On Monday in Austin, Texas, a coalition of heavily armed Nazis shut down a May Day march.
The international workers holiday brought a variety of activist events to the Texas capital, from workers’ protests organized by Fight For 15 to a sit-in at the Governor’s Office in opposition to SB4, the brutal and inhumane anti-Sanctuary Cities bill.
In the early evening, a Communist organization in Austin called for a radical (“Red Bloc”) march. While these kind of events are a fixture of May Day in cities like Portland and Seattle, they’ve only begun to appear in Austin in the last couple of years, and with far fewer numbers attending.
At 6pm, the designated start time, a couple dozen radicals dressed in black began to trickle into the meeting place, a downtown intersection near Republic Park. However, the fascists were already in the area and on the march, even as our people began to gather.
Although Republic Park is a historic meeting place in the city, it’s currently shut down for construction and surrounded by high fencing. In fact, the entire area around 4th and Guadalupe is full of construction, creating a boxed in atmosphere that the fascists used to their full advantage. Additionally a security camera operated by the local transit service, along with what was most likely an undercover cop disguised as a homeless man, were present at the site, further placing activists at risk.
The bloc marchers were completely caught off guard. Although there were a handful of open-carry radicals in red bandannas, they were largely unable to counter the threat of violence posed by the enemy.
To make matters worse, a self-identified journalist appeared in the moments before fascists arrived and began asking confrontational and leading questions that attempted to tie Austin left-wing activism to the stabbing incident on the UT Austin campus earlier that day, despite a total lack of evidence.
His trolling effectively distracted the bloc, delaying the group mobilizing onto the streets and distracting us from the impending threat. Soon, the fascists arrived back, after spliting up so they could surround the group from two directions.
Of course, the nazis arrived with police escort in tow. Apart from one incident where cops arrested an open-carry right-winger, Kristian Torres, for aiming his assault rifle at an activist, the pigs allowed the fascists to attack, surround, and threaten with near impunity, while retaliating against antifascists any time they tried to push back. Initially, it appeared to me that the radicals were outnumbered, but the fascist numbers thinned over the evening. Despite this, the cops continued to prevent an effective response to the nazis.
I was assaulted at the March 4 Trump rally, and still face a misdemeanor charge as a result of the cops reaction to the attack, so I don’t mind admitting that I beat a hasty retreat from the fash. Instead, I made my way to the Capitol, where the sit-in was still in progress, hoping to bring some comrades and reinforcements back.
Some fascists were also at the Governor’s Office, but with far smaller numbers than downtown, they were unable to pose a major threat to the sit-in. A few of us did exchange some tense words with them and, after they threatened an activist for filming them, it was clear they were more than willing to escalate to violence there as well if they were unchecked and thought they had an opportunity.
When I returned downtown with a few comrades, the antifa march was still trapped, almost exactly where I’d left it. Every attempt to march was met with stiff resistance from the fascists, and the whole crowd was dogged by the police, who also had a “paddy wagon” in tow in case they wanted to conduct a mass arrest.
Infowars — Alex Jones garbage news outlet — which had been turned away at the Governor’s Office, soon arrived downtown, and local right-wing radio loudmouth and gun activist Michael Cargill also arrived around that time. They were eager to show their love for violent repressive thugs, and both got some solid footage of me telling them to go fuck themselves (I hear that Infowars actually used it in a video, but I’ll let you go looking).
The antia were barely able to travel a single city block in over an hour. It was clear the event was a failure, to the point that it was difficult to even safely disperse from the rally. Later that night, racist graffiti and posters appeared on the UT Austin campus, and I’ve received an unconfirmed report that an Indian man was savagely beaten by white assailants that night on the south side of town. Frankly, we’re lucky that the violence wasn’t far worse — I couldn’t help but think back on the Greensboro Massacre when faced with dozens of white supremacists with guns.
