Protesters, police face off at University of Washington Seattle

Protest at the University of Washington in Seattle. (Image: Mitch Pittman, KOMO via Twitter)

SEATTLE (KOMO) — Two groups of protesters faced off in the University of Washington's Red Square on Saturday as angry words turned to pushes, then fists.

Police responded with pepper spray and took some into custody. They used bicycles to try to separate the opposing crowds.

In addition to University of Washington police, Seattle police also provided officers. Protesters were also warned against carrying anything that could be used as a weapon.

A first brawl broke out Saturday afternoon during the protests causing police to pepper spray the crowd.

Two men were handcuffed by police and taken away. It is unclear what side of the protest they were on.

Again fights broke out, and police used more pepper spray. People began hurling things in the air.

Police then escorted a group off Red Square

Patriot Prayer, a conservative group from Vancouver, Wash., is on campus at the invitation of college Republicans to rally at Red Square.

Various university groups have promised counter-demonstrations. So has an anarchist group.

Before the Patriot Prayer rally, a UW group sponsored by a socialist organization, rallied at the Husky Union Building, then marched Red Square.

Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson told KOMO News before the rally that he encourages conservatives on campus to stand strong.

"It's not easy being a Republican on a campus like UW," Gibson said. "I'm here to come together and encourage one another."

President of UW Republicans Chevy Swanson told KOMO News that potential violence today would be "extremely disappointing."

"We are putting in as much effort as humanely possible to ensure that this event goes perfectly and safely," Swanson said. "We are working as closely as possible with people to make sure everything goes as well as it can."

Swanson said the organization is hoping to show the school that free speech is something not to be afraid of.

"Just because we have conservative views on a campus that is primarily anti-conservative, it doesn't mean that there's a basis to ban or discourage unpopular views," Swanson said.

The college Republicans urged on Facebook on Saturday morning that people remain peaceful at its "Freedom Rally."

The potential for violence prompted the university to send out warnings and button down the campus Saturday.

Other events were canceled or postponed and access to Red Square was limited.

UW President Ana Mari Cauce sent out a memo to students, faculty and staff on Friday and said the University of Washington Police Department has "obtained credible information that groups from outside the UW community" intend to join a planned protest on campus Saturday "with the intent to instigate violence."

She urged the university community to avoid Red Square.

Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer, told KOMO News he doesn’t want violence, but claims views that differ from the “leftist leadership” of Seattle and the university need to be heard.

“That’s what happens when you take a stand and challenge this stuff," Gibson said. “We refuse to stand down, then things happen.”

Patriot Prayer appeared last month at Seattle's Women's March.

The group had a rally in Seattle in August at Westlake Plaza. There was a clash with counter-protesters. Police arrested three people after using blast balls and pepper spray.

The UW was also the scene of ugly confrontations and violence in January 2017.

Demonstrators and counter-demonstrators gathered at the UW as conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos spoke there. He was on campus after being invited by college Republicans.

Violent protests took place on campus, and one man was shot.

Security costs for Saturday's protests prompted the UW to ask the college Republicans for $17,000 before the Patriot Prayer event.

The college Republicans went to federal court and won a temporary restraining order from a federal judge.

The university expects security costs will total $50,000 for the Saturday protests.

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