Guns Add Tension To Confederate Monument Controversy

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Members of TITFF (This is Texas Freedom Force) secure Brandon Burkhart in front of the Municipal Plaza Building.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Members of This is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF) guard Brandon Burkhart in front of the Municipal Plaza Building.

Though the open carry of rifles and handguns is permitted in Texas and most other states, San Antonio residents take notice when groups of individuals donning kevlar vests and tactical assault rifles file into Travis Park on a Saturday morning or walk down Commerce Street toward City Council Chambers on a Wednesday night.

"I've never seen anything like this in my life," said Rudolph Garcia, one of several passersby in Municipal Plaza who stopped to observe – or record – the men and woman affiliated with This Is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF) escort Brandon Burkhart, the group's vice president, into the local government building Wednesday.

This is the second time in one week that downtown residents and visitors have seen men and women dressed in fatigues and tactical vests carrying assault weapons, additional ammunition, tasers, and sidearms in the city's streets. Many wear sunglasses, hats, helmets, or bandanas making it difficult to discern facial features. They are from groups such as the 3 Percenters and Alamo Militia which oppose removal of Confederate monuments both locally and around the nation.

TITFF has been enlisting militia members' support and assistance in opposing a Council Consideration Request by Councilmen Roberto Treviño (D1) and William "Cruz" Shaw (D2) to remove a Confederate monument that has been in Travis Park for 118 years.

Efforts to remove Confederate statues and symbols across the country united groups of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend. Heavily armed militia members, dressed similarly to those seen recently around San Antonio, were among the demonstrators. The Washington Post reported that individuals from various Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern militia groups gathered to maintain civic order and defend free speech.

On the same day, similarly armed militia members filled Travis Park in downtown San Antonio. They congregated at the entrance and around the perimeter of the southeastern corner of the park that was permitted to TITFF by the City. While covering the event inside said corner, the Rivard Report was escorted off the grounds by three men in fatigues with assault weapons for being spotted earlier in the corner of counterprotesting group SATX4. Many of the militia individuals had been requested to serve as security members removing opposition members from the corner.

Demonstrators in opposition of the removal of the Confederate monument in Travis Park set up the stage for speakers.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Armed demonstrators in opposition of the removal of the Confederate monument in Travis Park survey the area.

Members of the San Antonio Police Department, Parks Police, and SWAT looked on from various vantage points in and around the park. The Rivard Report did not see police officers inside either of the event's two corners.

Texas state law permits individuals to openly carry rifles without a license, and since 2016 has allowed licensed individuals to openly carry handguns.

But some residents perceive the militia members' weapons as symbols of aggression. Following this past weekend, they associate that aggression with the white nationalist violence seen in Charlottesville.

"If you have something to say, say it to the people," Garcia said. "You don’t need to be armed. You don’t need to have a show of force. They’re only encouraging more hate and more violence toward fellow American citizens. It’s bad enough that it’s the 21st century and me and my family have to witness the age of white supremacy."

Militia members outside of City Council Chambers Wednesday night said they were there for one reason – to protect Burkhart.

Brandon Burkhart (center) is escorted with fellow membetrs of TITFF (This is Texas Freedom Force) following Citizens to be Heard at City Council on Wednesday evening.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Brandon Burkhart (center) is escorted by fellow members of This is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF) following citizens to be heard at City Council on Wednesday evening.

"When [TITFF] announced they'd be here speaking pro-monument at the City Hall meeting, they received what they felt to be credible death threats," said a 3 Percenter who gave his name only as Tunnel as he stood outside Council Chambers on Wednesday. He offered his opinions on why he believed it was important that the group exercised its rights to openly carry firearms.

"So many people want to strip certain rights," he said. "We're in America. With the Constitution, it's our right to do so. We have to deal with the consequences when we act upon those rights and when we exercise our rights."

One woman who addressed Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council on Wednesday complained that SAPD had failed to protect her and other members of SATX4, who were demanding that the statue in Travis Park be removed.

