By Dmitri Sans
Despite a cacophony made by counter-protesters, the “March Against Far Left Violence” successfully took the south steps of the Texas State Capitol last Saturday and speakers delivered national chauvinist and anti-left messages to Austin’s downtown.
Austin antifascists have intercepted previous reactionary marches, like the “Anti-Sanctuary City” march last December or the June 2017 “March Against Sharia,” and prevented them from having a platform to propagate their anti-people views. In advance of this past weekend’s event, however, the local communist collective Red Guards Austin announced that it would not be endorsing the counter-protest and discouraged its supporters from participating.
In a July 30 blog post, the collective accuses the organizers of the counter-protest to be “a loose outfit of life-style anarchists and liberals” as well as non-violent pacifists who pose “a serious security risk to any antifascist who wishes to attend.” The post goes on to detail the anti-communist history of the organizers, who have engaged in red-baiting and affiliated with informants.
“Due to the fact that the opportunist organizers behind the counter demonstration are actively insinuating that we will be there in secret offering protection, when this is completely false, they have forced our hand in addressing the general public, sympathizers and supporters,” the post reads. “Neither Antifascist Austin, nor Red Guards Austin, or any revolutionary mass organization has been contacted by the organizers who have been engaged in reckless and irresponsible gossip for some time. It is with a heavy heart that we issue this statement.”
Preparations for the counter-protest of the “March Against Far Left Violence” did set a different tone than previous antifascist organizing. In the Facebook page for the “March Against Sharia” counter protest last year, organizers stated that the reactionary march could not “be allowed to hold any platform and must be drowned out,” ending with the call to “come angry, wear a mask!”
In contrast, the Facebook page for this past weekend’s counter-protest set the objective of drowning out the reactionaries not with force, but with noise. Rather than physically stopping bigots from having a platform, the organizers of this counter protest proposed the lower bar of making the city “an uncomfortable venue for their types.” The event description ended with a call to be “loud and proud, Austin!”
The divergence from precedent was immediately apparent as people began to congregate at the Capitol last Saturday afternoon. The few dozen masked counter demonstrators that met the well-armed reactionary guard of about equal numbers at the south entrance came empty-handed, without the street-fighting equipment seen at previous counter-protests.
The couple of rifles carried by the counter protesters were outmatched by the arsenal on the other side. A yelling match quickly ensued between the two groups, and it didn’t take long for the police to line up to separate them.
The counter demonstrators moved into position in a rank and file formation, but that structure fell apart as soon as the march of chauvinist bigots arrived via police escort. At that point, many of the masked counter protesters departed to join the main liberal noise-making group at the steps of the Capitol.
Their numbers split, the masked counter demonstrators remaining out front were exposed, and several of the armed reactionaries took the opportunity to infiltrate their bloc. The mixture of right and left had already been taking place on the Capitol grounds, with reactionary marchers walking freely among the counter-protesters with little resistance.
In response to their line being broken, some of the counter protestors removed their masks and proceeded to debate the invaders about their politics. The only time force was used was when the armed reactionaries started to leave, and one masked counter protester continually stepped in the path of one of the reactionaries, blocking his way. No one backed them up, however, so the reactionary was able to push his way past.
Onlookers from across the street, where the amplified speeches of the reactionaries could be heard over the noise of the counter-protest, were alarmed by the masked protesters and the heavy police presence. “It seems like a dangerous situation,” one woman told Incendiary News.
Another bystander was less concerned. “None of them really have the guts to throw a punch,” a man said, adding that leftist protests in South America were more courageous.
Although organizers on both sides seemed averse to direct confrontation, some of the masses in attendance showed signs of rebellion against the enemies of the people. One young woman berated a group of bigots on the grounds who others had ignored, rallying others to surround them.
“You want to see me taken away? How would you like to see your family taken away?” she yelled. “You fucking asshole! You fucking piece of shit! How fucking dare you!”
One of the unmasked counter protesters openly threatened the reactionaries as others argued with them. “I fucking despise racists,” he said to them. “I’ve been beating Nazi ass for twenty-five years.”
In the context of loose organization and soft leadership, these moments of righteous rage could only amount to flashes in the pan, and the March Against Far Left Violence finished as smoothly as it had started. As the marchers exited the grounds through the police corridor, the antifascists chanted, “What happened to your march?”
The chant had been used at previous counter-protests, when antifascists had effectively thwarted the plans of reactionary organizers, but following this realized march the words did not pack the same punch.
Some counter demonstrators did follow some of the march-goers as they were leaving, and one took the initiative to cut off one of the reactionaries at a crosswalk on Congress Avenue. A scuffle ensued, leading to the arrest of at least two masked counter demonstrators.
Shortly after, a stranded reactionary was confronted by the rest of the group, and as they closed around them he pulled his shotgun from off his shoulder. When a police officer approached him, he quickly swung the weapon back over his shoulder and crossed the street.
By alienating communist leadership, the organizers of this past weekend’s counter-protest effectively deviated from the string of militant anti-fascist counter-protests of the past couple years. Looking towards the future, local antifascists will have to decide whether they are satisfied with making reactionaries feel uncomfortable, or whether they want to make them feel afraid to take the streets at all.