WEATHERFORD, Texas — Kwame Osei Jr. scanned the area around the Weatherford courthouse as he and two other protesters made their way to the center of the town square. The Fort Worth suburb was the site of a planned protest against a 100-year-old Confederate statue that day. A group, Progressives in Parker County, organized what they billed as a peaceful demonstration.
Osei, one of the founders of Fort Worth-based grassroots organization Enough Is Enough, said he saw hundreds of counterprotesters, some of whom were waving Confederate flags and swastikas.
There was a sniper’s nest set up on top of a truck and another man squatting on the sidewalk with his rifle aimed at the group of 50 or so protesters. Many among the crowd of people who gathered to confront the Progressive’s march, he said, were armed. He and a smattering of other members of Enough Is Enough were in Weatherford to support the cause and help with security. Immediately, he could tell the counterprotesters had far higher numbers and weren’t in the mood to talk.
As a small group surrounded Osel and his two compatriots, he said some of them were wearing brass knuckles. Most of them were carrying assault rifles or handguns. All of them were yelling.
“They started yelling, ‘All lives matter. BLM (Black Lives Matter) is ANTIFA, You need to go back with George Soros,’ and yelling the N-word,” he said. “They were telling us BLM is a hate group. I thought, ‘That’s funny,’ as I was looking at the Confederate flags, Nazi flags, and ya’ll are calling me the N-word, but we’re the hate group?”
The protest turned violent almost immediately, as counterprotesters surrounded the Progressives’ group and began to throw water bottles, push people, punch men and women, brandish knives, threaten to shoot people, and carry out various other tactics. As violence against the protesters erupted, the police, who had earlier promised event organizers their protection, were nowhere to be found. Officers from the Parker County Sheriff’s Department locked themselves inside the courthouse, leaving just a handful of state patrol officers to deal with an increasingly aggressive mob of about 300 armed people.
The Weatherford Police Department did not respond to Spectrum News for comment on this story.
Sara Neezy, who traveled from Fort Worth to join the protests, said she was so traumatized by the event, she still feels chills just talking about it.
“They were threatening all people of color,” she said. “They were spitting, getting in people’s faces. There was so much hate. They’d get in your face and tell you what a piece of s—t you are, and then say, ‘We don’t want violence. Don’t come here trying to entice violence,’ but that’s all they did.”
Osei said the police appeared to pick a side in the ordeal. Very shortly after the official 5:30 p.m. start time, the police finally showed up, but only to end the event, claiming there were instigators on both sides.
“All of the violence that happened, [counterprotesters] initiated it,” he said.
“There were so many threats, there were so many assaults, and the Weatherford Police were not interested in protecting all citizens,” he continued. “The police stood back and watched. These people had German Shepherds ready to attack us. It looked like 1962 in Alabama.”
The violence and vitriol aimed at the protesters was, in part, a reaction to false information. In online forums and on social media, far-right activists started rumors that the protesters had intended to topple the statue, riot, and burn down the city. The news that the Enough Is Enough group would be joining the protests whipped far-right social media chats into a frenzy. The chats claimed that Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA were coming to Weatherford to instigate violence. The Enough Is Enough group has never committed a single act of violence at any of their more than 40 protests.
Zeke Baker, one of the event’s organizers, said that chat groups have labeled him as an ANTIFA leader, made videos of him coming to and leaving work, and called to his job to tell his supervisor that he is a left-wing terrorist.
“We don’t plan on destroying anything,” Baker said. “This is our home town. This is where we live. We wouldn’t want people to come burn down where we live.
“I told our protesters, ‘We’re doing this peacefully, and if you try and instigate anything, we will remove you,’ ” he continued.
Two far-right armed militia groups, the Texas Freedom Fighters and the Union of Three Percent American Patriots, made a statewide call for people to come to Weatherford to defend the statue and fight ANTIFA leaders. So-called militia men poured into the city on the day of the protest.
On online forums, members of extremists groups like Boogaloos, the KKK, and Proud Boys all claimed to participate in the counterprotests or voiced support for the violence against the protesters.
When Shaun Woods and his team of protesters from the No Sleep ’Til Justice DFW Group arrived at the courthouse the afternoon of the demonstration, they were greeted by water bottles and the N-word. Within five minutes, he and his security team were attacked. Though his team does cary guns and bats, they didn’t fire or swing at their attackers.
“We’re all about protection,” he said. “One of our members had a bat that was tucked in between his back and backpack, and out of nowhere, a guy started attacking him.” The attacker, Woods said, “was like, ‘What are you going to do with the bat, boy?’ This is why he brought the bat. Because of people like you.”
Baker hadn’t planned on arriving at the courthouse until later in the day. The protesters planned to meet at Cherry Park, four blocks away from the courthouse, to stage their march. Some demonstrators arrived in the town square as early as 2 p.m. to set up. Around that time, Baker’s phone was ringing non-stop. The militias and counterprotesters had already surrounded the courthouse and were advancing on Baker’s set-up crew.
“I was getting ready to leave, and protesters who were already up there contacted me asking me to get there as soon as possible,” he said. “These females said they were being harassed by these Confederate people holding their flags. They kept advancing on them, getting more and more aggressive.
“When I got there it was very overwhelming,” he said. “ I saw plenty of Trump flags, plenty of Confederate flags. They had snipers on top of cars. It was nuts.”
There were two arrests made that day, both were counterprotesters. One of the men who was arrested, Baker said, was punching women and charged the protesters when their backs were turned.
In a now-infamous video that has circulated online, one man donned in a yellow shirt and gas mask sucker-punched one of the leaders of Enough Is Enough. As a brawl ensued, one State Trooper stepped in and broke up the melee. Pictures of another man standing at the edge of the skirmish holding a knife have also made the rounds on social media.
