I attended the “Come and Take it San Antonio – A Line in the Sand” gun rally on Saturday out of curiosity.
What I observed will come as a surprise to people who thought this was a legitimate rally in favor of gun ownership and open carry gun laws. In fact, it was a vendetta, an open threat to the City of San Antonio and the formation of a new extremist group.
The events leading up to this rally began five years ago when the Oath Keepers was formed. Its leader, Stewart Rhodes, claimed the group was only interested in defending the Constitution. Members encouraged police officers and soldiers to disobey orders they perceived to be unconstitutional. After two years, however, Oath Keepers was plagued by arrests around the country.
Three years ago in Ohio a local Oath Keeper chapter president, already on probation for carrying concealed weapons, was jailed for storing a live napalm bomb in his house. That same month in Tennessee another Oath Keeper was arrested in a scheme to arrest two dozen local officials. More arrests followed around the county, most notably, Oath Keeper Charles Dyer of Oklahoma. Dyer was arrested for the rape of a seven-year-old child and charged with possession of a grenade launcher stolen from a military base in California. Dyer appeared in several YouTube videos ranting about “The New World Order.”
Fast forward to San Antonio in August of this year. Three men were having coffee outside a local coffee shop in San Antonio with their rifles. Texas law does not prohibit openly carrying rifles and shotguns, provided that they are not carried in a way that causes alarm. In San Antonio, however, a local ordinance prohibits anyone other than a law enforcement official from carrying a loaded rifle or shotgun on any public street in the city.
An alarmed passerby called police, and the three men were cited for disorderly conduct. Actually, they were holding their own mini “open carry” demonstration, and others pro-carry supporters were incensed that the trio’s rights were violated. It’s clear from their videotaped discussion the three men had while sitting in front of the coffee shop, that the intention all along was to provoke a showdown.
After the citations, Open Carry Texas’ leaders set their sights on a confrontation with SAPD as “payback” for the ticketing of the three men at Starbucks for carrying firearms in public.
On Oct. 9 the Oath Keepers issued a call to action: “Join Us for Historic Open Carry March at The Alamo. On Oct. 19, 2013 Modern Texas Patriots will Draw a new line in the sand at the Alamo. Join Us.” The group announced that Jay Stang, president of the Oath Keepers’ Texas chapter, would be speaking along with founder Stewart Rhodes; Mike Vanderboegh, founder of the Three Percenter Movement; and Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, whose campaign for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor was upstaged by the Oath Keepers.
The sponsors of the event posted the following on Facebook:
“Come and Take it San Antonio – A Line in the Sand. Get your Guns and Head to San Antonio. Over the past few months the San Antonio Police have shown their disregard for Texas law and The Constitution. They have harassed people exercising their rights that open carry rifles. We have come a long way in showing the public and police that gun owners are responsible. We refuse to go backwards in this cause. We will all meet in San Antonio to stand up in one of the most important challenges we have had to face. This event will be a strong message to Chief McManus that we have a right to bear arms and it will NOT be infringed. We are drawing a line in the sand on the historic land of the Alamo.”
This caught the attention the state chapter of the grassroots movement, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. In a statement, Jamie Addams stated, “We are sickened that a small but vocal minority of Texans thinks it’s reasonable and appropriate to arm themselves to the teeth and parade around San Antonio, As mothers, we have an obligation to push back on the bullying and intimidation tactics of the aggressive carry movement.”
The group planned its own demonstration on the same day down the street from “Come and Take It San Antonio.”
In days leading up to the event, C.J. Grisham of dontcomply.com, a sponsor of “Come and Take It San Antonio”, appeared on the radio and Internet promoting the event. On Oct. 15, Grisham tweeted:
“SAPD Officers would be well served to ignore these unlawful orders to arrest our members during the Line In The Sand event …I would hate to see innocent officers…start an armed confrontation…we will not back down.”
Grisham also said he expected at least 1,000 people to participate.
I did not see 1,000 people there on Saturday. Local media reports put the crowd count at 450-500. I’ve never seen so many guns, but it was not the weapons that troubled me. It was the people.
The armed crowd included members of the The Texas Nationalist Movement, a secessionist group. Members of the Three Percenter Movement, who claim the group represents three per cent of American gun owners who will stand and fight if government ever tries to seize their firearms. The Three Percenter website states, “During the American Revolution, the active forces never amounted to more than 3% of the colonists. History, for good or ill, is made by determined minorities. We are one such minority.”
A member of the Oath Keepers posed for cameras and an interview. I wondered if he would mention the recent rally in July when members of the John Birch Society participated, or if he was promoting Collodial Silver as a cure-all.
There was a broad spectrum of organized and individual “patriot” movement members and followers, including the Texas State Militia.
