Report Back: White Lives Matter Counter-rally in Austin, Texas Submission to Hard Crackers, 12/2/16
Rallies are always the same in Austin — outside the State Capitol building where Congress Ave. intersects with 11th st, forming a T that feeds into the Capitol gates. There is a fence running around the entire Capitol campus, which creates a natural barrier on one side of all protests. In effect this makes every protest feel small and and contained. This event on November 19, 2016 — a White LIves Matter rally turned
counter-rally with a few hundred counter-protesters is a bit different. The particular architecture of the Capitol campus allowed for the cops to cordon off one side of the protest in order to create two camps — one for the White Lives Matter “activists” and another for the anti-racist counter protesters. More importantly, it allowed cops to easily more in and out of the area from the eastern edge of the protest down 11th street.
As soon as I walk up, divided by the Capitol gates from the majority of the protest, dozens of cops march down the street in formation. Not a minute later half dozen or so cops on horses move into the crowd.
They’re using the horses for crowd control, shoving back the feistier of the anti-fascists. The horses are scary because they at any minute could really hurt a number of the protesters but of course this is not of concern to the cops. They form a line with their horses, each turned slightly at an angle so as to not leave any space between them, and begin slapping their horses on the backside with fleck whips creating a stir among the animals. Without fail, they move the line of protesters back several feet, creating a vacuum of space there the white lives matter guys, numbering less than a dozen, are protected now by a line of riot cops, horses, and several feed of space. This is the most police presence I’ve seen in Austin in the three years I’ve lived here — all in order to protect these guys, some of which have nazi tattoos and are wearing “white pride, worldwide” t-shirts. To be clear, these some of these guys were undoubtedly neo-nazi’s, and those who might not have been knew the company they were with. The “activists” themselves were sort of pathetic, they had signs about hate crimes being unfair and white lives matter t-shirts with some kind of eagle or bird on it. Most people couldn’t really see or hear them, though, because they were surrounded by cops and at least a few hundred anti-racists shouting them down.
Every once in awhile some asshole would pompously march around in a racist t-shirt or yelling “white lives matter” or something similar. You could tell they were peacocking, proving how brave they were and daring the anti-fascists to rough them up. Of course, the police immediately flocked to these renegade racists, making sure to be available to arrest any offending anti-racists who didn’t allow the racists to get away with their shit. In addition to the cops creating a barricade between the white lives matter guys and the
anti-racists, there were extra police everywhere which allowed them to easily move into place within seconds of any possible altercation. Second to the cops, various journalists and pseudo-journalists vultures with cameras flocked to these attractive scenes, shoving their cameras in everyone’s face being sure to implicate anyone who might break the law. Each time this happened I felt as angry at those with their cameras as the cops, each protecting the racists in their own way. In one instance a little twerpy young guy in a suit was running (literally) around yelling “white lives matter” seemingly just to stir the pot. Masked up communists and antifa followed him methodically as he kept running around yelling. Eventually he ran behind a row of cops at the steps of the Capitol, a few hundred yards from the main protest, where they escorted him into the building away from potential harm.
There were more masked up folks than I’ve seen in a long time, more than I’ve ever seen in Austin. I attribute primarily to two things: one, a rise in militant rhetoric of various Maoist orgs that have been organizing in Austin and two, a resurgence of antifa, in spirit if not in organizing, in recent weeks. While there
were clear markers of communists and a giant anti flag beautifully waving in the crowd, how many were directly associated with Maoist orgs (they have a handful of front groups in ATX) or antifa is unclear. My guess is the majority were not associated were any explicitly anti-capitalist efforts but nonetheless have been affected by the rhetoric and posturing of antifa and the Maoists, who have appropriated many of the anarchist signifiers. With regards to militant posturing, I did not see this in person but I learned online that both the white lives matter guys were openly carrying at some point, as well as a handful of masked up communists. Whether or not the communists were harassed by cops or peace police I do not know. In a reportback on the rally, The Red Guards-Austin (Maoists) cryptically suggested it was their ‘cadre’ open carrying, or alternatively was a direct result of their call to arms. I saw a handful of comments on FaceBook that supported it this. Additionally, their shirts saying “Partisan” suggest it was indeed at the very least derivative of their politics (see link above). Whoever it was, I did see the same masked up communists who were apparently open carrying (this photo is circulating widely) and they were not carrying when I saw them. I also heard no one at the rally mention this, which makes me think it was perhaps more of a photo-op than anything else. The Red Guards reportback also suggests some of the nazis were roughed up by antifa — I saw no evidence of this but it is possible.
Photos: The top photo is circulating widely and I do not know where it originates. The photo below is from fox news. In the photo below you can also see explicit white nationalist / neo nazi t-shirts with the celtic cross. We saw this guy up close, and his shirt says “white pride world wide” around the cross.
From what I could tell the crowd was predictably ideologically diverse. When I first arrived there were numerous anti-cop chants after the cops brought in dozens of riot cops. “Cops and Klan go Hand in Hand”; “Who do you protect?! Who do you serve?!”, etc. But there was definitely a sizable amount of liberals. I got the impression that many of the masked-up folks understood the old Anti-Racist Action (ARA) ethos of “smash fascism” and would shed no tears if these guys got roughed up. At the same time, I think many of the masked-up folks would’ve been surprised if anything popped off and I do not know how they might have reacted. Then there were the liberal pacifist types, who were openly criticizing the antifa and communists for exacerbating the situation, making tensions higher. I overheard some masked up folks (didn’t seem associated with any ideological current in particular) arguing with liberal pacifists who seemed sincere in trying to understand “diversity of tactics”, yet remained policing in their non-violence ideology, insisting “how are we ever going to win if we can’t agree on how [i.e. on non-violence]. One pacifist said “violence is not how you solve anything” and eventually just came out and said it: “the police are here to keep the peace.” The masked-up guys’ response was predictable about how the police protect the state, etc. Another older woman complaining about the “kids in black” exacerbating the situation was trying to get anyone who would listen to call the mayor because of the, what she felt, misuse of tax money because of the massive State police presence. Of course this was wholly predictable, but I did not sense any shifts in attitude from the liberals, but that many younger folks seems willing to stand with the communist and antifa is surely sign of some shift further left among younger folks, even if that is not fully articulated by many young people yet.
Overall, the rally did not feel as significant as popular reports seemed to make it. It was a standoff with the white lives matter dudes protected by the police the entire time, aside from some incidents on the periphery. But it arguably shows a more militant turn from certain sects (young and white). Interestingly BLM did not seem to have a huge presence but I cannot tell if this is because Austin has such a small black population or because many black folks weren’t trying to mess with those nazi folks. There were lots of chants “black lives matter, black lives matter”, etc, but it, to me, felt like a real shift from the BLM rallies I attended a little over a year ago after the murder of Sandra Bland.
Finally, dozens of robocops in formation arrived a second time a few hours later form when I first arrived along with more cavalry. Eventually we realize what they are doing at this later hour is preparing to escort these the white lives matter guys out of the area safely. After using the cavalry to establish a fence with road closure barricades on three sides, the robocops and cavalry formed a corridor and the white lives matter guys left chanting and waving their signs as if they had somehow triumphed.