“We had a group of people walking with their arms on each others’ shoulders, and [counterprotesters] threw water bottles at them, started calling them racial epithets, and then eventually they charged at us,” Osei said. “A guy in a yellow shirt swung at us. He did that right in front of a police officer, and the officer did not arrest him or detain him.”
Woods said he and others did try to engage people in meaningful conversations about race, but that the dialogue wasn’t productive. He spoke to a white couple who encouraged the protesters to pursue other means of removing the statue.
“A lot of people think the monument was about a war,” he said. “No, you’re supporting people who engaged in human trafficking. A lot of the times when people think of slavery, they only think of whips and picking cotton. No, they were raping kids.
“There’s a monument in the middle of your town that endorses the sexual violation of children,” he continued. “You may thinks that’s heritage, but that statue represents the sexual enslavement of my people.”
Earlier in the day, tensions between protest groups simmered at a Back the Blue rally – at a different courthouse in another town. In the shadows of the Fort Worth courthouse building, hundreds of marchers, most of whom carried flags or wore clothes supporting Donald Trump’s reelection, clashed with protesters from Enough is Enough and No Sleep ’Til Justice DFW.
As campaigns to defund the police have cropped up all over the country, supporters and detractors of the movement have fallen down the usual right vs. left political divides. Woods said the Back the Blue rally was another hate-filled spectacle, and a prelude to the violence to come later in the day.
“You guys are out here for Fort Worth PD, but at the same time you’re telling people to go back to Africa,” he said. “They were calling us Hitler babies. There was one interracial couple, and one [Back the Blue supporter] said he was going to send one of his boys to rape the woman. They were being really vicious.
“The entire march in Fort Worth was about Trump,” he continued. “It had nothing to do with the CCPD (the Crime Control Prevention District that gives more than $80 million annually to police), nothing to do with the money the police are getting, nothing to do with Atatiana Jefferson. It was literally all about Trump.”
Online videos show Fort Worth bicycle cops grabbing the throat of a black counterprotester. Others show the police aggressively using their bikes to push the Enough Is Enough crowd. The police, Woods pointed out, were facing the counterprotest groups.
Many of the same faces that marched on behalf of police in Fort Worth were also in Weatherford. Woods believes that some of that hostility carried over from the clashes earlier in the day.
“You guys were not out there trying to protect a monument,” he said. “You were spitting on people. You were throwing water bottles, punching people in the face, and pulling out knives. This couple came up and literally tried to sick their dog on me. It was just like Birmingham. It was vicious.”
Tony Crawford called the Parker County Sheriff’s office and Weatherford Police Department the day before the protest. As the main organizer of the protest, he wanted to make sure he was following all of the correct protocols to keep the event organized and safe. The sheriff’s office promised to provide a safety detail and the chief of police, Lance Arnold, assured Crawford they’d have no problems.
Arnold did have one major concern with the planned demonstration: Enough Is Enough’s involvement.
“One of the things he was concerned about … is he kept bringing up the fact that I was bringing in outsiders,” Crawford said. “When we started protesting, the Texas Patriots and Freedom Fighters put out a call all over Texas asking for people to come to town. He never discussed that with me. He never went to them and said don’t be inviting people from out of town. All of these people kept showing up with AR15s.”
Starting the morning of the protest, Arnold began texting Crawford, saying he had seen posts from the Enough Is Enough Facebook group organizing a fund for bail money.
“He said that was very concerning to him,” Crawford said. “I told him, with any protest group, that is standard. He said, ‘Not to my estimation.’
“I told the Chief, would you give me a chance to be a man of my word?,” Crawford continued. “I’ll keep my group under control. He told me, ‘I’ll give you that opportunity.’”
Just like Baker, Crawford’s phone started lighting up with text messages and phone calls early in the day. He rushed to the town square to see the streets and areas surrounding the courthouse flooded with militia men.
“I got there at 2:45 p.m.,” he said. “I texted Chief Arnold. I said, ‘I’m here at the courthouse, it’s packed already.’ His first response was, ‘Patriots or BLM?’
“Why does that matter?,” Crawford asked.
After a series of back-and-forth texts begging Chief Arnold for his promised protection, the police eventually arrived in force after 6 p.m. Exhausted and disheartened, Crawford sent one last text to the chief of police.
“You abandoned us, chief,” he said. “You abandoned us. You let us get dragged and attacked while you did nothing.”
The chief responded, “We saw instigators on both sides and shut it down. Didn’t abandon anything. All of our recorded video will show the same.”
As the protesters hurried back to Cherry Park, a mob followed them. Behind that mob was an entire SWAT team.
“They were pushing us out,” Crawford said. “They let those people follow us all the way form the courthouse back to Cherry Park where we staged four blocks away.”
On Monday, a county judge announced the statue will be removed from the Parker County Courthouse lawn. The statue is owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Parker County Judge Pat Deen said the statue will be moved as soon as UDC raises the funds to relocate it.
The protesters know the fight is far from over, but every activist who marched with the Progressives last weekend said they will be back.
Neezy said the scare tactics of counterprotesters have actually inspired her.
“It has triggered something in me that makes me want to get louder and makes me want to stand up taller to these people,” she said. “I can’t tolerate that level of ignorance and pure evil.”
Osei said if Enough is Enough is invited to participate in another demonstration, his group will be back.
Baker, who has been protesting the statue long before last weekend, also said the violence he witnessed has fueled him to continue.
“For sure,” he said. “I hate my racist town. I’ll stand out there by myself if I have to.”
For Crawford, this fight is far more personal.
“My family was lynched on that square,” he said. “I’m going about this knowing full well that after that statue comes down, it may be too dangerous for me to every step foot in Weatherford again.”