A demonstration organized by a Democratic congressional candidate in Texas ended in violence Sunday when the candidate’s campaign manager and others were attacked.
No arrests were made at the scene of the demonstration, where counterprotesters, many of them armed, vastly outnumbered the candidate and his supporters.
Democrat Hank Gilbert faces an uphill battle against eight-term incumbent Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) in Texas’ deep-red First District. But the candidate has made protesting the ongoing federal police presence in Portland, Oregon a rallying cry for his campaign. On Sunday, he’d scheduled a demonstration in solidarity with Portland at the Tyler, Texas city square.
That was met with dozens of counterprotesters attending a “Back the Blue” event scheduled in response to Gilbert’s demonstration, some sporting rifles and camouflage and many wearing pro-Trump attire, according to local reports.
The counterprotesters used air horns to drown out Gilbert’s attempt at making a speech. Then came the violence.
“My campaign guy got the hell beat out of him,” Gilbert told TPM over the phone Monday.
Ryan Miller, Gilbert’s campaign manager, told TPM that as tensions flared at the demonstration, he’d attempted to use his iPhone to film what was happening.
But someone snatched his phone, Miller said, and then several others surrounded him.
“I made eye contact with one of my friends and I said, ‘I need help,'” Miller recalled. “As soon as I said that got punched in the back of the head, and then the rest of the punches landed on my face and on my chest.”
Miller said another man threw a punch at his mother, who attended the event as well, but that it didn’t land.
The Gilbert campaign has faulted the Tyler Police Department for not stepping in earlier to prevent the violence. Miller said he was interviewed by police Monday, but that “they just don’t feel like they care.”
Local station KETK and others caught several scuffles on camera:
One man who said on Facebook that he was pushed into a stone war memorial during a scuffle, Paul Benson, wrote afterward that he was fine except for a bruised arm.
“This was clearly organized by someone to disrupt a planned peaceful protest of the misuse of Federal agents in Portland and other cities,” Benson said.
Nancy Nichols, a local Democratic Party committeewoman, told the Tyler Morning Telegraph, “I’m 65 and I get punched.”
Nichols told the Telegraph that she’d attended the event to register voters. As the counterprotesters came closer to the speakers at Gilbert’s demonstration, she said, her husband Mike began rolling up audio cables.
“Three guys crowded Mike against the Memorial wall. He felt the wall start to fall over backwards,” Nichols told the Morning Telegraph. “By that time, I had picked up Mike’s voter registration materials and was standing next to him.”
“The Trump people were forcing us against the Memorial wall. I said to Mike, ‘Now. Let’s go,’ several times. The man in overalls moved into Mike’s space yelling continually. I stepped between them just as the man in the overalls threw a punch that hit me in my left breast. Mike dropped the cable and we moved quickly against and along the memorial wall and away from the crowd.”
Neither local nor state law enforcement responded to TPM’s request for comment, but a spokesperson for the Tyler Police Department told KLTV that officers responded to a call about a fight at the scene of the demonstration and subsequently took multiple reports.
Gilbert pointed out that at least one person in the crowd Sunday was carrying a confederate flag. Another had “White Pride” tattooed on his arms.
Miller told TPM he went looking for his phone in the Tyler city square Sunday night “and I just didn’t feel safe.”
“Everyone’s seen my picture and knows who I am,” he said. “It just feels kind of weird. It feels unsafe to walk through Smith County, my home, and have a target on my back, basically.”