Contemporary Fascists in Austin, Texas, and the Deadly 20th Century Fascism supported by some of my relatives through The Texas Company
On a Saturday afternoon in or around 2012 at the SxSW international music festival, I was with my nephew on a closed downtown street. We looked up and were startled to see coming down the street towards us a grim and silent group displaying an array of long guns, as well as a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. Some were dressed partially in military camouflage. In this festive urban environment full of revelers from around the world in jeans, shorts, and t-shirts, the camouflage served to highlight rather than hide the marchers’ military purpose.
The complete lack of visible police presence was notable. I had participated in many protest marches, some even during SxSW—and there was always a significant police presence. Occasionally the police would arrest or attack protesters. During the annual state high school track and field competitions, which drew a large number of African-Americans from around Texas, the police presence was draconian, as if they were preparing for an invasion. But on that Saturday afternoon, not a single member of the police force was to be seen near this armed group resembling some of those who would in 2021 march on the US Capitol to try to attack and kidnap members of Congress.
This armed military display at SxSW seems to have been a spectral harbinger, a soundless dirge amidst the loud music.
Right-wing Violence and Intimidation Escalates in Austin
Since then, armed right-wing groups made their presence increasingly known in Austin, targeting people on the Left, as well as the black and brown communities in East Austin. They attacked and beat-up marchers celebrating May Day. They occupied a park in East Austin, and intimidated others from using it to distribute free food.
Armed fascists showed up to support the gentrification of East Austin, at a time when the gentrification process there was the most intense in the country. One morning in 2015, Sergio Lajarazu recounted, “I was driving by like any other day, taking my daughter to school. That’s when I saw it: my life’s work under the bulldozer.” His landlord, without warning and in the middle of a lease, bulldozed Sergio and his wife’s Jumpolin piñata shop. The Mexican American tenants apparently were an obstacle to Austin developers’ displacement of Mexican Americans from their affordable homes and leases. The landlord characterized his actions as a form of beautification, comparing it to a clearing away an infestation of “roaches.”
In subsequent months, I joined demonstrators organized by Defend Our Hoodz and others on the sidewalk outside to protest the Blue Cat Cafe business brought in by the landlord to replace the piñata shop.
The neighborhood continued to picket the cat café. Paul Gray, the brother of the owner of the Blue Cat Café, was a military veteran and member of the Neo-Nazi military group called Vanguard America; he soon would join an offshoot called Patriot Front. Gray brought his friends and was joined by others recruited by local media rageaholic Alex Jones to confront the anti-gentrification protestors. These military-trained fascists intimidated and assaulted anti-gentrification protestors. The police tasered an anti-gentrification protestor and seemed to offer little protection from the fascists who were trying to disrupt these regular demonstrations.
The Patriotic Front apparently are book burners too. In November of 2017, the Patriot Front showed up in front of Monkeywrench bookstore in Austin, a gathering place for leftists and known for hosting Marxist intellectuals like Gayatri Spivak, activists from El Salvador, and brave young Dalit women from India.
An Antifa Response
While police did little to protect people from fascists, anti-fascists took action to make it clear fascists were not welcome in Austin. Neo-Nazis and their local employers were identified. People were encouraged to call the businesses giving employment to fascists and as a result it appears that some were fired.
Around the time Paul Gray showed up at the Blue Cat Café, he scheduled a neo-Nazi rally at the Texas Capitol. He described it as an effort to support “Gov. Abbott’s and Pres. Trump’s policy on enforcing border protection, helping the Border Patrol and police forces in their service, and all our Texas congressmen who want to put America first.” Antifa groups sounded the alarm and I answered the call to surround the neo-Nazis with the counter-protestors. We outnumbered the fascists, made a lot of noise, and made sure their rally was frustrated.
Within a few months, neo-Nazi demonstrations organized by Paul Gray’s group Vanguard America occurred in Charlottesville Virginia, where one of the white supremacists drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist counter-protestors, killing one of them.
Police, Military, Fascist and Corporate Cooperation
A massive hack of regional police data sharing centers in July of 2020 demonstrated police collusion with corporate and right-wing violence. This hack, which included the Austin Regional Intelligence Center, revealed that the police were targeting Muslims, American anti-fascists, and people lawfully protesting police violence. The police were defining these kinds of people as terroristic threats. Right-wing domestic terrorists were largely ignored as threats. In some respects, the fascists were considered allies. A black anti-police-violence protestor in Dallas was arrested and placed in jail for five months before the charges were dropped; the basis for his arrest had been a video prepared by Alex Jones’ Infowars.
The hack showed that the police cultivated a secret network of citizen informants from churches, security agencies, and other sources, reminiscent of the actions of the FBI in the 1940s and 50s when they enlisted 100,800 members of the American Legion at 16,700 posts to spy on left-wing Americans in their own communities. Documents from the police regional surveillance centers show an interest in bizarre conspiracies favored by the right such as so-called efforts to install Sharia law in the US. The hack revealed the close allegiance between the nation’s police and big oil companies and big banks like Chase Bank. Targets of “anti-terrorist” police surveillance in Austin included anti-fossil fuel activists.
