WWU police investigating arson of poster advertising anti-abortion speaker

Western Washington University is investigating an arson with possible political motivation Saturday night, May 4, outside the Environmental Sciences Building.

WWU spokesman Paul Cocke told The Bellingham Herald that a large poster advertising an anti-abortion activist’s speech on campus was burned intentionally.

Cocke said the fire was out when WWU Police arrived shortly after 11:30 p.m. Saturday.

Flames scorched the concrete exterior of the building, causing approximately $500 damage, he said.

Students were notified of the incident via email, he said.

Photos on social media and at conservative websites show a plastic-coated banner, approximately 6 feet long and 3 feet high, promoting a talk called “Lies Feminists Tell” by Kristan Hawkins at 7 p.m. Thursday in Communications Facility 105 on campus.

Hawkins is the president of Students for Life of America, which has a Washington state chapter.

Matt Lamb, communications director for Students for Life, said in an email that the anti-abortion group often is greeted with protests on college campuses.

“Some have been good examples of debate, such as groups organizing peaceful protests or attending the talk and challenging Hawkins on her arguments,” he told The Bellingham Herald.

“We are going to have several police officers and security on campus tomorrow, and we added security after this threat,” Lamb said.

At least one counter protest was being advertised on social media, an event called Feminist Direct Action at WWU, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. outside the Communications Facility.

WWU officials said the vandalism runs counter to the university’s values of free speech and diverse viewpoints.

“Universities should be places where issues of societal importance are discussed in a civil and respectful manner,” Cocke told The Herald.

University Police still are investigating the incident said Chief Darin Rasmussen.

“Intentionally setting such a fire is foolish and dangerous,” he told The Herald. “We are actively investigating, and I hope we can find the person responsible for this crime.”

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.