Who’s Defending Texas’ Confederate Monuments?

Meet the leader of the rifle-wielding, Confederate-flag toting group that calls itself “protectors of all things Texas.”

Who’s Defending Texas’ Confederate Monuments?

Meet the leader of the rifle-wielding, Confederate-flag toting group that calls itself “protectors of all things Texas.”

Illustration by Drue Wagner

Robert Beverly, 57, is a jack of many trades. He’s an artist, an Air Force veteran and president of the brevity-challenged outfit This Is Texas Freedom Force, a group that made waves this summer defending Confederate monuments from protesters in major Texas cities.

This Is Texas Freedom Force is a ragtag coalition of rifle-toting ex-military sorts and other mostly white Texans who favor the Dixie flag and revisionist histories of the Civil War. Its official motto: “Protectors of all things Texas.” Launched in May, the group claims to have an online membership of about 5,000.

In June, the group’s inaugural event drew about 1,000 people to Houston to counter “anti-fascists” who threatened to tear down a statue of Sam Houston. The only problem: The threat was a hoax perpetrated by a fake Twitter account, and the well-armed “#StandWithSam” battalion squared off with an army of none. Even so, Beverly doesn’t regret the action.

“I liked it because I hadn’t felt that patriotism in a very long time,” he told the Observer. “It was different than Trump-getting-into-office patriotism; this was Texas patriots coming together for the first time.”

In the ’80s and ’90s, Beverly was active in Republican politics in Arlington, but he grew disenchanted with the GOP and left for fringier pastures. About six years ago, he joined the Texas State Militia — a hyper-libertarian group with paramilitary ambitions — and in 2014, he broke off to form his own outfit, the “Phoenix Unit.”

confederate
Armed militia members surround a “mobile command center” near Travis Park.  Gus Bova

At the Houston protest, Beverly brought along the Phoenix Unit’s “mobile command center” — a large trailer for transporting weapons and medical supplies. His apparent security know-how earned him the invitation to lead This Is Texas Freedom Force. Since then, the group has cropped up in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas to defend Confederate monuments and patrol anti-Trump demonstrations.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks hate groups, hasn’t analyzed This Is Texas Freedom Force, but it has closely followed the “patriot” movement and militias for years.

Historically, such groups increase under Democratic presidents and fade away under Republican ones, but that trend is breaking under Trump, said Ryan Lenz, an analyst with SPLC. “These groups don’t seem to feel their job is any less now,” he said. “In fact, they’ve chosen to stay around to provide security for the ascendant alt-right or extremist organizations across the country.”

In early July, This Is Texas Freedom Force showed up in Austin to guard a “1776 Freedom March” held by the alt-right “Proud Boys.” The next day they policed an “impeachment march” to ensure the anti-Trump gathering did not “get out of hand,” according to the group’s website.

A month later, the group filled half of San Antonio’s Travis Park with Confederate flag-waving supporters, many wielding semi-automatic rifles, to oppose the proposed removal of the park’s 40-foot Confederate monument. (The city removed it a few weeks later.)

This Is Texas Freedom Force president Robert Beverly (right) and vice president Brandon ‘Milkbone’ Burkhart mourn the removal of Dallas’ Robert E. Lee statue in September.  Texas Freedom Force/Facebook

The group gravitates toward the “Lost Cause” theory of the Confederacy, which erroneously holds that slavery was a minor factor in the Civil War.

“The whole crux of it was Lincoln didn’t want to lose [tax dollars],” said Beverly. “Slavery then came in as a political issue after the war was started.”

Beverly insists his cause is not racist. The group has a few black and Latino members, and on social media, it regularly denounces white nationalists and forbids them from attending its events. But he has a way of veering off message.

In August, he told the San Antonio Current he thinks black people are “too damn lazy,” “on drugs” and “don’t want to work.” (Beverly told the Observer that his comments were directed at young people of all races, not just black people).

Nationally, the SPLC categorizes at least one militia group — the III% Security Force — as an Islamophobic hate group. Several members of This Is Texas Freedom Force also belong to III%.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of cross-pollination on the radical right,” said Lenz. “One thing we’ve seen is the militia movement taking on a larger presence in the anti-Muslim world.”

Beverly insists This Is Texas Freedom Force isn’t “one of those fringe groups.”

“I’m not on some mission to destroy the world,” he said. “I just want to hang on to what I have.”

Gus Bova reports on immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border and grassroots movements for the Observer. He formerly worked at a shelter for asylum-seekers and refugees. You can contact him at [email protected]

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Published at 3:15 pm CST
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