When the Austin police killed Mike Ramos, the Mike Ramos Brigade was formed. The Brigde and many others organized large demonstrations downtown and near the police station in 2020. At one large demonstration at the police station, police casually fired many rounds of so-called “non-lethal” projectiles into the anti-police-violence protestors, causing permanent brain damage to one protestor and permanent loss of an eye by another. Dozens suffered less serious injuries. Right-wing extremists with guns showed up to support the police. A few of the protestors against police violence also carried weapons to protect themselves.
During one march on Congress Avenue, within a few feet of some of my friends who were there, a military sergeant arrived in a car, seemingly intent on repeating the murder and mayhem from Charlottesville. He drove up to the march, stopped, and then accelerated his car directly into the crowd, holding his steering wheel with one hand and a pistol in the other. When protestors approached the car to try to stop it, the driver quickly shot into the crowd, killing protestor Garrett Foster.
The driver turned himself in to police who briefly interrogated him and accepted and repeated to the public his lies about the incident. The police released him within hours, without questioning any other eye-witnesses. The police even hid the identity of the shooter from the public. Activists were able to identify the killer as Sgt. Daniel Perry. The elected head of the Austin police union made statements indicating that Daniel Perry gave Garrett Foster what he deserved; the police union blamed Foster’s death on the activists who opposed police violence. According to the police union head: Garrett Foster “was looking for confrontation and he found it. The Feux Mike Ramos Brigade needs to be stopped. The only people out of control during this incident was the Feux Brigade.”
It was not surprising to me that violent right-wing fascist groups grew and become emboldened enough to stage a violent attack on the US Congress on January 6, 2021. Paul Gray’s Patriot Front was there. So were the Proud Boys, although its leader, Enrique Terrio, was revealed to be a longtime police informant. Members of local police forces as well as the US military participated in this insurrection. I was not surprised when the head of the Chicago police union, elected by its 12,000 members publicly defended the violent insurrectionists and expressed sympathy for them. The insurrectionists were encouraged by President Trump and funded by oligarchs.
With this act, finally these fascist groups who have been terrorizing people in Austin and many other parts of the country began to be recognized as the terroristic threat that they are.
Skeletons in My Family Closet: Oil Companies and Fascism
I do have a unique perspective on fascism and of the support that exists for fascism among US oligarchs. More than ten years ago, I had opened a door to a family closet and found some skeletons, hidden away in the Fox River Valley of rural small-town Illinois where I grew up.
In the 19th Century, my great aunt Harriet Rockwell of St. Charles, Illinois, had married grocery clerk Ed Baker who by a strange quirk of fate inherited in 1918 half of the John W. Gates fortune. His niece, 15-year-old Dellora Angell, inherited the other half. This surprise inheritance put them among the top .0001% of Americans in terms of wealth. When Dellora reached 19, she married Lester Norris, a St. Charles classmate from public school, who was trained as an illustrator.
Despite Ed Baker and the Norrises being a regular part of my father’s family gatherings when he was a child, I had never met them and knew little about them. I grew up on the other side of the tracks in a town near to their homes in St. Charles. In the second decade of the 21st Century, I became curious and learned that the bulk of the Gates fortune inherited by these two was in shares of The Texas Company, known by its brand-name Texaco. Ed and Dellora inherited enough Texaco shares to make Baker and the Norrises collectively the largest shareholders in the company. I also learned that in 1927, Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini sat to have his portrait drawn by Lester Norris, a portrait that Norris kept on the wall of his office in St. Charles.
Lester Norris was elevated to the Board of Directors of Texaco in 1933 and served until 1973—making him the longest serving member of the Texaco Board. During his tenure, my research revealed to me that Texaco had provided oil for Hitler’s navy, assisted Nazi espionage, and provided all the oil necessary on credit to General Franco to make his fascist coup in Spain a success. Texaco supported various fascist coups around the world. Fascists have been installed in governments with the blessings of some of the most powerful people in the United States.
In my attempt to understand the phenomenon of Lester Norris and Texaco, of Dr. Alberto G. Garcia and his life, and of the recent eruption of an aggressive US domestic fascist movement, I have developed some understanding of how fascism comes about and what measures against fascism have been shown to be effective in the past.
What is fascism? Fascism is a type of political gangsterism leading to terroristic dictatorship where non-white racial groups and left-wing groups are scapegoated and persecuted to perpetuate a capitalist society. Fascism is ultranationalist and relies on certain religious or quasi-religious doctrines to justify itself. It also relies on a fun-house mirror of appropriated left-wing rhetoric. Fascism is what oligarchs support when they feel their privileges and power are threatened by liberal or left-wing democratic political movements. Fascism can be appealing to middle classes whose status and prosperity are threatened when monopoly capitalism destroys small businesses. For example, since the demise of the Farmers Alliance and the Peoples Party in the 19th Century, monopoly capitalism has forced off the land more than 60% of farm owners, and employed Walmart and other international franchises to destroy rural small businesses. These rural areas are where Donald Trump has proven to be most popular. Most of the people facing charges from the Capitol insurrection had prior money troubles, including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes. “Resentment and revenge are fascism’s prime emotions,” according to historian Alexander Reid Ross.
