About a dozen people who attended Thursday’s City Council meeting came to protest a range of Council actions and recent comments made by Mayor Ron Nirenberg. At least two of them, one a host for Austin-based conspiracy site InfoWars, were ejected for disrupting the meeting.
The various protesters spoke out against the Council’s denouncement of hate speech, the plan to move the Alamo Cenotaph, the City’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and a host of other issues.
“This City Council is a joke … they’re up here playing kindergarten cop,” said InfoWars host Owen Shroyer, who asked the chamber to “boo the mayor” before he was escorted out of the building.
Security also removed another man, who chimed in with loud boos from the back of the room.
Shroyer had signed up to speak during the meeting, but he started talking when it was another person’s turn to speak. Nirenberg warned him to wait until it was his turn, but Shroyer continued to yell out into the chamber without a microphone.
Along with the InfoWars representative, members of This is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF) and other people spoke out against a unanimously approved Council resolution that affirmed the City’s commitment to the safety and well-being of all community members and combating hate speech.
“COVID-19 is a public health issue, not a racial, religious or ethnic one, and the deliberate use of terms such as ‘Chinese virus’ or ‘Kung Fu virus’ to describe COVID-19 only encourages hate crimes and incidents against Asians and further spreads misinformation at a time when communities should be working together to get through this crisis,” a portion of the resolution read. “… All persons are encouraged to report any such antisemitic, discriminatory or racist incidents to the proper authorities for investigation.”
Locally and across the U.S. there have been incidents of anti-Asian bigotry and misinformation, and the resolution was more of a symbolic act of solidarity with other communities who have denounced hate speech, Nirenberg said last week. The resolution created no new laws or enforcement mechanisms, but still some in the crowd Thursday said it violated their constitutional rights.
“Even hate speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution,” said Brandon Burkart, president of TITFF. “Why are you wasting our time putting forth agendas like that?”
Burkhart accused Nirenberg of insinuating during a press briefing last month that his group and others who oppose moving the Cenotaph are members of the Ku Klux Klan.
“Those guys just want a confrontation and we’re not going to give it to them,” Nirenberg had said of an April 25 rally TITFF planned at the Cenotaph. “From most of what I’ve seen, those guys are pretty used to wearing face coverings and masks. They would be picking a hell of a time to take them off.”
Burkhart and others took that to mean he was implying they wore hoods like members of the KKK. Nirenberg confirmed Thursday he was speaking generally to the practice of some protesters who wore masks before the pandemic.
That is not TITFF’s protocol, said Ramon Garza, who noted that social distancing was encouraged at the rally and hand sanitizer was provided. “[We have] nothing to hide.”
Shroyer, who also made headlines for getting kicked out of President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings and other official meetings, was physically removed from the chambers by two security guards.
“The coronavirus is as deadly as the flu,” he said before shouting and booing from the crowd made his words inaudible.
Although more research is ongoing, COVID-19’s estimated mortality ratio is 3 percent to 4 percent compared with the flu’s 0.1 percent, according to the World Health Organization. Health experts agree it is more deadly and more contagious than the flu.
More than 85,000 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus and more than 1.4 million have been diagnosed. Worldwide, an estimated 300,000 have died.
Neither Burkhart nor Shroyer wore masks during the meeting. While waiting in line to enter Council chambers Thursday morning, Shroyer announced to the crowd that wearing a mask inside was not required. A San Antonio police officer confirmed that masks are not required at these weekly meetings.
Ejections from public meetings in San Antonio are rare but not unheard of. Protesters were removed for hanging banners advocating for paid sick leave last year, and Burkhart was removed from an Alamo Plaza redevelopment planning committee meeting in 2018.