A brawl broke out at a Protest Portland Rally in Tyler on Sunday as counter-protesters overtook the event, overshadowing a smaller peaceful rally held by the same organizers later in the day in Nacogdoches.
At least four people reported being assaulted during the protest led by Democratic congressional candidate Hank Gilbert in downtown Tyler including Paul Benson who was photographed being choked by Eric Artimire in an image that has gained international attention.
Gilbert on Tuesday decried the lack of arrests in the case and called for the Texas Rangers to investigate Tyler police department’s actions after the violence.
“The photo of Eric Artimire assaulting Paul Benson has been transmitted by the Associated Press around the world, and appeared online or in print in the newspapers in Houston, Tyler, and Dallas,” Gilbert said. “There is empirical, undeniable evidence of the assault. Why is this man still walking the streets?”
Gilbert’s camp said campaign manager Ryan Miller was also assaulted and released a photo of Miller with a cut under his left eye. Gilbert said Miller’s cellphone and wallet were stolen during the melee.
Gilbert organized the rally along with the one in Nacogdoches to protest the use of federal agents who have been taking people and putting them in unmarked vehicles during protests in Portland, Oregon. He called the actions “federal assault and federal kidnapping.”
“That is what concerns me. That is the closest thing to a military state that we have ever seen in the United States of America,” Gilbert said by phone this week. “If that does not upset every person who calls themselves an American or a patriot, I can’t understand where we’re headed as a county.”
The protesters in Tyler were overwhelmed by a large crowd of supporters of his opponent, Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, and President Donald Trump, who held a Back the Blue rally in support of police. Gohmert denounced the violence but said it brought to mind “the violence Democratic leaders paid to create at Trump campaign events in 2016 followed by Democrats claiming Donald Trump incited violence.”
“It is unfortunate that extremists wanted to bring the violent protests and riots we’ve seen around the country to our peaceable area here in East Texas,” Gohmert said in an email.
Video and images of the protest show the Black the Blue group yelling profanities and chanting “Trump,” “Louie,” and “Go home Gilbert,” as the Democrat, whose home is Tyler, attempted to speak. Artimire’s daughter, Caroline, said in a video posted online that she unplugged Gilbert’s sound system in an effort for counter-protesters to drown out the Democrat’s message.
She was confronted by Benson, who she says then called her a derogatory name.
“I shoved him,” she said in the video. “The biker guy next to me immediately shoves him. … My dad comes up and then shoves the guy.”
Gilbert’s later address in Nacogdoches was filled with mentions of what he believes are federal agents violating civil liberties and states rights in Oregon and elsewhere.
“(Congress’) job is to represent you. Their job is not to dress people up in military uniforms, not tell you where they’re from and send them into your town because they don’t like the way that mayor or that governor is running that town. That’s not their business,” Gilbert said in Nacogdoches.
Preventing violence is why Trump sent federal agents to Portland and other cities, Gohmert said.
“I have consistently condemned violence which is why I supported President Trump’s efforts to stop the rioting, violence, vandalism and mayhem being created and encouraged by violent Leftists around the country,” Gohmert said in an email. “When I talk about fighting, it is in a war of words where truth is the best weapon, not these mean spirited Democrat strategies to provoke violence.”
Gilbert said he supports law enforcement and feels that violent protesters should be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Nacogdoches protest Sunday evening at the county courthouse drew around 40 people, local Democratic Party chairman Mike Strong said.
“The rain and the fear after Tyler reduced our participation,” Strong said.
A small group of counter-protesters stood by here, but Gilbert said they apologized for the fracas earlier in the day.
“It’s literally heartbreaking what our country is evolving into,” Gilbert said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m running for Congress. I am tired of the divisiveness. I am tired of the hateful rhetoric. How can we move our country forward if we can’t even talk to each other civilly?”
Several Back the Blue protesters in Tyler were armed with semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. At least one man was seen carrying a Confederate flag, and photos show another had visible white supremacist tattoos.
“To have neo-Nazis and white supremacist show up on the downtown square” and “create the mayhem they did while hollering the name of our congressman is beyond anything I would have ever envisioned in my lifetime” Gilbert said.
Also on Sunday, rally organizers in Weatherford said local law enforcement did not protect protesters from an opposing group.
Local law enforcement disbanded a protest in Weatherford over the removal of a Confederate monument, saying it was unlawful after a confrontation with counter-protesters. But organizer Tony Crawford, of Parker County Progressives, said police did not seem to know what to do and failed to protect the protesters.
Crawford’s group and Fort Worth-based Enough is Enough coordinated the protest on Saturday that supported removal of the statue. The groups had planned to march from a city park to the Parker County Courthouse. But they were met with hundreds of counter-protesters who thought the statue would be damaged.
Some in the crowd carried Confederate flags, yelled racial slurs and threw water bottles, Crawford said.
“It got to a point where I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to get everybody out of there safely,” Crawford said. “We don’t want to touch that statue because anything that happens to that statue is going to get blamed on me.”
Jim Webster, a former Parker County commissioner, was among the counter-protesters. He said citizens stood up to bullies that came to take down their statue.
Videos show a counter-protester punching a protester in the head. Others show a counter-protester brandishing a knife and a man charging into protesters.
Parker County Judge Pat Deen said two people were arrested. Weatherford police did not immediately respond to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s request for comment on Sunday.
Deen said the state chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy owns the statue and they are planning to move it to another location once they can fund the move.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.