Tacoma, WA – The man who was trying to blow up the Northwest Detention Center on Saturday has been identified as an antifa militia member who left behind a disturbing manifesto.
Tacoma police said 68-year-old Willem Van Spronsen arrived at the privately-owned holding facility for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) detainees at about 4 a.m. on July 13 armed with an AR-15 rifle, flares, and multiple Molotov cocktails, the Seattle Times reported.
An ICE employee saw Van Spronsen holding a rifle and called police.
Authorities said Van Spronsen tossed flaming objects at cars and buildings, and was trying to set the building’s propane tank on fire, the Seattle Times reported.
Tacoma PD said that he tried to set the building on fire, but failed because it was concrete.
He managed to set a car on fire but was not successful in igniting the propane tank, which would have likely killed numerous detainees and staff inside the building, police said.
The car was privately owned and burned to the ground, according to KIRO.
Police arrived on the scene and engaged with Van Spronsen.
Tacoma Police Spokeswoman Loretta Cool said the officers announced “shots fired” shortly thereafter, the Seattle Times reported.
All four officers who responded to the call opened fire on Van Spronsen.
Cool said she did not yet know who had fired first or whether Van Spronsen had fired at all.
None of the officers were injured, the Seattle Times reported.
Van Spronsen was declared dead at the scene. The Pierce County medical examiner said he died of multiple gunshot wounds.
He was quickly identified as an active member of the John Brown Gun Club, a left-wing militia, who had been arrested in June of 2018 while protesting at the same facility he was trying to blow up when he was fatally shot, the Seattle Times reported.
On that occasion, Van Spronsen tried to stop a police officer from arresting another protester by attacking the officer and wrapping his arms around the officer’s throat and shoulders.
Once he was in custody, Tacoma police found a collapsible baton and a folding knife in his police, the Seattle Times reported.
Court records showed Van Spronsen pleaded guilty in Pierce County Superior Court to one count of obstructing an officer.
In October of 2018, he was given a one-year deferred sentence, the Seattle Times reported.
The judge also banned Van Spronsen from returning to the detention facility for a year, KIRO reported.
It was later revealed that a number of Van Spronsen’s friends received goodbye letters from him in the mail on Saturday that included a manifesto of sorts that called the Northwest Detention Center an “abomination,” KIRO reported.
**“**i regret that i will miss the rest of the revolution," Van Spronsen wrote. "doing what i can to help defend my precious and wondrous people is an experience too rich to describe. i am antifa."
The manifesto reportedly borrows language from rants by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), including references to the detainment centers as “concentration camps,” and called for his comrades “to arm themselves.”
A Seattle antifa Facebook page, Seattle Antifascist Action, posted a eulogy on its official Facebook page and heralded Van Spronsen as a “martyr.”
“When our good friend and comrade Willem Van Spronsen took a stand against the fascist detention center in Tacoma, he became a martyr who gave his life to the struggle against fascism. He was kind and deeply loved by many communities; we cannot let his death go unanswered. Throughout history we idolize figures like John Brown for their courage to take the ultimate stand against oppression, and today we stand strong in our support for yet another martyr in the struggle against fascism. May his death serve as a call to protest and direct action,” Seattle Antifa wrote.
Despite claiming Van Spronsen was a friend, the antifa Facebook pages for the area seemed confused about his gender identity, and incorrectly shared information that Van Spronsen was a female who identified as "Emma."
The Emerald City Antifa page posted, "We received word we've been unintentionally deadnaming/misgendering her. Her name was Emma. Let's all please shift our language in the continued conversations about this event. Thank you."
They later issued a correction saying, "Emma was a nom de plum for organising, Will wasn't trans."
Deb Bartley, a longtime friend of Van Spronsen, described him to the Seattle Times as an anarchist and anti-fascist who went to the Northwest Detention Center to intentionally provoke a fatal conflict.
“He was ready to end it,” Bartley said. “I think this was a suicide. But then he was able to kind of do it in a way that spoke to his political beliefs… I know he went down there knowing he was going to die.”
Court documents from Van Spronsen’s 2018 arrest showed he was a self-employed carpenter and construction worker and labeled him “indigent.”
The officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave pending completion of the investigation, which is protocol for all officer-involved shootings, the Seattle Times reported.