You can only imagine what unwitting tourists visiting the Alamo on Saturday must have thought.
There were hundreds of Second Amendment enthusiasts gathered at San Antonio’s Alamo Plaza, many carrying loaded rifles and assault weapons to the public square. They stood before one of the most revered sites in Texas to protest what they see as unconstitutional curbs on displaying weapons in public.
The highest-profile speakers at the event were current land commissioner and lieutenant governor candidate Jerry Patterson, who carries a handgun in his boot, and conspiracy purveyor Alex Jones, an assault rifle on his back. Patterson and Jones reflected the inherent tension between the two camps at the rally: gun-owners who struck a more conciliatory tone and emphasized personal responsibility mingled with fringe elements who expressed a more profound anger at the government, and hinted at a dark future.
Patterson has waged his campaign primarily on the strength of his gun-rights credentials — he authored the state’s concealed carry law in 1995. But the surreal nature of Saturday’s event allowed Patterson to play something of a moderate. He asked the protestors not to carry their guns inside the Alamo’s walls, and he urged the crowd to respect the San Antonio police officers.
“You have to recognize that those cops on the street are not here to adjudicate the constitutionality of these laws,” Patterson said. “They’re here to enforce the laws, no matter how bad they might be. Any anger you have, focus it on the lawmakers.”
Distancing himself from the more conspiratorial attendees, he said: “I’m not one of these people that thinks someone’s gonna come knocking on my door and take my guns.”
Jones, on the other hand, is one of those people. In a tirade of a speech, the radio talk show host laid out the issue in the starkest possible terms. Gun owners, he said, “are the persecuted group, because the globalists know that we are the seed of political understanding. They want to make us slaves. The globalists know we’re waking to them.” Gun rights should be expanded internationally, he said—especially in Mexico, because violence had turned that nation into a “country-wide Chicago.”
Afterward, I asked Patterson if it bothered him to share a stage with a man who argues that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by President George W. Bush.
“Yeah, it does. But you know, it’s really hard to push somebody off the stage. And, you know: they might have a problem sharing a stage with me.” He added, in response to Jones’ 9/11 charge: “I was a big fan of George W. Bush. He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known.”
Patterson couldn’t push Alex Jones off the stage — and I wouldn’t want to be the one to try, either — but he still chose to get up on that stage in the first place. When I asked Jones about Patterson, there seemed to be less distance between the two.
“I like Jerry Patterson. I’ve known him for about 18 years. Since back when he was in the Legislature,” Jones said. “I’ve known him forever. He’s a really great guy. And he gave a really great, measured speech.” Later, he added: “A disarmed people are slaves.”
Count among the slaves Peter and Mabel, a genial Canadian couple from outside Vancouver. The retirees, who declined to give their last name, had been traveling around the United States in their RV for several months when, on a jaunt across Texas, they decided to tour the Alamo. The day’s spectacle had them bemused and a little concerned.
“There’s nothing like this in the Western world,” Peter said. “Here you have people that are like-minded and just feeding on each other’s propaganda, it seems to me.” Added Mabel, “This is totally beyond our comprehension.”
A half-mile down the road from the Alamo, members of a gun-control advocacy group Moms Demand Action gathered at a restaurant to talk about the threat of gun violence. Stephanie Burlingame and Hilary Rand, both mothers of two, sat in the restaurant’s backyard while children played around them. Both got involved in gun control advocacy after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 children and six staff dead. “It’s too easy to imagine you’re the mom outside that firehouse [in Newtown,] waiting to find out if your child was killed,” Rand said.
Burlingame, who walked through the crowd at the Alamo earlier in the morning, said the anonymity of the gun-toting protesters was what scared her most. “I know enough about the laws now to know that we don’t know who these people are. None of us do. Anybody can get their hands on these weapons,” she said. “No background check, no training, nothing. My dad is a career Army officer. He would tell you today, weapons like these belong in the hands of soldiers. Period, end of story.”
That leads us to rally attendee Captain Mac, who identified himself as the founder of the Tea Party Militia and a member of the Austin Rifles of the Texas Brigade. “For this, the FBI has had me under surveillance,” he said jovially.
“They noticed I was buying a lot of legally imported Russian weapons.” He pointed to the box his gun, a Ukrainian assault rifle with a rough-looking birchwood stock, arrived in. “That’s Cyrillic — ‘Wild Boar,’ it means in English. The ammo comes via UPS straight to your door.”
I had wanted to talk to Captain Mac because of his large Ted Cruz sign, visible from throughout the rally. But Cruz isn’t Captain Mac’s only cause. He pointed out an addendum to the sign, with symbols for major fascist and white supremacist organizations.
“I’m also recruiting for these organizations,” he said. “There’s the National Socialist Movement — their slogan is, ‘deport them all, let God sort them out.’” He points to the number 88, indicating the 8th letter of the alphabet (that would be the letter ‘h’ or ‘HH’). “Heil Hitler. We’re anti-fascist, of course. But he was doing pretty good until he started taking everyone’s guns and attacking his neighbors. Imagine if none of that had happened.”
At this point, a fresh-faced young volunteer, noticing Captain Mac’s Ted Cruz sign, ambled over with a ballot petition. “You look like you would support Attorney General Greg Abbott in his race for governor,” the volunteer said.
“Absolutely,” said Captain Mac, taking pen in hand as he returned to his pitch. “We’re not fascist. We’re about Deutschland for Deutschlanders, and America for Americans.” The petition wrangler flashed a nervous look at my recorder, before correcting Captain Mac’s residency information and walking away.
Mac ran down the rest of the list, which includes the now-outlawed Greek fascist party Golden Dawn and a true fan’s appreciation for the “Butcher of Bosnia,’” Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadžić. Then he ambled back into the crowd to show admirers his rifle.
That called to mind the words of Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. “There’s this perception out there that guns are bad,” he had said. “Well, guns are bad in the hands of bad people.”