White Nationalists Terrorize Houston Book Fair in Largest Show of Force Since Charlottesville

  • Posted on: 8 October 2017
  • By: thecollective

From Alternet by Alexander Reid Ross (September 28, 2017)

Witnesses recall smoke bombs, Nazi salutes and chants of "blood and soil."

Together, they raised their arms in a salute of "Sieg hiel." On Sunday, September 24, about 25 men in masks and balaclavas descended on an anarchist book fair in Houston. The group call itself Patriot Front and is loosely affiliated with Vanguard Front, a fascist organization that includes Heather Heyer's murderer, James Alex Fields, as one of its members. They rushed the door of a multicultural community center, igniting a pair of smoke bombs. Witnesses say the assault was led by construction worker and area neo-Nazi, William Fears.

Fears, 30, has made a name for himself in recent weeks. After returning from the Charlottesville demonstration, he began camping out at the Robert E. Lee statue in Dallas before its eventual removal. Activists allege Fears also pulled a knife on unarmed protesters with the local migrant justice group, Indivisible Houston, at a rally at George Bush Intercontinental Airport earlier this year.

“[The Patriot Front] were being really irresponsible,” a member of the San Antonio chapter of the Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation who witnessed the altercation told AlterNet. “There were children inside of that building, and they were outside with smoke bombs.”

Volunteer security saw the fascist group approaching and rushed to lock down the building's entrances, while organizers looked after the book fair's attendees.

“They were personally calling me out, which was pretty unpleasant. I don’t like my name on Nazis’ lips,” Austin-based organizer Kit O’Connell told AlterNet. After helping to shut down an ACT for America “March Against Sharia” rally in Austin on June 10, O’Connell has been targeted on social media by fascists calling him an “antifascist terrorist."

“My educational collective, Oh Shit, What Now?, make ourselves available to almost anyone because we want it to be easy to get involved with activism,” O’Connell said. “We teach public classes. We don’t hide who we are in general, so I recognize that this is a risk, but it’s still unpleasant.”

Robert Warren Ray, who blogs for the neo-Nazi website, the Daily Stormer, helped lead the fascist chants. A micro-celebrity in Texas’ white supremacist movement whose lengthy rap sheet dates back to 1993, Ray has led other Vanguard America rallies in Texas that resulted in harassment of leftists. He was featured in the Vice documentary Charlottesville: Race and Terror, boasting that "the so-called alt-right greatly outnumber the anti-white, anti-American filth."

After shouting “blood and soil” and other vulgar slogans for 15 minutes, the fascists stole a handmade sign from the fair and fled the scene. They later posted photos of themselves defiantly clutching the cloth banner on social media.

Police, who organizers claimed had appeared earlier in the day to intimidate the book fair's participants, did not intervene.

"We were prepared for this as organizers, not because of an explicit threat, but because we were real about what it's like organizing in the South and how dangerous it is for queer people, black people, Latinos, Asian people, and anarchists. We are aware of these people wanting to kill us just for existing," Marina G, one of the organizers of the book fair, told AlterNet.

Houston anarchists are no strangers to far-right attacks. In 2007, a local radical anarchist bookstore was set ablaze, though police declined to investigate.

"We organized the anarchist book fair so we could make radical leftist ideas available in the South as an alternative to the violent ideology of capitalism that sends people to the right, and we were successful in attracting a lot of people to our cause," Marina G said. "We need each other now more than ever. They were trying to intimidate us, and they failed. They were trying to make themselves look big so that they can attract more followers."

The Alt-Right Goes Underground

This latest incident in Houston is part of a larger pattern of fascist activity across the country. In June, members of the far-right fighting league, the Proud Boys, disrupted a production of "Julius Caesar" in New York City's Central Park. One month later, the group crashed an indigenous demonstration in Nova Scotia, protested a San Diego impeachment rally and launched a show of force with other far-right groups outside of a Muslim community in upstate New York.

That same month, the Red Elephants, an alt-right media group, disrupted an anti-racist workshop in Santa Monica, while agitators attempted to derail an anti-fascist book talk in Washington, D.C. July also saw a large-scale social media campaign force author and Princeton University professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor to cancel her speaking tour.

Since Charlottesville, these groups have scaled back their operations considerably. Sixty-seven "America First" rallies across the country were called off by anti-immigrant group ACT for America, as was a public book burning in Orange County. Meanwhile the alt -right's flagship website has encouraged its adherents to go underground.

“The call for leaderless resistance from any sector of the right could encourage someone to commit racial or religious violence, with Muslims being a key target,” Chip Berlet, an expert on far-right movements, told AlterNet. "But predicting who, where and when isn't possible.”

