Dozens of activists gathered near the Alamo Cenotaph on Friday to plan their “defense” of the sculpture that is slated to be repaired and moved as part of the overhaul of Alamo Plaza. However, officials said that work isn’t scheduled to start until February.
“It’s no protest, it’s an occupation,” Brandon Burkhart, president of This is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF), a statewide activist group, told the Rivard Report. A few of the crowd members were armed with automatic rifles and handguns – but more of them were armed with signs. Burkhart said that they should use force, if necessary.
“We will stop them,” Burkhart said, because moving the “war memorial” disrespects its history and those who died defending the Alamo in 1836. “That’s the only tomb that Alamo defenders have.”
TITFF brought four wagons of donated food and water to the gathering.
Besides a slightly increased police presence in the plaza, likely due to TITFF’s gathering, and ongoing archeological work, there were no signs the Cenotaph would start to be moved this weekend. Burkhart credited his group’s presence as the reason for the delayed relocation.
The Cenotaph is 60 feet high, 12 feet wide, and 40 feet long comprised of heavy marble slabs fixed to a steel interior. Pennsylvania-based CVM Professional will repair, deconstruct, and reassemble the Cenotaph less than 500 feet to the south in front of the Menger Hotel. Most of that work will take place on-site in plain view of the public, officials have said, likely concluding in the summer.
The group was told by a “reliable source” that the process to move the Cenotaph would start in the early hours of Saturday, Dec. 28., according to its Facebook event page. Burkhardt said they were following City construction permit schedules online and noticed activity in the plaza was scheduled for Friday. Burkhart said he can no longer find the listing online.
“I can tell you definitively that is not happening,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said earlier this week. And work has not been delayed, he said. “Despite what some are saying, you will see scaffolding go up sometime in February.”
Treviño, who serves on the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee and the Alamo Management Committee, sent an email and hand-delivered letter – along with fresh tamales – to the group as they gathered in a nearby parking lot. The letter informed them of the restoration timeline and offered an olive branch of sorts.
“Please accept this letter as a symbol of our unexpected partnership in ensuring that our collective history is honored, and that truth is given a chance to persevere,” Treviño wrote. “As different as our opinions might seem from the outside, we are truly fighting for the same cause and seeking the same fundamental goals. Integrity. History. Reverence. Truth.”
Treviño offered to meet with Burkhart and 2-4 other members of TITFF. Burkhart said he’ll take the meeting, but would want to livestream the conversation on Facebook. The tamales were given to area homeless individuals, he said.
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“We don’t trust Treviño [or the City of San Antonio] as far as I can throw them,” Burkhart said, adding that Friday’s “occupation” of the Cenotaphwould continue until at least Saturday’s sunrise. The group rented a nearby hotel room to keep tabs on the Cenotaph and their surveillance will continue during the next few months.
“The city has a reputation for removing statues in the middle of the night,” he said, noting the removal of the Confederate statue from Travis Park in September 2017. However, that removal came just one day after City Council voted 10-1 to have the statue removed. The City’s Historic and Design Review Commission finalized plans to relocate the Cenotaph on Dec. 18.
Burkhart encouraged participants to inform visitors and passersby about the Cenotaph and the group’s efforts to keep it where it is and to abide by open-carry gun laws. “Be on your best Ps and Qs,” he said.
If enough people across Texas call to keep the Cenotaph where it is, Burkhart said, then maybe Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick would step in to help.
The Cenotaph was built in 1936 to honor the Texans who died defending the Alamo, then a military fort, against the Mexican army 100 years prior during the Battle of the Alamo. Part of the relocation plan is to address misspelled and missing names of defenders on the sculpture.
Cenotaph relocation is one of several changes coming to Alamo Plaza as part of the estimated $350-$450 million Alamo Master Plan, which calls for a “world-class” museum, new entry points to the plaza, and protection and preservation of the Alamo mission and Long Barrack. The City, Texas General Land Office (GLO) and nonprofit Alamo trust signed an agreement in 2015 to jointly fund and plan the redevelopment plan, which was approved by City Council in 2018. Controversy still surrounds the relocation of the Cenotaph and closing off the plaza to casual foot traffic.
Archeological work taking place in and around the plaza has revealed human remains and artifacts dating back hundreds of years. Two lawsuits related to how remains are treated at the site are pending in federal and state courts.