Professor: City a target for hate groups due to ‘Keep Austin Weird’ diversity

A protester holds a sign outside the Texas Capitol that says "racists are not welcome in Austin." (KXAN Photo)
A protester holds a sign outside the Texas Capitol that says "racists are not welcome in Austin." (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Groups with some of the same racist ideology as the demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia are active in the Austin area. Local experts say the city is attractive to those spreading messages of hate.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate map, four hate groups have operations in the Austin area. Those include The Daily Stormer, a Neo-Nazi group, Power of Prophecy, a general hate group, Nation of Islam, a Black Separatist group and the Southern National Congress, a Neo-Confederate group.

Jeremi Suri, a professor at the University of Texas’ departments of history and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, says the number of hate groups operating in the city is growing because they have made Austin a target.

“Austin is this place where almost anything seems to go. We like to say we’re a weird city and that is actually what draws a lot of hate groups here. It’s precisely that because many of them see us as a threat,” explained Suri.

The professor says what happened in Charlottesville, what was previously planned at Texas A&M University and what we may see in Austin in the near future are not protests, but an “invasion.”

“People come from somewhere else and try to provoke, try to insult, try to bully people. That’s an invasion,” said Suri. “I think that they’re using Austin as a base into which they can come. These are invasions of communities that are filled with diverse people, who don’t want hatred. We’re going to have to stand up and say those who come in and want to invade us with this — you have no place here.”

Suri also says that Austin is a target because of its large student population. “Universities have become a focus for hate groups because hate groups of all kinds believe that universities are brainwashing people to accept diverse groups and to abandon what are more traditional ideologies,” he said. “You will see lots of young men and women involved in this activities who feel locked out of these institutions.”

He says so-called elite universities may be used as enemies that hate groups can use to recruit those people who resent these institutions.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley addressed the media Monday saying the department expects to see community events, marches and/or protests in the future responding to the events this weekend in Charlottesville. The chief said the department’s special response team has a successful history in handling large scale demonstrations.

The team’s motto? “Defending the public’s First Amendment rights to Free Speech.”

“We will continue to work with the leaders of the various groups that we think will lead these efforts,” said Chief Manley. “We will honor everyone’s right to free speech, but we will ensure that we are doing it in a manner that’s as safe as possible.”

For more information about the Southern Poverty Law Center, click here.

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