Hundreds of protesters from across Texas and other Southern US states, many of whom were armed, showed up in Houston's Hermann Park on Saturday (10 June) to protest against the removal of a statue of Sam Houston. As the first president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston is a beloved state hero who was also a slaveholder.
The protesters, many of whom were armed and carried Confederate flags, said they were concerned that activists were pushing for the statue to be taken down as other cities across the US work to remove Confederate monuments.
However, the city was not even considering the removal of the monument that was erected back in 1925. Last month, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner publicly stated: "It's not even on my agenda. I haven't even given it any thought."
The rally was triggered by a Facebook post by a group called Texas Antifa that said leftist groups were planning a massive rally to remove the statue on 10 June.
"The Fascists better not show up or they will be limping home bruised, broken, hurt and crying with their their tails between their legs," the page read. "We will be freely heard without their attendance because they rarely counter against us since they don't have the support numbers and are few and far between, especially in Houston."
The 19 May Facebook post triggered a fierce "Don't Mess with Texas" campaign. A Facebook group called "This is Texas", which has over 4,000 followers, called on people to rally against the statue's alleged removal.
"Many of these communist punks are embolden after they lay claim to a win in New Orleans by bringing down the Confederate monuments," This is Texas wrote on 22 May. "We invite all Oath Keepers, Militias, Tea Partiers, Liberty Loving Texans, Liberty Loving Americans, Open Carry Organisations and anyone who loves Texas & wants to protect our sovereign soil & history to join us."
The Texas Antifa Facebook page, however, was actually a hoax that attempted to mimic the anti-fascist movement. After many local media outlets initially reported about the fake rally in May, the legitimate group "Houston Antifa" issued a warning about the fake page saying it was an "alt-right troll job".
"Trolls are going to continue to use these nefarious tactics in attempts to misrepresent the purposes and ideologies of Antifa, to use hot button issues like statue removal, etc to mobilize and drum up ire from generica MAGAs / Conservatives," Houston Antifa told BuzzFeed News.
After weeks of planning and expenses, hundreds of angry protesters descended on Houston to furiously defend the monument. The rally-goers later left after a few hours when no leftist groups showed up.
"In reality, we were duped," Jeremy Alcede, who headed the security for This is Texas, and group founder Brandon Burkhart later said. After conveying news of the hoax to the group, its members still heralded its efforts saying "no one messes with Texas".
Was Anonymous behind the hoax?
A group claiming to be part of the notorious hacktivist outfit Anonymous later claimed responsibility for the fake Antifa page as a way to "bring many Texans together" and create "a more cohesive defence against such groups".
"It was always an Anonymous event to drive support and attention to an expired Texas law that protected its historical monuments," the group said in a video on the Texas Antifa YouTube channel.
It also said it had accomplished several things such as "stirring up Texas, impassioning patriots, disturbing left-wing activist groups and making Americans think long and hard about the important relavance of the historic monuments in their midst..."
Many duped protesters slammed the group saying many of them sacrificed time and money to attend the rally and defend the statue.
"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," one user wrote.
Another wrote: "Now I have to look my wife in the eye and explain to her that my trip to Houston was because someone lied... I'm a patriot. I'll stand up for what I believe is right and be proud to do so. You liars tho can GO F**K YOURSELVES!"