"We didn't feel like we were being protected against the people that had actual guns and rifles," said Lyndsy Gholson, who rallied with SATX4 on Saturday. "It was a little scary going out there, but I didn't let that stop me."

Counterprotesters weren't the only ones intimidated by the presence of firearms on one side of the park during Saturday's demonstrations. SAPD Sgt. Jesse Salame told the Rivard Report that several people approached police officers about the weapons. But Salame stated that SAPD did not confront or question any of the armed individuals because they were complying with state open carry laws while exercising their second amendment rights.

"I think it was alarming to some people," Salame said. "We had a lot of people that came up and asked how we felt about people armed with guns.

I don't think we were in any danger of having any kind of civil disobedience or anything like that. And, again, [open carry] is the law, we're going to follow the law."

No one openly carrying a firearm Saturday broke the law, Salame said, adding that SAPD will not interfere with law-abiding open carriers, regardless of whether or not they felt that they were there to secure their privately permitted demonstration on public property.

Tunnel said members of his group carry weapons to protect themselves, citing protests by left-wing groups that have turned violent.

(left) A man identifying himself as 'Tunnel' stands at Main Plaza with a fellow member representing TITFF (This is Texas Freedom Force).

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The man who identified himself as 'Tunnel' (left) stands at Main Plaza with a fellow member representing This is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF).

"I think what we found ... is that the police don't have to protect us," Tunnel said. "In the event something were to happen like it did in Berkeley, or Portland, or Charlottesville, there needs to be somebody to protect the innocents. What we found is the narrative from the left is anybody who doesn't agree with them is a Nazi."

Tunnel believes that individuals who disagree with the stances taken by groups such as TITFF unfairly label them, making dialogue impossible. He believes such labels make TITFF a target for groups such as Antifa, so-called anti-fascists who also were accused of inciting violence during the Charlottesville protests.

"Now Antifa, I don't agree with what they're doing," Tunnel said. "I understand that there may be a time for violence, but everybody's a Nazi if you don't agree with them. So who are they going to determine, when they're walking around with their sticks, or their shields, or their guns, or whatever, who they can attack, who they can rightfully do it [to]?"

Tunnel insisted that TITFF's defense of the monument is not about race, but rather about preserving history and honoring veterans who fought a war for reasons other than the issue of slavery. Yet he feels that he and others are targets for violence simply because they're making the argument for keeping the monument in the park. In such a politically charged atmosphere, he said, members need to be armed when traveling to speak in public.

"It's sad, because if they sat down for five minutes to talk to me, they'd realize I'm not here for race," Tunnel said. "I'm here exercising my rights just as they're here exercising their rights. We should just have a lot more dialogue. It's just that until we see them open to dialogue, this is what has to happen."

Council members aren't scheduled to discuss relocating the monument in Travis Park for another three weeks, and even then it is only to decide whether or not the Governance Committee will allow the measure to be voted on by the full council at a later date. In the meantime, cities across the nation are removing monuments overnight while others are illegally toppled by crowds of protesters. Park police reported that earlier in the week the monument in Travis Park had been vandalized after a red liquid had been thrown above the base of the obelisk, according to John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations Department.

The increased presence of organized groups openly carrying guns may be escalating an already controversial City proposal. On Wednesday, one person who spoke in favor of removing the monument said he and others who came to speak had considered coming armed.

"It was discussed, but it was only discussed as a reaction to us knowing that they were coming armed," said Matthew Lerma, who also attended the SATX4 rally Saturday. "But we ultimately decided that showing up like two armies opposing each other would just be bad.

"If things like what happened in Charlottesville come to San Antonio, I think it might," Lerma said.

With weeks left until the Council begins the process of deciding the fate of the monument, the presence of weapons on the city's streets may become more commonplace among activist groups from either side of the debate.

"If you want to, come armed," Garcia said. "... Just ... don’t get mad when people counterprotest armed against you.”

