Church hymns and angry shouts intermingled in front of the Texas Capitol on Saturday afternoon, as the unveiling of the Texas African American History Memorial statue was celebrated at the same time as a White Lives Matter rally was held 200 feet away.
While people attending the monument unveiling listened to a choir sing, more than 200 counter-protesters surrounded the White Lives Matter rally for several hours. Police in riot gear and riding horses intervened on several occasions. Some UT students joined the counter-protesters.
“I originally came out here to show support for the African-American historical monument,” government junior Ian Slingsby said. “I came over [to the protest] because I support the counter-protest, but I also believe it needs to be done in a peaceful manner — the whole ‘love trumps hate’ message rather than this. I’m just here trying to counterbalance the hate.”
Despite the proximity to the unveiling monument, White Lives Matter rally attendee Scott Lacy said it was a coincidence the two events took place on the same day.
“We’re out here to protest against the unequal application of the hate crime laws, nothing else, plain and simple,” Lacy said. “We found out about it after we had already planned this. When we got here today, we posted up right here, and we were peaceful and quiet respecting their unveiling. These people are the ones that came out here and interrupted it.”
Austin Police Department chief Art Acevedo was in attendance at the monument unveiling but also spoke about the need for all parties to remain peaceful across the Capitol grounds.
“The reason I’m here is, number one, I want to celebrate a great, rich part of our history,” Acevedo said. “And number two, I want to make sure people understand there’s the First Amendment and there’s criminal behavior, and we’re not going to tolerate [the latter].”
Members of the Revolutionary Student Front were in the crowd of the counter-protest, wearing masks. The UT student group is a self-described pro-communism, anti-fascist organization that is a part of a larger network of similar groups in Austin.
At least three counter-protesters wearing masks were carrying guns, but didn't identify themselves as a part of any group. Several White Lives Matter rally members were carrying guns as well.
Computer science freshman Simrat Chandi was in the crowd when police arrested several counter-protesters while breaking up the crowd.
“Honestly, I’m just speechless right now,” Chandi said. “I think they’re being really hypocritical. [The masked protesters] are doing the same thing that the White Lives Matter people are doing. They’re just preaching hate.”
Political communications freshman Morgan Johnson attended the counter-protest wearing an Israeli flag as a cape and said she wanted to drive the same hate out of Austin that forced her Jewish great-grandparents to immigrate to America.
“I’m entirely pissed off that neo-Nazis would be protesting in America,” Johnson said. “We literally immigrated from all the hate during World War II to get here, and that people are still here protesting that is a dishonor to me and my family.”