Vanguard America’s official Twitter account halted its activity on September 12, and Patriot Front began tweeting two days later. Its posts include photos of offensive banner drops and other hate campaigns on college campuses across Texas. Some Vanguard America organizations have stuck with the moniker, while others have mobilized under the name National Bloc. Vanguard America itself is a splinter cell of American Vanguard, a former fascist group undone by charges of pedophilia among its leadership. Often this factionalism is born of public disgrace, leaving white nationalists humiliated and seeking violent retribution against their perceived enemies.

'You Can't Reason With Them'

According to one member, Black Rose/Rosa Negra has received threats in San Antonio for its successful efforts to remove a Robert E. Lee statue: “They are scared of change. Because anarchism is radical, they oppose it. Trump also gives a platform to their views, so they feel more comfortable out in the open, rather than behind closed doors.”

“You can’t reason with them, can’t come to an agreement,” they continued.

Many feared the Houston Anarchist Book Fair might not be held at all this year. Organizers were preoccupied with coordinating and developing mutual aid networks to help survivors of Hurricane Harvey and raise awareness about imperiled prisoners in Beaumont, among other issues. Ultimately they decided the show must go on, hosting authors and publishers from around the country, along with an estimated 300 attendees.

“The hurricane sort of helped and hurt our efforts in two ways. It threw off our promotion efforts. We just didn’t have the hours to put out promotion material because we were dealing with the hurricane,” one organizer told AlterNet. “On the other hand, I think we got more people to come from San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans, who were already there for the relief efforts.”

“It’s important because issues of solidarity, mutual aid and anarchism are on people’s minds,” the organizer continued. “They’re the things people had been talking about after the hurricane, because that’s how so much of the organization of relief efforts had been happening. Giving an overtly political space for people to have those discussions was really special.”

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Comments

"Terrorize"

wasn't it just beefy nerds in their early to mid 20s holding a banner and chanting?

My understanding was they tried to rush in to the venue and security got the doors locked just in time. After which, the fuckers had to settle for chanting out front and posing for photos.

Reid Ross is obviously behind on the news - I'd heard it was 25 post-post-leftists storming the bookfair, chanting "Black and Wilson" and throwing copies of The Unique published by UA.

yes, it was a good thing that the security folks were able to keep these asshats from invading the venue and so had to be satisfied with stomping around outside until they got bored and left. yes, it was a good thing that anarchist commerce went along smoothly so that the youngsters could get this year's t-shirts and patches ("oh, there were BOOKS with IDEAS in them? whatever..."). yes, it was a good thing that nobody on "our" side got hurt. but really, this report (like the others that immediately followed the event) is a sad continuation of alarmist antifascism. i say "alarmist" because ARR, like other professional antifas, exaggerates the danger posed by fascists and their enablers in the mainstream, and those anarchists (those who question the strategy of working with marxists and those who question the automatic requirement of being antifa) whose politics ARR doesn't like.

I find your position strange. What exactly is your threshold for acknowledging a serious threat and why should it be the gold standard for everyone else?

As opposed to people directly experiencing these threats or pundits like Mark Bray or ARR who are attempting to counter the misinformation in the mainstream discourse around Antifa.

I work as a security professional and if I was posted at the door for this scenario, I would take it seriously, even though it's only threat posturing.

as is the case with many discussions centered on anti-politics, my assumptions have a lot to do with scale and the differences between big ideas and the smaller face -to-face interactions. antifascists like ARR and Bray constantly take the macro view, positing an existential crisis for what they call "the radical left" if its partisans ignore the looming threat of fascism, cryptofascism, and anarchists (and other "radical leftists"?) who don't subscribe to their alarmist pronouncements. the threat those guys and their fans are worried about are large, connected to social institutions and the mainstream -- hence their focus on "attempting to counter the misinformation" about antifa. my worries have to do with the more personal level of threats, like the ones implicit in the attempt of those asshats to invade the Houston Anarchist Book Fair. my antifascism is gut-based; i know quite well the threat those asshats pose to me and my friends, and it is on that level where i choose to respond (or not). that level of threat is real, and the threshold is mine; the threat ARR and Bray perceive is wider -- and that's where they lose me. essentially what they (and other professional antifascists) are calling for is a broad Popular Front-type organizational coalition to combat all levels of fascism, regardless of the actual or perceived threats among specific individuals who may or may not be specifically targeted by the fash. their calls are for "the radical left" to set aside doctrinal -- and even strategic -- differences in the face of some "greater threat." that's alarmist bullshit, and brief surveys of radical history will show the self-defeating aspects of this kind of agree-to-disagree politeness. i'll never work with leftists, "radical" or not; they are not my allies in the long-term, so why would i expect them to decide to be allies in the short-term?
tl;dr version: alarmism requires that people dispense with their principles, leading to suicidal coalitions with anti-anarchists. no thanks.

Same anon you replied to, I obviously don't care what you do and wouldn't presume to try and tell you what to do BUT my 2 cents is that if you can't see the strategic value in what Bray is doing (less so ARR because he's not nearly as good of a thinker/analyst/writer), that might be a failure of understanding on your part.

