On Saturday hundreds of protesters, many of them armed and bearing Texas state and Confederate flags, turned out in Houston’s Hermann Park to protest the removal of a statue of the state’s first governor, Sam Houston.
There was just one problem: the city has no plans to remove it.
“It’s not even on my agenda. I haven’t even given it any thought,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told local media last month.
The protest came about as a result of a post by the Facebook group Texas Antifa (“Antifa” is political slang for “anti-fascist”), which called for a rally on June 10 to demand the statue of Houston be removed.
“Texans agree the disgusting idols of America’s dark days of slavery must be removed to bring internal peace to our country,” the group wrote in a post, which has been deleted, on their Facebook page. The group also insinuated that Black Lives Matter (BLM) would also be marching to demand the statue of Houston be removed.
That post and supposed protest prompted a counter-protest, organized by Texas nationalist groups such as This Is Texas with the hashtag #StandWithSam to organize support for keeping the statue.
“The line has been drawn in the sand and this Saturday Texans will put their boots on that line,” read one post advertising the rally. “We are Texans, our pride rose from the ashes of San Jacinto, it still beats in every heart, like a battle cry!”
The story was soon picked up by other news sources. On May 30, the Conservative Review wrote that “Radicals in Texas have declared war on a nearly 100-year-old statue of Sam Houston,” while making reference to the Texas Antifa page.
Several local news outlets even reached out to Texas Antifa to get a statement, being told that the group “doesn’t speak with fascist media.”
It has since been revealed that the Texas Antifa page is a hoax intended to mimic Houston Antifa, a left-wing activist group.
“Do NOT attend the June 10th Rally! This account was started a month ago and is in NO way, shape, or form affiliated with any actual Antifa Organization,” the group said in a statement to the Houston Press. “We encourage folks NOT to attend this event whatsoever, on the Right or the Left.”
The so-called Texas Antifa page has since deleted all their anti-Houston posts, replaced by a lengthy mission statement explaining why they perpetrated the hoax.
“Even though it was a fake Antifa, we together accomplished several thing (sic): Stirring up Texans, impassioning patriots, disturbing left-wing activist groups, and making Americans think long and hard about the important relevance of the historic monuments in their midst…” the group wrote in a post on June 10.
The post prompted angry responses from many of the attendees at the rally, many of whom said they sacrificed time and money to attend, believing the calls to remove the statue were legitimate.
“We had a member drive 8 hours for this, leaving his cancer stricken wife at home because he believed so much in protecting this monument,” reads another.
“You’d better pray to God he never finds out who you are because I can guarantee that he will likely kill you.”
The protest drew several hundred people and was for the most part a peaceful affair, according to local news reports.
And while the original cause of the protest may have been a hoax, organizers say they still hoped to send a message to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the state government that Texans wish to preserve and defend their historical monuments.
The protest comes on the heels of the debate over the removal of Confederate-era monuments in Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and other southern states. The Associated Press reports that there hasn’t been any organized effort to remove Houston’s statue, which has stood since 1925.
Houston was the first governor of the independent Republic of Texas, as well as the state’s first governor upon joining the United States in 1845. He is a revered figure in Texas history for his victory in the Battle of San Jactino, where he defeated the Mexican army of Gen. Santa Anna and won independence for Texas from Mexican rule.
And while it’s true that Houston was a slave owner, as a U.S. senator he voted against the expansion of slavery into new states, and was evicted from office in 1861 for refusing to pledge allegiance to the Confederacy, the only southern governor to do so.