meskis.
“When I saw the video of our city council woman having the argument, I had such a guttural reaction I posted it online,” said the Westport native who stated he felt “pure disgust” and an “immense hatred” for Sucher. “It went viral and I feel partially responsible for (the pro-Sucher protesters) being there as they are because I exposed it to a lot of people who are now here. So I wanted to come support the people that I believe are in the right in this situation.”
That fact wasn’t lost on Kunkle, who said that the overwhelming support for Sucher and his business are because of actions taken by Meskis and left-wing activist groups.
“It’s the opposition that caused all this. They spread the word themselves and it was enough to bring all these people here today,” he said before asking why Meskis was absent from Saturday’s protests. “(Left-wing protesters) started everything and now they are not here. I mean there is a few here, but the guy that started it is not here. Where is he at?”
Doull said no contact was made with Meskis and defended Aberdeen’s Ward 2 Position 3 Council Member, stating “she’s not even in town” and that “she showed enough support in going and confronting (Sucher).”
“She never abused her right as a councilwomen once in the video. She has never used her power against him. She only used her rights as a private citizen, using her freedom of speech to confront him,” Doull said. “And it was another citizen that posted the video. She didn’t post the video. She never called for the protest. All she did was go into the store and confront a man about a sign that was making other citizens feel unsafe.”
Calls and emails to Meskis have not been returned as of late Saturday evening.
Darby, who declined to provide his last name, is a member of the Proud Boys, a group that describes itself as a pro-American men’s group made up of “Western chauvinists” and has had multiple run-ins with violent Antifa groups. He said based on his obervation of the video, he also believes the confrontation was instigated by Meskis.
“It was an intentional provoking,” he said. “It was a targeted attack, that is why it was recorded and put online. They went into his shop to attack him for something that he had written in his shop.”
Darby was one of just a small handful of Oregon-based Proud Boys and said the group was there out of respect for Sucher’s military service.
“This man served our country and people were coming to attack him so I came here to serve him,” Darby said, adding that the pro-LGBTQ group’s rights to assemble and protest were also defended by Sucher’s military service.
“They have a right to do that, it’s the First Amendment. But don’t attack an individual because of his beliefs. Especially an individual that fought for this country. You need to thank him. Because of him you are allowed to do that, and that’s why I am here.”
But arguably the most surprising attendee of all is Zach Daugherty, a well-read machinist from Aberdeen who admittedly has never been politically active until he felt compelled to do so after watching a Seattle news report.
“I usually don’t get all that excited about this stuff. I thought (the story) was neat, a small controversy here blew up and went viral,” he said. “But what really motivated me to come out was when a news station in Seattle did a story about it and they told everybody there was going to be a protest here and at what time. It kind of rubbed me the wrong way. They were trying to drive people from out of town to here to cause a ruckus.”
Daugherty said the threat of Antifa-led violent rioting happening in Aberdeen is why he attended on Saturday.
“I see the problems that Seattle and all these other major cities are having and how their protests get out of hand and the fact that they were advertising to go do the same thing out in the country, that didn’t fly right with me. I didn’t like it at all,” he said while standing near one of several Star Wars-based protest signs he created with tongue-in-cheek sayings such as “Sith Gendered” and “You want to go home and rethink your life.”
“I thought it was really important to show up and do what I can and try to bring a little levity to it.”