29 thoughts on “Guns Add Tension To Confederate Monument Controversy

  1. I oppose removal of the Confederate statues, but the dumbasses with openly carried firearms and Confederate battle flags are hurting, not helping the cause. JP

    • Jerry I agree, but I also think the politicians, especially you, who promote the gun laws in Texas should realize that you lead the pack for the ones that allow this. SO Jerry I consider you to be partly responsible. 🙁

      • I would question how many of these military types,( if they served.)… actually saw combat. and ask to see ID as most would carry ,that also would show if they were honorably discharged…if they had it……seen to many bullshit heros!

        Served with pride DAV

    • A “low” would be to sit on hands and do nothing while watching your city being destroyed by POLITICAL OPPORTUNISTS who pulled none of this chit while
      B.O. in office…This is PROPAGANDA brainwashed leftists eat up

      • Right, like when the South Carolina state legislature voted in 2015 to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds after white supremacist Dylann Roof’s terrorist attack on an African American church. Who was the president then? I can’t remember…

        Anyway, what even is your point? That those of us who oppose romanticizing the Confederacy are only doing it to make things hard for Trump? Baloney.

  2. I don’t understand the law that allows people to openly carry these weapons in public. I truly believe that men who feel the need to show their manhood only by dressing up like little boys and carrying arms have deep psychological wounds. I do not know any mature men who need to get together as a group and carry arms in public.

    • They’re armed because they’re PROTECTING our Constitution constantly and continually under attack by the left, by people like YOU…They’re receiving death threats and you don’t expect them to defend themselves? You’re n LaLa, leftist land

      • In your warped world view, how are the “leftists” attacking the Constitution?

        The monument these groups are protecting is dedicated to soldiers who fought against that very Constitution. The Confederacy were traitors to their country. Period. Honoring that legacy is the definition of anti-American.

        • Confederate veterans were made US veterans by an act of Congress. To tear down these monuments is to tear down monuments of U.S. veterans.

      • They aren’t protecting our constitution with their racist rhetoric and attempts to intimidate. I’m so glad I wasn’t there to see this because I’d have to confront these A-holes and get up in their face about it. They need to just GTF out of here. Nobody wants them and their stupid guns.

  3. I’m disappointed that Council has not steered any of the current conversation towards (re-)removing the two Confederate cannons from Travis Park — which were not in the park from approximately 2011 to 2014 (based on Google streetview imagery and descriptions of the cannons being placed in City storage).

    According to the City’s history of Travis Park, the Confederate cannons were abandoned at the Battle of Valverde (in New Mexico — along the Camino Real as part of the Confederate / Sibley campaign for California) and retrieved by Confederate Major Trevanion T. Teel after the war and donated to the City. The cannons were parked in Travis Park in the late 1800s (close to thirty years after the Civil War ended and apparently considered controversial at the time — the ‘scoff of a later generation’) and have been moved around to various points within the park over the years as mobile weaponry.

    The Confederate cannons do not serve to memorialize the Civil War dead and should not have been reintroduced in Travis Park as part of recent City of San Antonio ‘revitalization’ of the park — work supported, in part, by Southwest Airlines and the St Anthony Hotel (part of Marriott International Inc.).

    The cannons should be returned to the battlefield where they were used and abandoned by the Confederates in their retreat back to San Antonio; Fort Craig, New Mexico (Socorro County) National Park Service would likely be the best recipient. At Fort Craig, the cannons could help to serve as a reminder of how the Confederacy was defeated in New Mexico in 1862, including with the aid of the ‘mostly Hispanic 1st New Mexico Volunteers commanded by Colonel Kit Carson’.

    See:

    Walking Tour of Historic Travis Park (City of San Antonio)
    https://www.sanantonio.gov/portals/0/Files/HistoricPreservation/TravisParkWalkingTour-OHP.pdf

    VALVERDE, BATTLE OF
    https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qev01

    Fort Craig National Historic Site (National Park Service)
    https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/el_camino_real_de_tierra_adentro/Fort_Craig.html

  4. at the park entrance is a sign which clearly states, all dogs on leashes, no alcohol and no firearms. so these men are in violation of the law unless they got a permit. and if the city gave them a permit to carry guns to a protest where tensions can be high, why did the city issue these permits? how much did the city pay for the swat team that was positioned at the st anthony in case anything happened? the police could have kindly told the armed protestors that guns were not allowed into the park and to leave their firearms in the car.

