Benjamin Anthony Varela, 36, of Olympia, was arrested on Thursday and charged with first-degree assault while armed with a deadly weapon.
On Sept. 4, a couple dozen Antifa from around the Pacific Northwest traveled to the Washington state Capitol building to try to shut down an anti-COVID vaccine mandate protest. The black-clad group was met by the rally’s volunteer right-wing security, who included Proud Boys members. When the Antifa group ran to the Intercity Transit Station, one of their masked members turned around and fired five 9mm pistol rounds in the direction of the right-wing group, which was about 50 feet behind, according to security footage. Proud Boys member Tusitala Toese was injured in the shooting.
Varela, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, deleted most of his social media accounts before his arrest, but posts still available on Twitter show he corresponded back and forth with the Spokane and Olympia DSA chapters as well as Libcom.org, an anarchist-Communist website. Prior to deleting his Twitter account, his bio read, "professional anarchist, thug, and paid protester." His YouTube account, which is still online but doesn’t have any videos available to the public, features a red and black Antifa flag as its profile image. According to the affidavit, Varela ran into an alley behind the Union Gospel Mission after the shooting and discarded his black uniform.
"The suspect is seen removing his outer clothing and changing into the bright yellowish/greenish t-shirt," wrote an Olympia Police detective in the criminal complaint. "The suspect discarded his black t-shirt and beanie/watch cap in the alley."
Varela is a member of the forums at website Something Awful using the screen name "Doorknob Slobber." He has a long history of making extremist posts and has been suspended repeatedly by the moderators. In a 2017 thread discussing Antifa’s organizational structure, Varela wrote, "I think it has something to do with … remaining decentralized in an effort to create cells instead of an organization structure that is easily targeted by law enforcement and other fascists."
At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, Varela wrote: "Start hurting people, the coronavirus is going to provide great cover for a real revolution." He called for people to take up arms. The same month, he posted a rant wishing that both conservatives and liberals die of the coronavirus. In 2018, he wrote, "9/11 was good because the US is a Nazi state so we deserved it."
The criminal complaint says the police interviewed Varela’s live-in girlfriend, Jessica Lynn O’Connor, 34, who admitted they attended the direct action together on Sept. 4 while in black attire. The detective obtained a search warrant for their property and found a handgun under the bed.
"Jessica told me the handgun was not hers and it belonged to Benjamin. She told me all guns and gun-related items belonged to Benjamin," the affidavit says.
Varela is being held on $100,000 bail in Thurston County Jail. His arraignment is set for Oct. 5. It is unknown if he has retained an attorney. Days ahead of his arrest, a popular Olympia-based Antifa account on Twitter alerted the public that one of their comrades had been visited by agents with the FBI and ATF.
This story first appeared in the New York Post.