Following Donald Trump’s election, the U.S. has seen a spike in racist harassment and violence worse than what took place in the days immediately after 9/11. Amid this spate of hate crimes, a group of about 15 white supremacists, some of whom were armed, gathered at the Texas Capitol grounds in Austin on Saturday, November 19, to protest the application of hate crime laws to white offenders.
The group, “White Lives Matter Too,” a local offshoot of the national White Lives Matter organization designated a neo-Nazi hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), took to the Capitol grounds in Austin as a crowd of more than 1,000 were wrapping up a long-awaited unveiling and dedication ceremony for a new monument to Black history in Texas.
Members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus have been pushing for the monument for decades, and the project finally cleared its last hurdle in 2015 after lawmakers approved $1.5 million to complete it. Its bronze sculptures tell the stories of Black Texans including Bernard Harris Jr., the first Black astronaut to perform a spacewalk. The monument also depicts images of slavery and Juneteenth, the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas.
“We are standing on the foundation and the shoulders of people who have sacrificed to get us where we are today, and so that’s what you will see [in this monument],” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner during the unveiling ceremony. “I am not the mayor of the city of Houston, the fourth largest city, because I am so smart and because I am so gifted. I am the mayor of the city of Houston because those folks that are on that monument paid the price that enabled me to be where I am today. I give credit to every single one, named and unnamed, that’s on that monument that says together we can get to where we are.”
As the monument was being unveiled, chants could be heard across the lawn of the Capitol, as hundreds of counterprotesters filed in on the east side of the lawn to drown out white supremacist hate speech only barely audible through chants of “Fuck White Supremacy” and “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA.”
Ken Reed, a known white supremacist from Houston and national director of the Aryan Renaissance Society, led the white supremacist rally. He claimed to not know about the unveiling ceremony until his hate group applied for a protest permit from a Capitol event coordinator.
According to the SPLC, two prominent white supremacists and a number of neo-Nazi groups, including the Texas-based Renaissance Society, constitute White Lives Matter’s main backers, supplying the resources that have enabled the group to host rallies and conduct flier distributions across the U.S. since it emerged last year. In a video posted in October, one member of the White Lives Matter group explained the racist reasoning behind the group’s protest of hate crime laws, saying the laws are “unjustly” applied to white people as opposed to people of color. (This is not accurate, as statistics will show below.)
Since the video was posted, the SPLC has tracked 701 hateful and/or racially motivated intimidation and harassment incidents against historically marginalized groups since Trump’s election victory.
When asked by Truthout about the recent rise in hate crimes and racial harassment against people of color documented by the SPLC since Trump’s election victory, Scott Lacy, an Renaissance Society member said, “Who is the Southern Poverty Law Center to say what’s going on in America? Who are they? They’re not part of our country.”
Lacy, who had a visible “SS” tattoo on his head, then falsely claimed that 56 percent of all murders are committed by Black people, a statistic clearly negated by the FBI’s own homicide statistics for last year, which show that white offenders committed about the same number of homicides as Black offenders for the nearly 6,000 homicides in which in which law enforcement had information about the race of both victim and killer. The data shows that a vast majority of homicide victims are killed by people of their own race, a trend that has been observed for decades. (The FBI’s racial data is limited in several ways.)
Lacy also called for a “Blue Lives Matter” bill to be passed in the state legislature, arguing that those who assault or harm police officers should face harsher penalties under hate crime statutes. Such a bill has already passed in Louisiana, revealing an internal contradiction within the logic of hate crime laws.
In fact, hate crime laws have long been criticized by some activists on the left who have argued that such legislation can’t be used to correct historical oppression and only serves to expand the criminal legal system (despite its often good intentions). That contradiction — using a racist criminal legal system to supposedly deliver justice to marginalized victims — is laid bare when examining hate crime statistics for 2015, which show Black people are charged with hate crimes at a rate that is twice their proportion of the population. Furthermore, white people report themselves as victims of hate crimes most often, belying the claims of the white supremacists but also of many proponents of hate crimes legislation.
At Saturday’s monument unveiling, Princess Dixon, a woman of color who attended the counter-protest, was accosted by Lacy, who shouted at her for several minutes. She told me why she stayed put in the face of the harassment.
“I wanted to stand there face to face and say, ‘I’m here and I’m not scared. I’m not going to be the one to yell at you. And even though we were supposed to come and not allow them to speak, I want to hear what you have to say. I want to know why you hate me even though you’ve never met me,'” Dixon told Truthout.
She said her confrontation with Lacy and other members of the hate group centered on their framing of hate crime laws, white supremacy, the media, incarceration, crime and the Black Lives Matter movement. After arguing with the hate group’s members, Dixon said she walked away feeling sad that the group’s “feelings are misguided” but ultimately gained an understanding how hate groups like White Lives Matter operate and frame arguments.
Local Austin police officers and state troopers, some mounted on horses, buttressed the white supremacists throughout the day, their numbers growing as counterprotesters continued streaming in, reaching a peak of more than 500 counterprotesters in the late afternoon. Riot police eventually erected protective barricades around the white supremacists amid chants of “Cops and Klan go hand in hand.”
Police also escorted the White Lives Matter supremacists to their cars in the visitors parking garage of the Capitol as counterprotesters followed. Eight counterprotesters were arrested on charges of assault, evading arrest, disorderly conduct and interference with public duty.
Several mainstream news accounts of the day’s events eschewed labeling the White Lives Matter group white supremacist, neo-Nazi or white nationalist, and even quoted the white supremacists without fact-checking them.