Some 2.5 million people visit the Alamo each year. Jim Lanier of Atlanta, Georgia, is just one of them. But Lanier’s experience on Saturday visiting the most famous battleground in Texas’ War of Independence from Mexico was different from that of most every other visitor who makes the trek to this storied mission year in and year out.
On Saturday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m, hundreds of gun advocates from Texas and the surrounding states gathered no more than 40 yards from the Alamo’s tourist entrance for the 2013 “Line In the Sand” rally. The name refers to a line in a speech that Lt. Colonel William Barret Travis gave, according to legend, to inspire troops at the Battle of the Alamo. The majority of the nearly 1,000 attendees who stopped by over the course of the three-hour rally arrived proudly shouldering rifles and shotguns to voice their support for increased gun rights and their concerns over possible misinterpretations of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The demonstration was decidedly peaceful—dozens of uniformed officers littered the outskirts of the gathering, undercover officers wearing earpieces mingled among the attendees, and even more officers looked on with binoculars and cameras from the vacant third story of a commercial building across the street from the rally—but it was a passionate one all the same. During the three-hour rally, 13 scheduled speakers took to a stage erected just on the edge of the state-supervised property to implore government officials on the local, state, and national levels to not infringe upon their constitutional rights to carry guns.
Lanier knew some of what was in store for him on this day. He said he’d heard something on the radio about the rally a few days prior to his trip. He took note of that bit of information, he said, but he came to the Alamo anyway.
“This is Texas,” Lanier, 60, said with a sigh as he and his wife patiently awaited the arrival of some friends and family who were supposed to be joining them on their tour of the Alamo. “And I’m against gun control. But I’m not interested [in the rally]. I wish they weren’t here.”
Funny, gaining the attention of passersby like Lanier is exactly why organizers fought so hard to host this rally where they did. Originally, attempts to do so were spurned by Alamo and San Antonio officials alike; traditionally, demonstrations like this one take place not on the actual grounds of the state-owned Alamo, but on the nearby city-owned Alamo Plaza, which sits some 50 yards to the south of the landmark itself. But with the help of gun rights advocate Jerry Patterson, a 2014 Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor, organizers circumvented local rule and had their request approved. As Texas Land Commissioner, it’s Patterson—who was also one of the 13 scheduled speakers—who gets the last say in how state property such as the Alamo is used.
“High tourist areas like these are great,” said Murdoch Pizgatti, 37, one of the rally’s hosts and the co-founder of DontComply.com who had a SKS rifle slung over his shoulder. Along with fellow gun-advocacy websites OpenCarryTexas.org and TXCarry.org, Pizgatti helped to organize and promote the event. “We get people from other countries because of it. And they want to take pictures with us and see what a free country looks like.”
Mostly, though, already-strong supporters—gun-carriers that approvingly hoisted their rifles and shotguns into the air above them when speakers became especially incensed—heard the organizers’ message.
The messages shared were many. For Pizgatti, the goal was increased awareness of a proposed piece of state legislation that would extend open-carry rights to handguns as well as the already-approved longer-barreled weapons. C.J. Grisham of OpenCarryTexas.org mostly spoke out against a San Antonio ordinance that outlaws the open carry of loaded weapons. A number of Texas politicians, including Patterson and Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Kathie Glass, made sure to mention gun control, but also used their time to stump for other causes, such as immigration reform.
None of the other speakers, however, demonstrated the sheer rage of conspiracy theorist and syndicated radio host Alex Jones. Jones blasted gun control activists, slammed Congress, deplored globalization and compared Mexico to “a countrywide Chicago” before suggesting that Second Amendment rights extend to that nation, too. All rally long, Jones would wander about the demonstration grounds, hosting impromptu sub-rallies for a few moments before breaking up his own gatherings and returning his captive audiences’ attention back to the speakers on stage.
“If it’s a war they want,” he repeatedly said throughout the day on the subject of gun control, “it’s a war they’ll get.”
San Antonio police chief William McManus got a chuckle out of that line as he watched Jones speak over the official demonstration’s P.A. system. He wouldn’t say how many police officers he had at the event, just that there was “a substantial number.”
“Our goal today is to facilitate the rally,” McManus said. “We’re here to keep the city safe, be visible, and make sure no one is alarmed by the carrying.”
That’s the rub of the San Antonio ordinance some of the speakers rallied against: it’s legal to carry a rifle in public, but those doing so can be charged with disorderly conduct if citizens around them become alarmed. In August, McManus made headlines for arresting three such carriers at an area Starbucks after his department was called by a woman who was “freaked out” by their guns. Those three men, who documented their experience in a video on YouTube, were brought onto the stage and honored during the rally by OpenCarryTexas.org’s Grisham, who called them “the reason we’re here.”
There was another big perk for attendees: raffle prizes. Toward the end of the rally, organizers handed out a SKS rifle, a Mossberg 500 shotgun, various decorative AK-47 adornments, and some gun-advocacy books to attendees who’d purchased raffle tickets in support of the cause. When their raffle numbers were called, the winners, all already visibly carrying guns, made their way through the crowds to pick up their prizes.
Most of those carriers’ guns were decorated with a red plastic straw meant to indicate empty chambers and a compliance with city law. R.C. Lyon, founder of the six-month-old Ellis County Open Carry organization, walked around the grounds, handing out straws to those not already outwardly displaying their compliance.
“For people to walk up and know that these things are [not ready to fire] does a lot of good,” Lyon said before noting that neither the straws nor the law prohibited him from having a full magazine of ammo at the ready.
“This is loaded,” he said, pointing at his own rifle. “Of course it is. My concealed [handgun] is loaded, too. And I have every right.”
Perhaps more surprising than the number of guns on display at the rally was the shortage of protestors demonstrating against the event. For a short while, a pair of Aztec descendants showed up near the back with signs noting that the Alamo was also a burial ground for the Battle of the Alamo’s fallen Mexican soldiers, and that this day’s demonstration was desecrating their graves.
But only one anti-gun advocate showed. Jesse Rodriguez, a 50-year-old art teacher at San Antonio’s Highland High School marched the grounds along with Ollie, his 7-year-old son, who carried a sign reading “No guns in my school. No more killing kids.”
“I’m surprised at the lack of protestors,” the elder Rodriguez said over the shouts of attendees that chided him for bringing a child. “This is a bullying campaign. You walk around with a gun, saying ‘Don’t take away my gun,’ that’s a bullying campaign. I don’t feel threatened here [at the rally]. But I do feel threatened by guns. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”
Perhaps ironically, feeling threatened is why most of the other attendees came to the Alamo today, too.
“It’s really significant that we’re here,” said DontComply.com’s Pizgatti. “It’s significant because of what [the Americans] stood for at the Alamo. Now, we’re on the same road towards a tyranny. Our rights are being taken away. [My family] has looked at the lineage. My eighth uncle was [Lt. Colonel William Barret Travis, and I think he’s smiling down on me right now. We’re inspiring patriots to get involved in their government and make their voices heard.”