Western student Josefina Alanis-Mora and Western alumnus Thomas Kaplan were found guilty of disorderly conduct on Wednesday, Oct. 10 for obstructing traffic in protest of President Trump’s rally in Lynden in May 2016. The two members of the locally-known “Whatcom Three” protesters were charged with ten days in jail, or alternatively serving ten days labor on the jail’s work crew, and $500 worth of combined fines and legal fees, Kaplan said.
“We’re both really taken aback,” Kaplan said.
Alanis-Mora was in tears after the judge announced the verdict and declined to comment at the time.
Kaplan said the pair had based their case on a defense of necessity, legally defined as a situation in which the defendant asserts they had no choice but to break the law. Kaplan said they believed by blocking traffic, they would prevent greater harm.
“We honestly believed that we were preventing violence at the rally, that we would prevent the growth of hate groups here in Whatcom County,” Kaplan said.
Within the court chambers, Kaplan and Alanis-Mora were not allowed to present that case to the judge and the jury was not allowed to consider it.
He went on to describe that these beliefs proved to be warranted and said the reality is even worse than he could have imagined.
“Our fear was that there was going to be violence at the rally. There was violence at the rally,” Kaplan said. “We were worried that first it would be Trump’s rally in Lynden and next there would be torch-lit marches going down the street. And unfortunately we’ve seen that exact thing happen. It’s been tragic.”
Kaplan said the defense brought in expert witnesses on hate groups and the growth of fascism that were not allowed to speak during court.
“When I look back at the time before Trump had been elected president, I regret that I didn’t do more to stop him,” Kaplan said.
On May 7, 2016, Alanis-Mora, Kaplan and Neah Monteiro were arrested by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office for barricading the northbound lanes of Washington Highway 539. An estimated 200 to 300 cars were stopped along north-bound lanes of Guide Meridian, Whatcom County Patrol Deputy Keith Brown said.
The Whatcom Three linked their arms together with PVC pipes and chained themselves to ladders. Two cars stood between the group and oncoming traffic as a barrier.
Monteiro did not appear in court with Kaplan and Alanis-Mora.
Kaplan said that he did not expect jail time to be part of the conviction.
“I’m very surprised that we would be convicted to jail time considering that we held up traffic for 30 to 45 minutes,” he said.
Kaplan said he considers this a symptom of a larger societal problem in which officials are quick to throw people in jail for minor crimes.
“[The judge] is ready to sentence us to jail time when we already have an extremely overcrowded, underserviced jail — a jail that holds people that don’t need to be there,” Kaplan said.