Today we present to you a letter that we received the day before the Cascade Mall shooting. In it, the author, who wishes to be identified as El Pavo, describes for us the security situation at what may be one of the most under appreciated targets in Western Washington – the Puyallup Fair. Over one million people attend the fair every September, making it a fairly tempting, and soft, target.
Out of respect for El Pavo’s position, we’ve adjusted the language of his letter and changed minor details to protect his identity. I assure you, however, that his experience is genuine and the threats he describes are real. After the letter we’ll come back and add a little commentary before closing out.
As we discussed, I’d like to share with you my experience working at the Washington State Fair. Now that I’m just about done working there for the year, the risk of blowback is reduced, even if my identity is compromised.
During the three weeks the fair was open, I worked several days a week with one of the food vendors. One of the most troubling things about the fair was the attempted appearance of security. Outside of the fair, if you stick to the main parking lots, your vehicle will be reasonably secure. There’s a lot of staff and law enforcement there, bored and directing traffic. There’s the usual “We’re not responsible for your stuff” disclaimers as you would expect. When you get to the gate the cracks in security begin to show.
If you’re fortunate enough to be an early bird and show up before noon, you can flash your ticket and breeze through into the fair unmolested. After noon, however, you will be forced to submit to a bag check or be denied entry. The bag check is a joke. On one of my first run-ins with the bag check mafia, I was asked to unzip the main compartment of my backpack. The checker, most likely a TSA reject, shined his light inside, ignored the medium MOLLE pouch inside, and said it was fine. He did not check any of the other pockets. Had I chosen to, I could have smuggled in two pistols and a dozen magazines in this bag without effort.
The funniest part of this incident came as I was putting my bag back together. The checker pointed directly at my gun, concealed by an untucked shirt, paused a moment, and told me, “You need to take care of that.” Had I printed? Did my shirt ride up when I wasn’t paying attention? I stared incredulously at him for a moment before he clarified. “Your knife. You need to put it in your pocket so I can’t see the clip.” I repressed a smirk and an eye roll, dropped my knife in my pocket, and entered the fair. I put my knife back in its normal place and was comforted by the weight of my full sized Glock on one hip and two magazines on the other.
Inside the fair you find a reasonable police patrol presence and EMS presence. They are on autopilot, however. Many vendors will, when you speak to them, express their distress at the lack of enforcement of the most basic rules. People litter, smoke, and do things that are actually dangerous, such as riding bicycles through heavy pedestrian areas. During lost child events the police take a report and then stand still, not taking any action or calling for help as the parents scramble looking for their child. Their rounds are also highly predictable. I am confident that any crime that is not violent or a significant property crime will be overlooked.
With just these few vulnerabilities in mind, how could someone with terroristic intent attack the fair?
Backpack sized explosive devices? No problem. Simply come before the bag checks start.
Bigger explosive devices? Easily done with almost zero risk for around $5,000. All the attackers need to do is apply as a vendor and pay for a booth. Vendors get early access to the fair and the attackers could simply bring their equipment in with the props they need to maintain their appearance.
Mass shooting? I think the answer is easy for pistoleros. An individual could walk in with a couple of pistols and a bunch of magazines on their person and never be given a second look. Could someone sneak in a rifle? A broken down AR with a bunch of magazines will fit in a backpack just fine. All our fictional attackers need to do is come in before the bag checks start
There are many choke points and areas where an attacker could do large amounts of damage with a vehicle, both inside and outside of the fair.
As you can see, security is just so much Kabuki. I hope you find this letter useful.
El Pavo has given us a first-hand account of the security at the fair. I don’t think, even if the management cared or was motivated to improve it, that they would be able to do so without negatively impacting their business. You’d have to do metal detectors, pat downs, and stop and frisk, along with searching the vendors, reducing access outside, and so on.
The key thing to remember is that if you choose to go to an event like this, safety is your responsibility. Carry your gun, carry a compact trauma kit, and know how to use them.