Above: Counter-protesters clash with supporters of President Trump in Austin during a "March 4 Trump" rally, one of several such events held in cities on March 4, 2017.
An East Texas lawmaker is sponsoring a “March Against Far-Left Violence” at the Texas Capitol Saturday — one of at least eight marches around the country organized by assorted far-right groups. This weekend’s marches are supposedly in response to recent episodes of street fighting in the Pacific Northwest between left- and right-wing activists. Some members of white supremacist organizations have expressed interest in attending the march in Austin.
To hold an event on the Capitol grounds, organizations need a state lawmaker to sponsor it and attest to the State Preservation Board that it benefits the “community at large,” according to Texas law. State Representative Dan Flynn, a Canton Republican who’s carried controversial anti-Islam legislation, is sponsoring Saturday’s march. Last Thursday, he signed a form that states the event is hosted by Texans United for America, and above his signature, the event is described as an “Austin March Against Far-Left Violence … aimed at free speech and a call for peace within the universities, media and other far left organizations that engage in false rhetoric and violence.”
But Flynn told the Observer Wednesday he’d heard nothing about a “march against far-left violence,” nor had he heard of Texans United for America. Instead, he said he agreed to sponsor an event by the Islamophobic group ACT for America in promotion of what he called “American law on American soil.” Still, Flynn did not say he would revoke his sponsorship of Saturday’s event.
In 2017, another East Texas Republican, state Representative Matt Schaefer, sponsored a rally at the Capitol organized by white nationalists, later revoking his approval and saying he was “grossly misled.”
Organizers of Saturday’s events are not quite “alt-right” or white nationalist, according to Carla Hill, an analyst with the Anti-Defamation League. Rather, they’re more general far-right activists, drawn from the antigovernment “patriot” movement and the so-called alt-lite. “They’re right-wing extremists; they aren’t all white supremacists,” she said. “But events like this attract white supremacists as well, because these ideologies line up.”
The Observer found significant evidence of interest in Saturday’s event on the part of self-identified white nationalists. On the Facebook page for the Austin event, Houston-based “White Lives Matter” organizer Ken Reed is listed as attending, as are at least two pseudonymous accounts linked to the neo-Nazi group Patriot Front. Members of Patriot Front attended a pro-Trump march hosted by Texans United for America in Austin earlier this year.
On the neo-Nazi site Stormfront, a thread can also be found discussing Saturday’s nationwide marches. “It’s more of a Patriot rally then [sic] a white nationalism rally, I will be hiding my swatsikas [sic] and 14/88 tattoos,” wrote “Refuse,” a Stormfront user with nearly 2,000 posts who’s attending the Boston march. Saturday’s events also fall very close to the anniversary of the deadly Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally.
Texans United for America didn’t respond to an Observer request for comment, but on Facebook the group wrote: “We have received word that Austin Observer [sic] wants an interview with TUFA. Sorry but they are FAKE NEWS.”
Event organizers say the march is about opposing violence, but on Facebook many attendees have expressed eagerness for physical confrontation with leftist counter-protesters, including “antifa.” Notably, the founder of the gun rights group Open Carry Texas, CJ Grisham, wrote on Sunday: “I’d just like to beg antifa to start something. Please, for once, try to do your thang. I just need a reason.” (Grisham ran a failed campaign for state Senate earlier this year.)
At least one counterprotest is planned in Austin, billed as “Drown Out Fascist Hate!” and advertised as a “noise demo.”
Flynn told the Observer he had no knowledge of attendees seeking to spread hate or provoke violence, and would not support the event if he did. “It would be disappointing for me if it became anything other than supporting American law on American soil, and supporting faith, family and freedom,” he said.