An early and continuous financial supporter of the German Nazi Party was Henry Ford. Other US corporations and oligarchs over time provided funds and other forms of support to the German Nazis.
The first fascist government was imposed on Hungary in 1919. Among those who helped bring about the Hungarian fascist coup was US intelligence operative Allen Dulles. Dulles would go on to support Nazism as an international lawyer for major corporations and as an intelligence operative with the OSS. Later, after he became a top official and then director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, Dulles organized and supported fascistic coups in a number of countries. In 1954, to give just one example, Dulles working with the oligarch Averell Harriman organized the overthrow of a secular social democratic government in Iran in order to protect the interests of US and British oil companies. Dulles bankrolled and directed Iranian Nazi and fascist leaders, whose members had supported Hitler and Mussolini in World War II. The new Iranian dictator imposed by Dulles was induced to retain Lester Norris’s man—the former Texaco Chairman Torkild Rieber—as his oil minister. Although Rieber had been staunchly supported by Texaco director Lester Norris, the majority of other Texaco directors in 1940 forced him to resign when the press began to discover and report on Texaco’s assistance to Hitler. Secular democracy has never returned to Iran.
Torkild Rieber’s wife either jumped or was pushed to her death from their home in a Manhattan penthouse during the height of Rieber’s infatuation with Hitler. By 1954, Rieber was happily ensconced in an office at the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. That year, Rieber hosted the daughter of the fascist dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco, flying her on his private jet from Washington to New York to San Francisco and then to Los Angeles where they were guests of honor at a party thrown by Hollywood mogul Jack Warner.
Rieber died in 1968, after Ed Baker but while Lester Norris was still on the Texaco Board. They are all dead now. Texaco owners Ed Baker, Dellora Norris and Lester Norris are entombed in the same St. Charles, Illinois cemetery where my father is buried. My great grandfather Henry Rockwell shares a large and spacious tomb with Ed Baker.
Fascism has long been deeply embedded in US society and government. In part II of this blog post, I look back at the Antifa actions of Dr. Alberto G. Garcia of Austin and others. In the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Labor unions, a free press, and left-wing organizations were able to offer working class Americans alternatives to anti-democratic, fascist organizations and help position the national government to be anti-fascist. Of course, it took war and enormous amounts of violence to defeat the fascism that had arisen in Europe with the essential help of German oligarchs like Kurt von Schroeder and Fritz Thyssen and US oligarchs like Henry Ford, the Rockefellers, the Harrimans, the House of Morgan, and my relatives at Texaco.
In part II I also identify oligarchs who have supported the insurrection and attempted coup or autogolpe on January 6, and draw conclusions from history and experience as to what can be done to stop fascism in the United States.
Brad Rockwell, unfinished manuscript history of Texaco; Alexander Reid Ross, Against the Fascist Creep (2017); Michael J. Roberto, The Coming of the American Behemoth (2018); Stanislav Vysotsky, American Antifa: The Tactics, Culture, and Practice of Militant Antifascism (2021); Dustin Ray Hamby Exposed as Nazi Leader Chef Goyardee, blog of the Screwston Anti-fascist Committee (Sept. 20, 2019); Defend Our Hoodz, Facebook page; Centex Fascists, Autonomedia website; Shelley Seale, Conflicting stories surround controversial demolition of East Austin piñata store, Culture Map (February 15, 2015); Micah Lee, Hack of 251 Law Enforcement Websites Exposes Personal Data of 700,000 Cops, The Intercept (July 15, 2020); John Anderson, APD’s Secret Informants Eyeing Neighbors for “Suspicious” Activity, Leaked Documents Reveal; APD intel center puts spies among us, Austin Chronicle (July 24, 2020); John Anderson, Austin Regional Intelligence Center’s Secret Informants Show How Profiling Works; “Middle Eastern”? Your info might be on file at Austin’s fusion center, Austin Chronicle (August 7, 2020); John Anderson, ARIC: Black Marchers With Guns? How the Huey P. Newton Gun Club got caught up in Austin Regional Intelligence Center’s snitching program, Austin Chronicle (Sept. 11, 2020); John Anderson, Local Activists Call Out Police and Find Themselves Flagged as Threats, Austin Chronicle (Aug. 28, 2020); Todd C. Frankel, A majority of the people arrested for Capitol riot had a history of financial trouble, Washington Post (Feb. 10, 2021); Carolyn Dimitri, Anne Effland, and Neilson Conklin, The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy, United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (2005).