Although I personally share your emphasis on immediate personal threats and that's my skill-set, I don't consider it an either/or. The corporate media and liberal schills like Chris Hedges are trying to make our efforts in the streets more dangerous so I'm grateful to the folks working at the "macro" level.

if the only strategic value in what Bray were doing is countering mainstream information, that'd be fine; mainstream loathing of any kind of radical direct action is a no-brainer and there needs to be someone out there who can stand toe to toe with scumbags like Hedges and all those DSA clowns. but there's more to Bray's and ARR's project than that. if you can't see the strategic suicide in that, it may be a failure of understanding on your part. they are quite explicitly trying to engage "organizers" (Bray uses the term quite unselfconsciously, as if there hasn't been decades of discussion about anarchists and the organizational question) -- that is, people who organize others, or who have a specific kind of organization on the agenda. you know, specialists in other people's struggles...
that's where my hackles go up. that's why i don't call myself "antifascist" the same way i don't call myself "anti-imperialist": each term comes with a lot of historical baggage from leftist organizations, and they are not just analytical positions. when people call themselves antifascists, or anti-imperialists, or antiracists, they are also telling you the *right way* to organize to combat those things they're against. that's called ideology.
but you're right that it's not an either/or situation. i just don't have much patience for self-described anarchists who promote coalitions with tankies and other marxists (and don't get me started on the ones who promote electoralism or other aspects of liberalism)

Oh ffs, I've encountered this position enough times from anarchists and to me, it only betrays an insecurity embedded in your analysis.

You speak as if you can't even stand near a Maoist or whoever, an "organizer" or whatever, without them somehow manipulating you or you being guilty by association for supporting their reformism.

It's utter bullshit. I stand near all sorts of stupid liberals all the time and I command their respect like I do from anyone. If they demonstrate any delusions about controlling this anarchist, i will manually adjust their attitudes.

Nobody controls me, I make common cause for tactical reasons, full stop. Any anarchist worth the label should easily be able to do the same.

"insecurity"? this is an assertion that you have not substantiated with anything. i'm not worried about being manipulated by anyone; that comes from the strength of my convictions and adhering to principles (you know, those "tactical" things like direct action, voluntary cooperation, mutual aid...). my refusal to associate with maoists and organizers doesn't make me into some kind of quietist or hermit, but it does allow me to work with other individuals on a basis of mutual respect -- an anarchist shouldn't have to "command respect" -- what a poor choice of words, but one that fits in quite well with your implicit threat of using interpersonal violence to "adjust" others. i've tried to be as respectful as possible with this discussion, but you've now veered off into macho posturing and empty justifications based on tactics. this is unbecoming and unfortunate.

It's just a subjective opinion actually, much like your own. Not really possible to substantiate these things. You think "professional antifascists" are guilty of control or manipulation, a claim you then extended to "organizers" in general. I find this assertion pretty ridiculous, especially since if anyone shouldn't be prey to this (if it were true) it's anarchists.

I also didn't mean physically attacking people, for the record. You leap to a lot of conclusions, don't you?

Oh! Side note: commanding the most basic level of respect from others (and returning it in kind) is also something that I don't find to be a contradiction with the anarchist position. It is all-too-frequently something we are forced to do in a hostile world. Respect is either given or it should be taken, IMHO

i think professional antifascists are guilt of alarmism; that's all i've ever said. manipulation and control may be part of what they want, but i don't presume to know that. alarmism thrives on feelings of guilt and powerlessness, but that's about those who fall for the alarmism and not the alarmists themselves. Bray is definitely interested in organizing others -- he says as much in his book and in the IGD podcast. i don't think it's manipulative; it's quite transparent. he's also explicit in his interest in organizing with the "radical left," which he says is anyone who's anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and anti-state. however, based on his particular narrow understanding of anarchism, i'd say that his net has been cast a little too wide. others are free to fall for it or not. all i'm doing is making my thoughts public(ish).
you can backpedal on your macho posturing, but it was clear to me what you meant given your choice of terms

Yes, you seem quite comfortable trying to tell total strangers what they mean and what their intentions are. Hopefully you spend as much time on antifascism as you do making vague, hairsplitting critiques of your comrades.

you do understand that there's a difference between saying how something sounds to you and telling someone what they mean, right? the choice of terms was aggressive and implied physical confrontation. that's my interpretation. being defensive and/or deflecting when called on the macho posturing is what's vague.
i'm saying that there are two different categories of antifascism; how is that hairsplitting?

I still don't get why redneck revolt didn't shoot them.

The 2nd law of thermo-dynamics--- For every force there is an equal and opposite force. In the binary social dynamic and in the context of ideological forces this law also is apparently reified,,,,

That's Newton's 3rd law. But the 2nd law of thermodynamics also could be seen as an apt metaphor for the current political scene: the amount of disorder in the universe is always increasing.

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