Dozens of Texas law enforcement officers squared up at the Alamo on Saturday night for an action Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush called a “show of force.” They were there to defend the icon of the Texas Revolution from nebulous threats that were running rampant on pro-Trump social media.
The danger, according to Bush, was an attack from left-wing “antifa” groups. Ahead of the feared attack, he put out a statement claiming that he was monitoring “social media posts and rumors” about protesters’ plans for the Alamo.
Appearing Monday on Fox News, he got more specific. “On Saturday night, we had an elevated threat from antifa, among other groups, that seek to take down many of these statues and monuments that we’ve seen around the country,” said Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Despite the warnings, however, the Alamo wrecking crew never showed up. And days later, there is still vanishingly little proof that there was ever a serious threat. Indeed, some of the supposed evidence appears to have come from an InfoWars guest and a statement from a QAnon conspiracy theorist.
And yet, Bush wasn’t alone in expressing his alarm. While demonstrators around the country reacted to the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd by vandalizing statues and other monuments, including a late May graffiti incident near the Alamo, the threat in San Antonio was portrayed as something much more ambitious—an attempt to destroy the Alamo itself. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) reposted an article claiming that “Rioters threaten to TEAR down the Alamo.” Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) even vowed to defend the Alamo himself, tweeting an offer to stand on the former Spanish mission’s walls with Bush.
“I’ll go stand on the wall with you, George - attacking the Alamo is truly non-negotiable,” Roy tweeted.
The phantom attempt to destroy the Alamo and the furor that surrounded it are just the latest panics on the right amid the Floyd protests.
When an Egyptology professor tweeted tips in May for pulling down a Confederate obelisk in Alabama, prominent pro-Trump Twitter accounts claimed she was secretly tweeting instructions for pulling down the Washington Monument—an endeavor that would require thousands of people and miles of rope. Earlier this month, a One America News reporter claimed that crates of pipe bombs had been discovered by the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The allegation that went viral on the right, even as law enforcement agencies debunked it. Meanwhile, armed counter-protesters have responded to vaporous rumors of antifa mobs that never actually materialize. Sometimes, the antifa rumors can turn dangerous — as they did in Colorado last week, when a man allegedly held two salesmen at gunpoint because he thought they were “antifa.”
What sets the Alamo threat apart, however, is how it managed to embroil so many big names in conservative media and actual, real-life, elected officials. The threat appears to have first gained traction with a Saturday afternoon tweet from Robert Barnes, an attorney who has represented InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and has regularly appeared on Jones’s show. On Saturday afternoon, Barnes tweeted that an unspecified group of protesters wanted to destroy the Alamo.
“Protesters in San Antonio [are] now demanding tearing down The Alamo,” Barnes tweeted.
Barnes has been accused of inserting himself into high-profile situations in the past. In January, attorneys for former Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann threatened legal action against Barnes over claims that he was leading his Twitter followers to wrongly believe he represented Sandmann, an allegation Barnes denied.
In emails to The Daily Beast, Barnes didn’t offer any proof of how he came to know about the Alamo threat in his tweet, which had earned more than 11,000 retweets as of Tuesday. He said his sister and niece really had “witnessed” protesters “personally” in San Antonio calling for the Alamo to be torn down.
“They went down to visit the Alamo, and ended up next to protesters making the demand,” Barnes wrote.
While Barnes’s tweet initially only framed the Alamo threat as a demand from an unclear number of protesters, it was soon portrayed by pro-Trump Twitter and Facebook pages as an active threat against the historic site. Conservative actor James Woods tweeted the hashtag #SaveTheAlamo, and warned that anyone trying to destroy the Alamo would “undoubtedly be shot.”
Glenn Beck’s The Blaze cited Barnes’s tweet in an article warning that protesters “reportedly have set their sights on the Alamo,” a claim that was boosted on Facebook pages for Beck and conservative comedian Steven Crowder. Todd Starnes, a former Fox News host, posted on Facebook that “there are rumors that Antifa protesters are threatening to target the Alamo.”
Aside from Barnes’s tweet, however, there’s scant evidence of any actual threat to the Alamo.
Asked for proof of the Saturday social media threats from antifa to attack the Alamo that Bush mentioned in his Fox News appearance, Bush’s office provided The Daily Beast with screenshots of tweets sent in May and June that mention blowing up or burning down the Alamo.
But the tweets don’t exactly prove Bush’s point. Several of them were sent on Sunday, June 14, a day after the supposed threat on Saturday, June 13, meaning they were reactions to the initial claim that the Alamo was under threat and were published after Bush claimed he saw social media threats to the Alamo on Saturday.
There were a handful of tweets in late May and early June with messages encouraging people to “just throw a grenade” at the Alamo or “Burn down the Alamo.” But none of them have more than a few retweets and likes, suggesting there is no groundswell push or plot to bring down the Alamo. And none of those tweets mention a specific attack on the Alamo on Saturday, meaning that Bush’s claim that the site faced an “elevated threat from antifa” that day appears to have been based either entirely on Barnes’s tweet or some piece of evidence Bush’s office didn’t provide.
Other tweets cited by Bush’s office clearly don’t support his point. One tweet came from a conservative Twitter user who was mocking the idea of burning down the Alamo a day after the ostensible threat, and even included an eyes-rolling emoji. The same Twitter user retweeted criticism of demonstrators who have destroyed other statues, suggesting that the Twitter user wasn’t about to actually burn down the Alamo herself.
Another example cited by Bush’s office, tweeted on May 30, read: “I just wanna get drunk n go burn down the Alamo w my frenzzz.” The tweet, sent by an account with 318 followers, received no engagement on Twitter.
Bush’s office even drew on a tweet from a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory as proof of an antifa plot against the Alamo. On June 3, the operator of anonymous QAnon Twitter account @SixQ2Q2Q tweeted to another QAnon account about a vague plan from the “rioters” to destroy the Alamo, a claim that was cited by Bush’s office as proof of a threat.
“I was told by a friend cop that they have Intel the rioters plan to burn down the Alamo,” the account tweeted. “I said what are you guys going to do surround it? He said he has no idea. Our mayor will let it get destroyed.”
Despite the near-total lack of evidence of an actual “elevated threat from antifa,” Bush’s “show of force” outside the Alamo earned him compliments from conservative media.
Bush’s star turn comes as he’s embroiled in an Alamo monument fight of his own—this time, with fellow Republicans. Bush is leading the implementation of an “Alamo Master Plan” that would restore some of the Alamo’s buildings and relocate the cenotaph, the monument constructed to the Alamo’s defenders in 1939, that was graffitied in late May.
Bush has even been the victim of conspiracy theories surrounding the Alamo, with critics of the Alamo plan claiming, falsely, that he wanted to install a statue of Mexican dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna at the site. Bush has denied the claim, tweeting in 2019 that the allegation could have been an attack based on his mother’s Mexican heritage.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who reportedly sees Bush as a potential rival for the governorship now held by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), has regularly jabbed Bush over his plans for the Alamo. As conservatives praised Bush for “defending” the Alamo over the weekend, Patrick griped that the biggest risk to the Alamo came from Bush and his plan to move the cenotaph.