AUSTIN, TX — Police on Saturday arrested a man they accuse of pointing a loaded handgun at an officer who had fallen to the ground during a protest near the state Capitol, according to an arrest affidavit.
The incident occurred midday on Saturday during a protest by one group titled “No Sanctuary Cities”, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman. Also in attendance were counter-protesters, the newspaper noted.
Austin police and Department of Public Safety officers were on hand to ensure the peace when a scuffle broke out, leading to several arrests, according to the report. Robert Patrick Hewitt, 29, is alleged to have pointed a loaded handgun at officers who were on the ground some 15 feet away trying to arrest another person, according to the affidavit.
“Hewitt appeared to be actively targeting the uniformed officers on the ground with his handgun,” the Statesman quoted the affidavit as reading in part. “He was also walking toward the officers.”
Hewitt was subsequently charged with aggravated assault on a public servant with a deadly weapon, which is a first-degree felony. He’s currently being held on a $40,000 bail.
Also arrested during the chaotic scene were: Quintin Hatt, 27, charged with aggravated assault on a peace officer, a first-degree felony; Nolan Eberly, 27, charged with interfering with the duties of a public servant, a Class B misdemeanor; Timothy Shirley, 22, also charged with interfering with the duties of a public servant; and Aaron Brian, 28, charged with aggravated assault on a peace officer, a first-degree felony.
DPS officials said three of their officers sustained minor cuts and lacerations in trying to effect arrests.
The polarizing issue of so-called “sanctuary cities” issue centers on a perception by some observers that some municipalities (including Austin) are overly embracing of immigrants rather than calling for a mass deportation of those found to be undocumented — regardless whether or not they have a criminal record. Buoyed by a shared belief in mass deportations by the Trump administration, federal immigration officials have implemented unprecedented sweeps in Austin to root out the undocumented in recent months.
The anti-immigrant sentiment has lately been re-energized after an undocumented Mexican immigrant in San Francisco recently was acquitted in an American woman’s shooting death. The man was exonerated in the case given the accidental nature of the shooting that caused via a bullet that ricocheted off the ground.
The California case has helped galvanize the anti-immigrant crowd, including the “No Sanctuary Cities” group organizing Saturday’s protest who made use of a photo of the woman accidentally killed in San Francisco as part of their electronic event flyer and the profile picture to their page.
Donald Trump took time to tweet about the immigrant’s acquittal, labeling the verdict as “disgraceful” and later invoking the incident to again promote his idea of building a wall across the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump’s sentiments have helped fuel anti-immigrant groups’ resolve. Locally, the invitation to Saturday’s protest showed 37 people invited actually attended the event from 211 who expressed interest in doing so.
Back in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott this year made cracking down on undocumented immigrants a priority during the legislative session, helping shepherd through harsh laws calling for the arrests and removal from public office of law enforcement officials deemed to be too soft on immigration or showing little cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in implementing federal immigration laws.
Prior to his moves on cracking down on sanctuary cities, Abbott also aggressively championed passage of the “open carry” law allowing licensed firearm owners to freely carry their weapons in public settings. The “open carry” law enacted on Jan. 1, 2016, has made the sight of firearms more common at tension-filled protests and counter-protests.
The Statesman noted a video posted on Facebook the same day of the arrests by a group calling itself the New Republic of Texas focused on the counter-protesters at the event who showed up with flags while chanting their disapproval of the immigrant crackdown.
A man describes his speaker’s role at the protest in the video as he filmed the small group of counter-protesters. He identifies himself as Joe Biggs of LibertyOneTV. “A lot of ANTIFA at wooldridge [sic] Park in downtown Austin to counter protest our protest against sanctuary cities,” he narrated. “They are armed with sticks and shields.”
“Lock and load,” one supporter wrote in response. “They have been declared terrorists.” As of Sunday, the video had been seen more than 36,000 times. Liberty One TV offers memberships to those wishing to access its content in a sliding scale: $10 a month for membership; $99 a year for an annual subscription; or $1,000 a year to be part of its “Producers Club.”
According to a promo on the newly launched Liberty One TV posted on YouTube, the website was created in response to a perception that those on the left have taken over the mainstream narrative on current events. “It’s time we take control of the narrative,” Biggs says in the promo plugging his website. “It’s time that we create our own network so we can get out our values to the people in the country who believe in the things that we do…the things that we love about America. The Constitution, having a country that’s safe so we can raise our children in a good home with Western civilization values.”
A narrator ominously ends the promo with the charge: “Let the revolution begin.”
Meanwhile, there are two groups on Facebook dubbed Republic of Texas, differentiated only by the large one using the article “the” in its title. The smaller of the two groups boasts 312 members, describing its mission “…to celebrate Texas and Texans. Sick of all the political stuff on the old website.”
A larger group calling itself The Republic of Texas counts 6,640 members among its ranks welcomed with a profile picture of a silhouetted sign that reads “We don’t call 911” accompanied with a cutout of a long gun. A sample of its offerings is the shared link of one of its users headlined: “The 20 diseases Muslim ‘refugees’ bring into the West — as if the terror isn’t enough.”
The referenced website doesn’t exist, resulting in reaching an “internal server error” in trying to access it. Both groups require people to join in order to comment or contribute posts.