Wednesday, CNN reported that authorities charged a white 17-year-old with homicide after he allegedly shot three Black Lives Matter protesters, killing two, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Now, local activists fear that the same could happen closer to home.
Every Sunday, a progressive grassroots organization in Gainesville protests for the removal of the town’s Confederate statue that stands on its courthouse lawn. Each time, they’re met by armed counterprotesters, said PRO Gainesville founder Torrey Henderson.
“After what happened in Wisconsin, I’m definitely more nervous because they’re extremely emboldened right now, extremely,” she said.
Racial tensions have soared since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked a resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests nationwide. Although Gainesville's demonstrations have been peaceful up to now, activists worry that it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.
Wednesday, a group called American Contingency posted on Instagram about this Sunday’s upcoming protest in Gainesville. It says that Antifa, an anti-fascist political movement, has plans to destroy the town’s courthouse and community. Also, it warns Gainesville residents to be prepared to defend themselves and their homes “against any potential threats.”
A representative for American Contingency said that the group is in no way inciting violence; rather, she said, their purpose is to notify people when they should protect themselves.
Yet Henderson said that post has also attracted those with bad intentions. A user on Instagram calling himself dylan_becherer reposted it with a menacing caption.
“Hope you’re ready to die tonight because I am too,” they wrote. “I promise I’m a better shot.”
The Instagram user did not return requests for comment.
The upcoming PRO Gainesville protest will likely be the biggest one yet with lots of outside support, Henderson said.
“But while I know that we’re going to have bigger numbers this Sunday,” she said, “I know that [the counterprotesters] are gearing up, just in a huge way.”
Denton activist Jessica Luther Rummel has been attending the PRO Gainesville protests since earlier this summer. She said she believes extremist and white supremacist groups are readying themselves to harm protesters at Sunday’s event.
They have spread lies on social media, she said, including that Black Lives Matter protesters are planning to riot. In addition, she said that no one affiliated with Antifa has ever attended a Gainesville protest.
Since this week’s shooting in Kenosha, Luther Rummel said that some white supremacists have not felt the need to post in secret forums. Instead, they’ve begun publishing “calls to action” publicly and are preparing for a race war, she said.
“The point of these posts is to embolden and terrify white people to think that any Black person or brown person they see out there on the streets protesting is a criminal,” Luther Rummel said. “They are setting it up to make sure that Black and brown people are killed.”
Luther Rummel said that during these protests, local law enforcement has aligned themselves with the armed counterprotesters. In addition, she said that she’s attempted to file multiple reports with officers immediately after being threatened, but they refused to do so.
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Gainesville police Chief Kevin Phillips said his officers do not take sides and protect all parties equally. He also said that Luther Rummel's reports were dismissed because they did not fit the definition of a terroristic threat.
During these demonstrations, Luther Rummel said that armed counterprotesters yell racial epithets at activists while law enforcement refuses to intervene. As such, parallels can be drawn between Kenosha and small North Texas communities like Gainesville, she said. Police in Wisconsin reportedly did not arrest the gunman even when he walked toward them with his hands in the air, according to an NBC affiliate in Chicago.
Racialized, supremacist ideology has been woven into the fabric of these small towns, Luther Rummel said.
“These are people who have been indoctrinated by a Ku Klux culture, and as a result, the minority Black and brown communities who are there, and the white allies who stand with them, are in serious imminent danger,” she said. “If Kenosha, Wisconsin, hasn’t proved that, nothing else can.”