Austin’s Alex Jones, the most prolific conspiracy theorist in the country, author, speaker of Infowars, and antagonist of “The New World Order” also showed up to rally the cause.
There were no white robes or Nazi flags. Few blatantly racist signs. No direct evidence of extreme hate or terrorism (besides the guns). The message is communicated in code: Targets incude the “New World Order,” “Agenda 21,” the “Illuminati,” and “The British Banking Elite”, who control the world’s media and money supply, a modern spin on the same “Jewish bankers” who allegedly controlled the world in the first half of the 20th century.
There has been the not-so-subtle mysoginistic rants these supporters post to the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America Facebook Group. Grisham and others had to be blocked, according to the groups founder.
Who are these “New Patriots?”
The Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report is cited as the most reliable and comprehensive source on U.S. hate groups. SPLC states since 2000 the number of hate groups in the US has increased by 67%. Currently there are 1,007 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white supremists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black seperatists, border vigilantes and others.
SPLC identify the nature of the new patriot movement with the article, “Meet the ‘Patriots.’”
It seems without much scratching, the shiny patina of American individualism and patriotism flakes off, and with each layer, it gets darker, more venal, more sinister.
I asked myself as I walked through this crowd of men, women and children: If one fringe extremeist group can influence hundreds of people to pick up and go wherever, what else are they capable of? What happens when people who are filled with undifferentiated fear and hate join with the fear and hate mongers? These people are arming themselves, preparing, planning … is it you they’re arming themselves to battle?
I would have asked Alex Jones, fringe media juggernaut and speaker at Saturday’s rally. He is also the most prolific “predictor of disaster,” but his accuracy is somewhere between Nostradamus and fortune cookie fortunes. Many people call him a joke, but his millions of listeneners, readers and viewers hang on his every word. Laugh at him and his fans believe you’re laughing at them. While none of his more outlandish predictions have come true, there’s one bold exception, that individuals will stand to lead an armed insurrection against the British bankers and New World Order, as in the sad case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon Bomber, an avid fan of Alex Jones’ InfoWars.
I listened to speakers criticizing police for “following orders.” Jones carried his Ak-15 semi-automatic assault rifle slung over his shoulder and yelled so loudly he nearly lost his voice, warning everyone “they” are going to come and take our guns. Jerry Patterson spoke about the history of guns in Texas, the Texas Constitution, and he reminded everyone we were standing on sacred ground. I listened as speakers talk about how “Come And Take it” was a nonprofit and encouraged everyone to join and start chapters in their own towns.
Right before my eyes another “patriot” group was forming.
In spite of his efforts to bridge the gap between municipal and state law, I feel Patterson abused his position as Texas Land Commissioner, which manages the Alamo, by allowing this unprecedented event to be staged at the Alamo.
Patterson denies the rally was intended to further his political agenda as a candidate for higher office, but few believe that given that Patterson was the event’s keynote speaker and often boasts he is the state’s number one authority on the Second Amendment.
There didn’t seem to be as many police officers present as I expected. But after seeing a police officer filming the event from an upper floor window across the street, I suspected there were probably a lot more officers present, they were just where we couldn’t see them.
It proved to be a peaceful event. More than half the participants had left before the ‘March to Travis Park’. Les than 100 people made it from the Alamo Plaza to Travis Park.
He and others in the group had been promoting the event on the radio and Internet over the previous days, predicting a clash with SAPD and the Mom’s group having its own Rally a few blocks away.
SAPD officers announced at 2 p.m. that they would cite those who are armed for violating the city ordinance banning weapons in city parks beginning at 2:30 p.m .The ordinance, one officer explained, was never suspended, they were only waiting for the speakers to finish. There was some pouting, a few shouts, then the show was over.
San Antonio is too laid back and friendly for this type of protest. But another was held in Temple on Sunday and another planned for Thursday in Arlington.
It looked & felt more like a tourist event, an “I’m Cool” for a Day. For many, getting to walk around downtown showing off some very fancy, expensive weapons. For a few, an opportunity to dress up in their favorite battle reenactment uniform. And for one, it was a homemade Super Hero costume. I also saw Darth Vader on Austin Street, but he was unarmed.
But the most damaging action this day was by Patterson. He arguably abused his authority as land commissioner by staging the pro-carry rally on the Alamo grounds and likely opened up the Alamo to any group or person wanting to hold a rally or protest on the grounds.
When asked about breaking the ban, Patterson said, “I’m not sure we have the lawful authority to say no, even if we wanted to.”
Leslie Kelly is a West Texas native who has lived in San Antonio for nearly 35 years and still feels “new.” Over the last three years she has taken up photography and been studying the history of San Antonio and its most historic sites.