    • It’s a city park and they did get a permit which paid for a certain number of police. The counter protesters did not have a permit and were the ones that cost the city money.

  5. Using the open carry law to intimidate others seems to me to be a perversion of the Second Amendment. So, does the Second Amendment trump the First Amendment? Is it just another way to shout down the opposition?

    My Virginian ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War and in the Civil War, and I think they would be dismayed at the behavior of these “drugstore patriots”.

  6. I understand both sides position on the removal of the statue, honoring the dead versus a reminder of slavery. What if the statue was kept but the marking “Our Confederate Dead” was changed? Those who want it removed focus on the word Confederate. What if that part of the statue was changed to something like “Our Dead from the Civil War”? It still honors the dead and gives the time frame/reason of their death.

    Those who want to take down the statue acknowledge that it’s meaning needs to be recognized and use it in a different location as an educational tool. Another idea is to keep it where it’s at but add other statues around it in the park. Add sculptures of civil rights leaders. How about a sculpture of MLK teaching kids about the civil war while pointing to the Confederate statue? And another sculpture of Ceasar Chavez bringing his family to see the Confederate statute.

    Look at it this way. No one thinks about demolishing or moving Auschwitz due to it’s tragic and horrific claim to fame during World War 2. It’s kept as is reminder of what should never be done again. Is there anyone out there who has a say, a decision maker, who can try to truly find a compromise that still honors the dead but teaches us how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go?

  7. Will SA be the last to have a confederate statue? Think of how dangerous the protest be when the very last monument is taken down! Do it quickly and quietly overnight. Send the armed protesters on to another town…

  8. the media creates all the tension with unneeded articles to dispute American history.
    Statues have nothing to do with all the problems in America. We have a great history story to be told but the public school educators are not teaching any of what we were taught in the 60’s or 70’s on American history.
    the media should be teaching history not throwing it into the slim pit.
    It is the lack of respect of each other, our country and lack of respect for self causing a big part of the ridiculous reactions in America today.

    • Yes, the media are the ones creating a tense atmosphere. Not the guys standing outside city hall armed to the teeth with AK-47s or the white nationalist ramming cars into crowds of people in Charlottesville. Yup, Jeffery Sullivan and Bob Rivard are the main contributors, not Brandon Burkhart and Richard Spencer.

        • I am very glad the meeting went peacefully. I am glad to hear the people carrying multiple weapons on their person espousing support for a public vote on the monument and declaring themselves to be non-racists.

          However, their armed presence outside the council chambers while the person they were protecting was inside threatening to remove Trevino and Shaw (ostensibly by normal political processes) sends a conflicting message. Even if they were only claiming it was for defense/self-defense, a private militia surrounding a government building still has a chilling effect on democracy. It looks like they were trying to intimidate our duly elected leaders into silence on this issue, whether that was their intention or not. That makes me and plenty of others nervous.

  9. The Continental Congress required each of the states to form a militia due to increasing hostility of British troops. A Militiaman fired “the shot heard round the world.” When the British surrendered, Gen. Washington dismissed the army. Congress, meeting in Philadelphia to write the Constitution, were surrounded by hostile nations and Indians on land and sea and guarded by 88 soldiers and the militia. What militia do you suppose they were thinking of?

    Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution states that Congress has the power
    “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, SUPPRESS INSURRECTION, and repel invasions”. Emphasis mine. What honest person with an IQ equal to their body temperature believes that “suppress insurrection” means “promote insurrection?”

    Article II, Section 2, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several states, when called into the actual Service of the United States:” When Gov. Faubus called the Arkansas National to defend Little Rock High School from black children, President Eisenhower called the Arkansas National Guard to “execute the Laws of the Union and they escorted black children into the school
    The New York militia were the first to change their name to the New York National Guard.” Soon, they all did.

    If President Trump or the next President calls the militia “to suppress insurrection,” who do you think will respond? I’m betting on the National Guard.

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