Before I dig into what we can (and must) learn from Monday’s events, I want to share a video recorded by a member of the Oh Shit! What Now? collective, in which these fascists openly and proudly share their bigotry and hate. Many people still think I’m using hyperbole when I say fascism is rising the United States, and to me this video provides tangible evidence that this a very real problem.
Monday’s events shook the Austin activist community — and rattled activists throughout the state. We’re faced with the possibility of fascist interference at almost any event and must prepare accordingly. It’s worth noting that what happened here is starkly contrasted by events in other cities like New York, where fascists attempting to disrupt May Day were handily defeated.
Antifa & anarchists successfully protected the immigrant/worker rally in NYC from alt-right & other fashy trolls. Happy May Day everyone! pic.twitter.com/ZtRrcw4pR6
— New York City Antifa (@NYCAntifa) May 2, 2017
One key difference is that in these cities, there are not just more antifascists but they are better connected to other activists and the community as a whole. When antifa in Philadelphia shut down a fascist “MAGAMarch,” they were aided by hundreds of local youth on bicycles in a perfect example of this kind of connection in action.
I’ve spent the last 5 days talking to other local activists, and trying to figure what we can do in the future to keep the fash from dominating Central Texas activism. Here’s a few unsorted notes:
- Texas fash are becoming increasingly organized, and readily travel between cities to back each other up. The fascist coalition that shut down Monday’s May Day march represented an alliance between Open Carry Texas, White Lives Matter, and a pack of 4chan-associated trolls including William Fears, a nazi known for threatening Houston airport activists at knife point.
- This alliance is disturbing, pointing to a far-right, counter-revolutionary front in the state that is increasing in numbers, well-connected, and growing increasingly active.
- At the same time, it’s possible that this coalition is fragile, and that some may break away (or even, theoretically, become temporary allies) if we can force them to confront the fact that their allies are literal fascists, with all that represents. This is hard work, as these people have layers of self-defensiveness and justifications aplenty to protect themselves from this kind of self-analysis, but it can be done — and has been done in other places and times, as noted in “Confronting Fascism.”
- On the left, we need to step up our intelligence gathering. The fash were openly sharing their counter-protest on Facebook, but we only became aware of the Facebook event after it was too late.
- Efforts to identify the fash present on Monday have already paid off. Antifascists posted the home addresses and phone numbers of three nazis — William Fears, Ken Reed, and Connor Perrin — earlier this week, and more are expected to follow.
- We need more community outreach to build support for anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, and radical movements in Austin. This means not just marches and confrontations with the fash, but social events like house concerts, picnics, and roundtable discussions that reach new people, not just the usual long-term activists.
- If we do try another similar march in Austin, it needs a safer start location, a more concrete plan, and it must gather and hit the streets as rapidly as possible.
- Not everyone is ready or able to take extreme actions, whether it’s smashing a bank window or punching a nazi in the face. Remember, diversity of tactics means that moderate liberals and leftists should respect more radical tactics than their own, but it also means that radicals need to be willing to respect and work with people who are taking concrete but less extreme steps to fight oppression (like sit-ins and confrontational town hall meetings).
In closing, Left/Radical Austin must see this as a wake up call to forge closer connections between organizations and become better trained and more organized. Some of that is happening already — my phone has been buzzing all week with activists sharing notes, ideas, and plans for the future. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the opposite, with a handful of Austin radicals using Monday’s events as an opportunity to attack other organizations and activists that could be allies in this fight.
I recognize there’s a careful balance between coalition building and giving up your autonomy. There’s certainly organizations and activists with whom I just can’t collaborate. And yet, I believe our survival depends on bringing everyone to the table we can: anyone willing to fight fascism, the police state, capitalism and patriarchy, and even those who are not quite there yet but need a little push from their radical friends.
Only strong communities of loving, engaged and enraged activists can stand against these odds.
UPDATE: Some details were updated and corrected with the input of march organizers. I appreciate their suggestions.
Unpacking The Fascist Rampage On May Day In Austin by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://kitoconnell.com/2017/05/06/mayday-fascist-rampage-in-austin/ .