Monday, August 31, 2020

Protests heating up across the country; 'heavily armed' crowds clash in Texas town over Confederate statue

Paul Benson, who was attending a July 26 rally for Democratic candidate Hank Gilbert in Tyler, Texas, was attacked by Blue Lives Matter protesters. Benson says he was trying to keep counter-protesters away from the speakers at the rally.
Photo by Sarah A. Miller, Tyler Morning Telegraph, via The Associated Press)

Protests nationwide are becoming increasingly violent, "rattling communities facing a toxic mix of partisanship and guns ahead of the 2020 election," Tim Craig reports for The Washington Post. The demonstrations are mainly about police brutality, and began after the death of George Floyd, but often encompass a wider range of left-versus-right issues such as Confederate statues.

"People on both sides of the United States’ political and cultural divide have been filmed exchanging punches, beating one another with sticks and flagpoles, or standing face-to-face with weapons, often with police appearing to be little more than observers," Craig reports, citing two days in Texas.

On July 25 in Weatherford, pop. 25,250, heavily armed counter-protesters clashed with demonstrators who wanted a Confederate statue removed from the grounds of the iconic Parker County Courthouse, Craig reports. Many counterprotesters were out-of-towners from far-right groups, Weatherford Police Chief Lance Arnold said he believed. He said large crowds are often mobilized online by "fake social media accounts" posting inflammatory and often false information.

"The country’s hostile political climate has challenged local police departments, especially in small towns unaccustomed to dealing with protests and large crowds of people who hold opposing political views," Craig reports. "Police agencies face accusations that they are not doing enough to protect social-justice and anti-brutality protesters."

A video still shows Hank Gilbert campaign manager Ryan Miller getting punched
during a protest in Tyler, Texas. (Photo provided to Tyler Morning Telegraph)
The next day and two and a half hours away, in Tyler, pop. 107,000, Democratic activists held an event meant to register new Democratic voters, promote the campaign of Hank Gilbert (who is battling highly conservative U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert) and protest the deployment of federal agents to demonstrations, Craig reports. But the rally turned violent after hundreds of conservative counterprotesters, many with military-style rifles, showed up and began pushing and hitting people. Nancy Nichols, 65, said a man punched her in the chest, and said others pinned her husband against the city's war memorial. Two men punched Gilbert's campaign manager, Ryan Miller, several times and allegedly stole his cell phone. A recently released video captured the assault, John Anderson reports for the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

"It seems like we as a country have moved right past the discussion phase of things and now we just are at the stage of conflict, being at odds, distrust and disbelief,” Arnold told Craig. "This is not who we are, and it’s almost like we are living in a different time and a different place."

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