About two dozen armed protesters gathered Sunday at the gates of the Texas Capitol grounds, which are closed through Inauguration Day “out of an abundance of caution.”
The protesters didn’t carry any Trump banners or regalia, as protesters at the U.S. Capitol had done January 6. They generally said their rally had nothing to do with the recent events in Washington.
Instead, they said their show of force was intended to demonstrate support for gun rights. Many wore insignia identifying them as part of the Boogaloo movement, which consists of loosely organized, libertarian, anti-authoritarian protest groups. Some protesters wore both boogaloo insignia and patches saying “Texas Guerrillas Militia.”
Simultaneously, Boogaloo protests also took place at capitols in other states, including in Michigan and Ohio.
In Austin, about a dozen protesters identified as Hibiscus Society, a group that grew out of the Boogaloo movement before breaking away. Other protesters said they had come on their own and were unaffiliated.
“This was planned months ago. This has nothing to do with Biden’s inauguration,” said Daniel Hunter, a man from Waco, who showed up with a holstered side arm and a black tie paired with a polo. “This is us sending a message to our legislature. We are pro-2A. There are good guys with guns and we would like to keep them.”
Hunter said he was “close with the people that organized” the rally, but didn’t himself identify as part of any group.
Many other protesters wore sunglasses and cloth masks covering their faces, hiding their identities. They declined to identify themselves by name and carried AK-47s, AR-15s, knives, and other long guns.
Two young men dressed in this way told Honest Austin that they didn’t want to show their faces because they were afraid of being “disappeared” by the government. They cited several victims of police violence, including Duncan Lemp and Breonna Taylor, as reason to fear the government. Both said they had attended Black Lives Matter rallies. “We support Black Lives Matter.”
“I think I’ve been to four Black Lives Matter rallies, mostly in Austin,” said one of the men, who donned a combat helmet saying “Front Toward Enemy.” He noted that some of his fellow protesters had known Garrett Foster, the armed protester shot in Austin last year.
Stephen Hunt, who dressed in a blue suit rather than the tactical gear of the other protesters, said, “The right to bear arms is the ultimate protection afforded to minorities and people of color.” Hunt said that he had dressed that way because he hoped to seek office one day as a libertarian. He didn’t have a visible firearm but said he was carrying a concealed weapon.
Few other protesters gave speeches. There were no organized chants, and few even carried signs or banners. A protester in the Hibiscus group carried a sign saying, “Being armed is not an indication of threat, it is our right.” Another said, “the right to bare arms [sic] was put in place to prevent tyranny. Tyranny — a cruel and oppressive government.” Others unfurled a banner saying, “Together We Rise,” featuring clenched fists of different colors, including the LGBT pride colors.
The protesters mostly milled about, chatted with each other, posed with their weaponry, and engaged with members of the media or curious onlookers.
When asked if they were at all concerned that such an armed gathering in the midst of high political tensions could result in violence, several protesters downplayed the possibility. They said they felt safer armed, and the more guns in the public square, the safer everyone would be.
Hunt, the man in the suit, said, “In a setting like this, to be honest, the more folks that are out here that are armed, the less likely that is to happen. Look at the Cold War — mutually assured destruction. Nobody wants to start a shootout here with all these people.”
Daniel Hunter, the man from Waco dressed in a tie, said he had opted to bring a sidearm to the gathering rather than a long gun because he “didn’t want to freak people out.”
Another man toting a long gun said violence was “possible but not probable.” He added, “We don’t want anybody to get hurt. That’s not what we’re about. We don’t want any innocents to get shot.”
State troopers stood back from the protesters in clusters around the Capitol lawn, heavily armed and wearing riot helmets. About a dozen Austin Police officers on bikes stood nearby in the parking lot of the Governor’s Mansion, which is across the street. Traffic on E. 11th Street, which runs along the front of the Capitol, continued to flow normally in spite of the protest.
Throughout the afternoon, helicopters circled the downtown — possibly EMS or police choppers — and there was a large drone in the sky.
About a dozen protesters left around 2:30 to get some tacos, and the gathering petered out soon after that.