TYLER — A rally to protest federal police in U.S. cities and a Back the Blue rally turned violent Sunday in Tyler as supporters from each side started arguing.
Three people say they are filing police reports, and Tyler police officials confirmed they were contacted. No arrests were made.
Both sides have posted photos, videos and statements about the physical confrontations that took place.
Democratic congressional candidate Hank Gilbert of Tyler held the original rally at 2 p.m. Sunday. However a Back the Blue Rally started at 12:30 p.m. on the downtown square. Gilbert said he supports the police but is against federal agents not in uniform taking people and putting them in unmarked vehicles during recent protests in Portland, Oregon.
As Gilbert spoke, a large crowd waving signs supporting President Donald Trump and a Confederate flag got closer and closer. One man tried to keep the people chanting “Trump” and “Louie” within six feet of the speakers but failed. When the three speakers ended, the arguments began as one person was choked, a woman said she was punched and Gilbert’s campaign manager was cut in the face, later claming someone took his phone. The Trump supporters say they were provoked.
The incident overshadowed other pockets of people in the square on opposite political sides having an open dialogue about issues.
Around 2:45 p.m., a Black Lives Matter group formed on the sidewalk on the corner where protests have taken place almost nightly since May 27, two days after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. One man waved a Confederate flag on the street as they chanted, and others who were part of the Back the Blue Rally and who were armed stood behind them without incident. Another group about 15 yards away chanted “blue lives matter.”
Gilbert is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler.
Gilbert’s campaign staff sent a statement Sunday that stated, “Armed supporters of Congressman Louie Gohmert brutally beat and assaulted Ryan Miller, the campaign manager for Gohmert’s opponent, Hank Gilbert around 2:30 p.m. Sunday during a peaceful rally organized to protest the unconstitutional occupation of Portland, Oregon on the courthouse square in downtown Tyler.
“Miller was attacked by at least four protesters, some of whom were armed, and sustained blows to the head and other parts of his body, as well as a large gash under his eye. The incident occurred as officers from the Tyler Police Department drove around the square idly, waving at the Blue Lives Matter counter-protesters who had come to support Gilbert’s opponent. Gohmert’s supporters disrupted the rally by shouting, ‘Louie! Louie! Louie!’ repeatedly, including while Miller was being brutally attacked.”
However, Caroline Artmire said in a statement on her Facebook page that Miller tripped and was not attacked.
“No, he was not beaten. He got shoved and then tripped himself because he was trying to defend the stupid guy that called me a name,” Artmire said in her statement. “Don’t let the dems fool you. All these men stood up for me, a young woman, because I was disrespected by a 50+ year old. Apparently, us gun-toting Republicans are ‘thugs w guns.’ Well Mr. Ryan Miller, don’t forget to let everyone know you were trying to argue with everyone about ‘40% of the world not having internet and that it isn’t fair!’ Why would you even bring that up when it’s completely irrelevant.”
Artmire said violence could have been prevented, but she was being defended.
Gilbert’s campaign said a police report was filed and said supporters of the protest were afraid to show up.
“We had more than 100 people RSVP to participate in this protest, and were flooded with calls, texts, and emails in the 20 minutes before it began with folks telling us they would not be getting out of their cars after seeing the mass of armed counter-protesters who had descended upon the square,” said Vince Leibowitz, a consultant for Gilbert.
Nancy Nichols said she was asked along with her husband, Mike, to attend and help sign up voters. She said her title as committeewoman for the state Democratic Executive Committee for Senate District 1 did not factor in that decision as she has helped sign people up to vote several times a week.
She said she was punched in the chest and filed a police report.
“I’m 65, and I get punched. I was there because it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and we were going to register voters. We were asked to register voters, which we are every week and the answer is always yes,” said Nichols after returning from the police department. “We don’t want this in our city. It’s a big deal. We need to interview our elected officials. Are they OK with this happening? The lack of social distancing is such an understatement. They were literally in my face. In all of our faces.
“There were non-officer militia in camo with assault rifles involved. This is not going away. This will be corrected; it has to be,” Nichols continued. “A lot of people had Trump attire and carried flags. ... Most did not wear masks and they moved close to the other attendees, as in within inches of me and others.
“When Hank Gilbert began speaking, the Trump people sounded air horns, yelled derogatory remarks and obscenities, and moved close to the stage area,” Nichols said. “They shouted Hank down. A couple other speakers attempted to give their talks. The crowd got louder and pushed closer. By that I mean they moved within touching distance of the speakers. The speakers stepped back, but the memorial monument was behind them. There was no protection. You can hear the obscenities the crowd was shouting on videos.”
Nichols said her husband stepped in to help roll up audio cables and people started to yell swear words at them.
“Three guys crowded Mike against the memorial wall. He felt the wall start to fall over backwards. By that time, I had picked up Mike’s voter registration materials and was standing next to him,” Nichols said. “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.”
Tyler police showed up and took statements, but Gilbert said that was not enough.
“They didn’t get on the square until the violence was well underway and weren’t even near the scene of the actual protest until Ryan had already been beaten up,” Gilbert said. “This is after we were told by the city last week there would be a sufficient police presence downtown for our rally.”
Tyler police spokesman Andy Erbaugh said officers responded and were quickly at the scene, but no arrests were made. Police Chief Jimmy Toler was not available for comment Sunday night.
Gilbert called on Gohmert to denounce the violence his supporters engaged in, but the congressman did not respond to a request for comment Sunday night.