Social media started pinging with live action. A Snap photo of the bus read “Get outta our town.” Another Snap said “Later idiot,” with a picture of the bus glowing white as a lamb against the dusk-darkened woods, stalked by a line of tightly packed pickups. Another showed a picture of a gun laid across someone’s lap.

As the bus turned off the highway onto the A Road, the truck caravan split off. Having lost its pursuers, the bus entered the forest and crossed a river on a graffiti-scrawled bridge. It parked in a shallow pullout, and its occupants spilled out to set up camp. A group of ATVs sped by and skidded sideways near the bus, sending gravel skittering. Meanwhile, a small group of vehicles had appeared on the town side of the bridge’s span. Someone started up a chain saw. Someone, maybe more than one, cut five moss-covered alder trees at their stumps, felling the white trunks and branches across the asphalt like a medieval barricade. Someone, maybe more than one, shot bursts of gunfire into the air, final exclamation points of menace. By the time the bus drove back to the bridge, scared off by the ATVs, it was trapped.

A new post popped onto the Facebook of Josh Fletcher, the thirtysomething son of Forks’ mayor. Fletcher is one of Forks’ old names, going back to the pioneer homesteading days. There’s a Fletcher Street, a Hillcar & Fletcher rock crushing company, and, back in the day, a logging company too. The photo showed the alder blockade, the bus on the other side on the narrow mountain logging road, no other way out. Commenters chimed in:

“Wonder if they feel like they just drove into a horror movie?”

“It’s like the purge.”

“Let ’em starve!”

“It’s just a strong message of get the fuck out.”

Say what you will about Forks—and people in Clallam County always have—but don’t think for a second that the entire town was on board with this. Even before officials confirmed that Chevall had been telling the truth—that there were no antifa in the bus, just Chevall, his partner, her daughter, and Chevall’s mother—many in Forks saw social media and suspected the real crime wasn’t some fantasy of black-clad rioters but the spectacle of their neighbors harassing and stranding travelers in the forest. The skeptics feared those actions would soon be deleted, not just from social media but from the realm of consequences too. They realized that what happened in Forks couldn’t stay in Forks; it needed to be hurled into the summer’s strife over power in America, a churning, white-hot debate over who gets coddled and who punished, who is a thug and who a hero. Suddenly, this episode in a patch of Washington woods seemed to have something to say about it all. So people in Forks did what you do in 2020 when you want evidence. They started to screenshot.

In Forks, skeptics of the rumor joked about antifa wanting to loot Twilight souvenirs from the gift shop.

Photograph: Ian Allen

Forks is circled by foothills covered in patches of pines logged in different years, uneven, like an awkward home haircut. Trucks stacked high with logs still rumble down the main street, but not as in the old days. Much of the forest can no longer be logged. In the ’90s, the Clinton administration protected old-growth trees in the name of the threatened spotted owl, and changing global markets further depleted the industry. Today, Twilight-themed gift shops, java drive-thrus, and Tesla charging ports signal a newer tourist economy. The influx of visitors, however, hasn’t replaced the jobs lost from logging, and disdain for government meddling is as common as American flags. Trump won 60 percent of the Forks vote in 2016. One of the bigger local logging companies made branded Trump baseball caps, a symbol of both national triumph and Left Coast dissent.

People call this part of the Olympic Peninsula the West End. A half-hour drive from the Pacific Ocean, Forks is one of the rainiest towns in the continental United States and one of the more isolated. This separateness breeds a sense of mutual reliance within the community. When the day comes that the Cascadia fault running the length of the Pacific Northwest coast ruptures, help might not arrive in Forks for a month, so a network of residents keep ham radios at the ready to coordinate survival logistics. This is not an area of great wealth; the median annual household income hovers around $36,000. Yet every year the town raises scholarship money—this year it was $113,000—for the graduating high school class. The town’s seclusion also warded off Covid-19. There were only two cases before late July, one assumed to be related to tourism, and many resented the outsiders potentially harboring the virus who continued to trek to the peninsula. Someone put up “Go Home!” and “Locals Only” posters below the town’s welcome sign.

The A Road falls into the Clallam County sheriff’s turf, and in the days after the townspeople followed the bus into the woods, detectives fanned out to conduct interviews. The crime they were investigating was cutting trees on federal land, a misdemeanor. But they also wanted to learn more about the pursuers’ intent, which could push the charges into disorderly conduct, malicious mischief, harassment, or, if race were involved, a hate crime.

Once the identity of Big Bertha’s inhabitants and their innocent intentions were made public, many of the get-out-of-town posts were deleted from social media, but now residents, troubled by their neighbors’ actions, had screenshots in hand. They wanted to share the information and for the perpetrators to be caught, but they also wanted to be able to eat at Pacific Pizza without being hassled or shunned. So some fed images to Matthew Randazzo, a journalist and former Democratic Party county chair. Randazzo, in turn, set about lassoing Twitter outrage toward #ForksGoons with a thread of screenshots and commentary to ensure that authorities couldn’t even think about letting it go.