On August 21, a group of armed white supremacists held a White Lives Matter rally in Houston. This rally took place in front of the NAACP office in the Third Ward, which is the center of gravity for BLM protests and home of Houston’s Black Nationalist organizations. Simultaneously, a white supremacist reaction to the BLM movement has been spreading nationally, and has raised many questions for organizers around self-defense. To understand how it is that a group of armed crackers was able to hold a rally in front of the NAACP headquarters in the most militant black community in Houston, it is important to see how the right has developed in recent moments, and how the left has failed to develop an adequate self-defense strategy within the movement.
In Houston this dynamic has a unique development which can be traced back to the Trayvon Martin rallies in 2013, and has moved and changed alongside the evolution of the BLM movement.
The first signs of white supremacists in recent years appeared at a rally for Trayvon Martin shortly after George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder. This rally was called by Quanell X, the then-leader of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) in Houston and had in attendance 200-300 people. At this rally, which marched with police escorts through River Oaks, the famously mega rich and mega white neighborhood of Houston, there was a group of “pro-Zimmerman” protesters who held signs that said things like “Keep Calm and Stand Your Ground,” “If the Head is Split You Must Acquit,” and others. At this counter-protest there were also a few skinheads in the crowd who were wearing Nazi paraphernalia which marked the first time in a long time that fascists entered the city limits. They seemed to be testing the waters as they stood directly in the path of Quanell X, as he, his bodyguards, and posse walked by and did nothing to them at all. The NBPP generally evangelizes the importance of self-defense, even carrying guns in certain contexts, yet in this moment this was not the tone of their actions. This could be attributed to them being caught off guard––as I mentioned before this was the first time in a long time the left was confronted by the far right. It could be that Quanell X represented a more pacifist and assimilationist approach. Or rather, as I am inclined to believe, this could have marked the beginning of a pattern of passivity that groups like the NBPP have embodied in the face of dangerous elements that are trying to disrupt and violently tear down our movements. Either way, in this moment the response was naught.
Shortly after the Trayvon Martin rally through River Oaks, there were some open carry demonstrations held by a small group of (mostly) white people primarily focused against immigration. A group called Open Carry Texas (OCT) appeared as one of the first organized responses to the BLM movement from the right in Houston. Their focus was to use some of the complaints that black folks had in order to unite with them against immigrants and other “criminals” within their own community, i.e. other blacks. In 2014, OCT called for an open carry rally through Houston’s Fifth Ward, a historically black neighborhood northeast of downtown, as a way to educate black folks about their second amendment rights and help them with self-defense. Mainly, it was meant to recruit “respectable” black folks to the open carry movement against the “bad” black and brown folks. They ended up backing out of the action after the NBPP called for their own open carry rally on the same day, stating that they can educate their own people in these matters. OCT decided to postpone the event until the two groups could sit down to discuss moving forward together. The NBPP held their own open carry event but did nothing to directly confront the racist forces trying to move into black communities, even though these new forces held explicit anti-immigrant and implicit anti-black perspectives. The “education” of self-defense ended here, there was no further attempt to arm or defend the Fifth Ward, and this event became more of a spectacle than anything else.
Later that year, a few OCT members went to an immigrant rights rally as counter-protesters. They brought rifles and antagonized the protesters. There was also another immigrant rights rally that year that OCT and another right wing group called “Stop the Magnet” counter-protested at, this time with a larger far right turnout. Again, the language of the counter-protest indicated that immigrants were taking over and compared them to Al-Qaeda, even calling Mexican people the “new Nazis towards black people.” The anti-immigrant sentiment has resonated with some blacks, as well as whites, and because of these race dynamics, the line between hardline fascist elements of the far right and other more populist elements was often more blurred in this moment.
The more recent national White Lives Matter (WLM) movement is starting to make these lines much clearer for us, while also clarifying that the left is not prepared to deal with them. WLM is a response to the BLM movement and became emboldened after the Dallas and Baton Rouge shootings of police officers. Unlike these open carry and anti-immigrant groupings, the WLM movement’s aim is to create an organized “self-defense” group against BLM activists who they see as violent and dangerous. They are trying to intimidate black activists while developing a white separatist and “self-defense” group against these black movements. The WLM movement shows us that the right is becoming more politically developed and more organized.
Significantly, in Houston, WLM is led by the Aryan Renaissance Society (ARS), an explicitly white supremacist grouping that has a clear vision and strategy for developing armed white opposition groups against the BLM movement in anticipation of blacks revolting in places like Houston. ARS is a group that has been pushing the black-on-white-crime line and calling for white separatism. Also, members of ARS are self-described “revolutionists” who are striving to raise the racial consciousness of white people. One of their strategies for doing this is to recruit whites to their group through social gatherings. For example, the Texas ARS chapter held a “campout” inside the Houston city limits in April of this year and are wanting to hold more social gatherings to build a sense of camaraderie among supporters.
