‘Not about the election at all’
A crowd of about 100 people, many of them armed and focused on gun rights, gathered peacefully outside the Texas Capitol gates for a few hours Sunday in a scene that is fairly common in downtown Austin at the beginning of a legislative session and unlike authorities’ worst-case scenario fears that protests could turn violent during the weekend.
But those concerns did not come to pass, as a heightened law enforcement presence was visible on the Capitol grounds and protesters spoke of being contacted by the FBI beforehand.
As of press time Sunday, Austin’s small rally mirrored other protests across the country that day. Protesters across the U.S. gathered around heavily fortified statehouses as law enforcement kept watch to prevent a repeat of the violence that erupted at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. There were no immediate reports of any clashes.
“We condemn the actions of those who breached the (U.S.) Capitol,” said Kris Hunter, an armed protester from Waco who said he joined others outside the Texas Capitol on Sunday to support Constitutional rights, including gun rights. Hunter said he didn’t want to be associated with those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“If Jan. 6 hadn’t happened, I think we’d see a much bigger crowd out here, but there was a lot of fear going around,” Hunter said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety abruptly announced the closure of the state Capitol on Friday evening after obtaining new information that “violent extremists” might seek to exploit the armed protests during the weekend. The Capitol will be closed to the public through Wednesday.
Jeinay LeBlanc, another armed protester who traveled from Bay City to participate in Sunday’s protest, said the rally had been planned for months.
“This is not about the election at all,” said LeBlanc, who said she’s with the Hibiscus Society, a pro-gun rights group. Its website says the group broke away from the so-called Boogaloo Movement, which the Anti-Defamation League describes as an anti-government extremist movement that advocates for a second civil war.
Before the rally Sunday, LeBlanc said FBI officials spoke with several people with her group.
“They cleared us,” she said.
LeBlanc said she was concerned that their rally would be co-opted by people who supported those who stormed the Capitol. However, very little of the rhetoric of the rally was about President Donald Trump and, in fact, some of those in the crowd criticized him.
Steven Accrocco, 22, said he came from Houston to protest what he called Communism in America. He wore a “Make America Great” beanie, but said he supports neither Trump nor President-elect Joe Biden.
“The only way to protest is to pick a side,” Accrocco said.
Daniel Hunter, of Waco, said he was there to support Texas laws that would expand gun rights.
“We’re here to be peaceful, we’re here to support the Second Amendment,” said Hunter, who said he wasn’t with a specific group.
He added: “If people want to be violent, if they want to storm the Capitol, then we’re not with them.”