Why Is a Texas Man Who Wants to Keep Confederate Monuments Being Protected by a Militia?

A militia member in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

A heavily armed Texas militia dressed in fatigues showed up at a city council meeting in San Antonio on Wednesday to guard a member of the This Is Texas Freedom Force.

Their presence is part of an increasing trend of pro-Trump politicians and other public figures using hard-right militias as private armed guards.

At the council meeting, Brandon Burkhart, vice president of the This Is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF), spoke in favor of blocking the relocation of a Confederate Army monument that stands in Travis Park, in the city's center.

On Wednesday, Burkhart was escorted through San Antonio's streets to the city council chambers by men and women wearing tactical vests and carrying military-style assault weapons. Their ranks were reportedly drawn from the Alamo Militia and members of the nationwide Three Percent militia movement.

"Do you guys see the problems that you're causing? … Do you know the death threats that I've received?" Burkhart told councilmen Roberto Treviño and William Shaw during the meeting, according to the online San Antonio news outlet Rivard Report.

At the beginning of August, Shaw and Treviño filed a motion to move the monument, dedicated to "Our Confederate Dead" and flanked by canons, to a new location. It has stood in Travis Park since 1900 and commemorates the Civil War Confederate Army that fought to preserve slavery in the Southern states and protect the economic rights of slave owners to hold African-Americans as their property.

Read more: Right-wingers vow more rallies after Charlottesville

"A lot of Texans are watching," Burkhart told the councilmen. "We are prepared to move forward with a recall for you, Treviño, you, Shaw…if need be, because we are not going to stand by and let you remove a monument that represents veterans, not race.

"They're trying to silence me, which is not going to work," Burkhart continued, claiming people have threatened to shoot him and other TITFF members. "We will come armed every time, and we will come [with] even bigger armaments if we have to. If we have to bring a bigger security team with us, we will."

The city council is set to decide whether to debate the monument's removal in the next three weeks.

A member of the Three Percent militia told the Rivard Report that when TITFF announced it would be speaking at the city hall meeting, "they received what they felt to be credible death threats."

The militia member, who identified himself only as "Tunnel," said it's necessary for them to carry weapons because of left-wing violence. "In the event something were to happen like it did in Berkeley, or Portland, or Charlottesville, there needs to be somebody to protect the innocents," he said. "What we found is the narrative from the left is, anybody who doesn't agree with them is a Nazi."

Texas law allows people to openly carry rifles without a license, and recently reduced the price of license fees for handguns by two-thirds. The presence of armed militiamen disturbed Shaw. "When you bring guns to an event, that doesn't express peace. That's violence, and San Antonio is better than that," he said.

During a white supremacist neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville on Saturday, August 15, Burkhart and the TITFF, along with militia members carrying weapons, gathered in Travis Park in San Antonio to protest the removal of their monument.

The Charlottesville rally, organized around proposals to remove a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee, has been widely condemned by Republicans and Democrats, civil rights groups and America's corporate leaders. One counterprotester was killed and at least 19 were injured after a car that police said was driven by a member of a hard-right group rammed into a crowd of pedestrians. Militia members also patrolled the streets of Charlottesville during the rally.

To be clear, these are NOT national guard but racist private militias posing as state actors to protect nazis and provoke. pic.twitter.com/PuoHNmXRpg

— Tom Perriello (@tomperriello) August 12, 2017

Confederate monuments and statues around the country are being targeted for removal in a nationwide push by civil rights groups and local officials to sanction symbols that lionize the values of the Confederate Army. Baltimore removed one overnight to avoid protests.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump tweeted that it is "sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments." During a press conference after the violence in Charlottesville, Trump condemned "hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides." At a press conference Tuesday, he said there was violence on "both sides," from the neo-Nazi marchers and from those who opposed them.

The hard-right militia protecting Burkhart this week is part of an increasing trend of pro-Trump politicians enlisting these groups, as detailed in a report by The Trace, an investigative journalism nonprofit tracking gun violence.

In June, the Republican Party of Multnomah County, Oregon, passed a resolution that it would hire the Three Percenter militia and a similar group called the Oath Keepers to provide security at their events.

In July, Texas Governor Greg Abbott surprised a group protesting his immigration policies when he showed up at an event with armed members of the Texas State Militia. The private group says it is "concerned about where this great country is headed and what their government is doing to destroy it."

Angela Roman, an aide to Republican State Representative Mike Nearman, spent four days in jail in late July, after it was discovered that she gave a gun to a Matthew Heagy, a member of the Three Percent militia, despite the fact that he was banned from possessing firearms due to his past felonies.

"I took a risk on hiring this young lady," Nearman said in a statement after Roman's arrest, "and I'm pleased to announce that my bet paid off."