After being able to successfully pull off this social gathering in the city, they held an action in the Third Ward in front of the NAACP headquarters. Houston’s Third Ward is another historically black neighborhood which is the site for most of the BLM rallies, meetings, and events. This area has a rich history of black struggle including being home to the People’s Party II (modeled after the Black Panthers), as well as student organizing at the historically black university Texas Southern University. Currently, the Third Ward is home for several Black Nationalist organizations as well as other non-profits organizations which address issues of housing and gentrification. This neighborhood is in a deep process of gentrification; the University of Houston is pushing in from the South and monstrous mass of developments from downtown is pushing in from the north.
It is interesting that WLM chose the NAACP as the location for their rally, which seems purely symbolic, as this headquarters is not very active at all. Also, they seem to misunderstand the role the NAACP has played in the BLM movement. Instead of provoking rebellion or encouraging black self-defense against the cops and crackers, the NAACP has silenced the “militant” voices of the movement and tried channeling BLM activity into reformism. They had President Barack Obama speak to BLM activists at a NAACP convention in 2015 as a way to channel activity into public policy and other officially accepted modes of change via reforms. They preach about black-on-black crime, a language that is also used by the right to discredit the movement. It is clear that the NAACP is no threat to the White Lives Matter movement.
Regardless, it is because of the historic significance of the Third Ward, and the more recent use of this space for BLM activists and Black Nationalists that the Third Ward is a prime location for anti-black groups to hold such a rally here. The crackers are becoming more bold with each action they are able to pull off inside Houston city limits. By holding this rally outside of the the NAACP office in the most militant area of Houston, WLM is showing that they can go in and out of the most radical black community in Houston and get out without even a scratch. They are showing other whites in and around the city that WLM is a force to be reckoned with, and to the black community that they have something to worry about if they should continue to fight against the system using non-peaceful means. To this effect, a few WLM members were open-carrying assault rifles and wearing bulletproof vests. They also held signs that read “14 Words” which is a David Lane slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.” This is important for their growing movement and, more importantly, must be stopped in its tracks. The NAACP refuses to recognize this. In response to the WLM rally, the Houston NAACP sent an email to supporters about the rally and asking for donations. They then held a press conference the following day to explain that actually, it is Black Lives that Matter. BLM activists in Houston showed up and rightfully criticized the NAACP for claiming that Black Lives Matter yet not lifting a finger to help the BLM movement. The NAACP responded by saying that they do not agree with BLM that the issue is about racism or the use of violent tactics. This the day after a *violent group* of *racist whites* held a White Lives Matter rally on their doorsteps!
It is clear that groups like the non-violent reformist NAACP, and even the NBPP who, although they claim to be for self-defense, have not made any real attempt to prepare people in this regard. By remaining passive when the skinheads came to the Trayvon Martin rally, by agreeing to sit-down with the OTC people who are actively anti-immigrant, and then by allowing WLM to come into the Third Ward, they are showing that they will remain passive at each new development the right is able to make.
On the other hand, it is clear that the kind of lone wolf actions that took place in Dallas and Baton Rouge are not going to be enough to ward off these crackers with guns. Instead what is needed is organized community self-defense; community patrols similar to the Twin Cities General Defense Committee (GDC) in Minnesota. This means physically keeping crackers out of our communities and spaces; it means having protection against violent crackers at our actions; it means being a source of support for those who are faced with violence from the right and the state. The GDC is not only a self-defense organization in the traditional sense. They see “General Defense” meaning defending the class against the many kinds of attacks on our ability to reproduce ourselves, as well as attacks against our organizing. This kind of holistic approach to struggle strengthens our movement by allowing us to take on different needs at different times, while also fighting a “three way fight” against the right and the capitalists.
Part of the struggle against white supremacy is going to be within our own communities, schools, homes, workplaces. But part of it will also be against outside forces. We should be thinking about all the attacks from the state or the right as attacks against our well being and defend ourselves against them. In one moment this will look like defending our neighbors from eviction, in another moment it will mean defending our sisters and queer fam from male violence. It means linking the fight against white supremacy in the anti-prison and anti-police movement to also defending against white supremacists who want to cause us harm. The Houston IWW is taking a cue from the Twin Citie GDC by building a syndicalist, holistic approach that directly and militantly confronts white supremacy and oppression, in all of its forms. Join us in this fight.