Members of an anti-Muslim militia talked about attacking people outside a Houston Islamic convention earlier this month, leaked audio reveals.
On the first weekend of September, prominent American Muslims gathered in Houston for the 55th annual Islamic Society of North America convention. But outside the city’s George R. Brown Convention Center, another gathering was growing. Several dozen armed members of the far-right “Texas Patriot Network” and “Soldiers of Odin” vigilante groups who opposed the conference squared off against counter-protesters, who showed up to protect the Muslim conference attendees.
TPN claims not to be a hate group or a militia. But leaked audio, first reported by the anti-fascist blog It’s Going Down, revealed TPN members fantasizing about violently attacking their rivals. An extended version of the conversation, reviewed by The Daily Beast, also reveals the militia boasting of its alleged ties with law enforcement.
Actual violence during the September 1 and 2 protests was limited. The Houston Chronicle reported that one TPN member ran across a police barrier and punched a counter-protester. Three people were handcuffed and soon released, the Chronicle reported.
But leaked audio from a chat app the group used reveals that they tracked counter-protesters from their cars and discussed attacking them when police weren’t watching.
One TPN member, who used the screenname Texasscorpio78, appeared to threaten violence against counter-protesters, particularly against “Red” Dave Smith, a member of the Houston Socialist Movement.
“Those motherfuckers are dead meat when they come out of that damn fence,” Texasscorpio78 said in the TPN chat. “Oh I got position on em now.”
He and others implied that they would attack their opponents, if only there weren’t so many police around.
“I want this guy. This antifa-lookin’ kid,” Texasscorpio78 continued. “I want him more than Red Dave, but I got three cops right here.”
“Man, they are really worried somebody’s going to come down that gravel path on em,” a TPN member said of counter-protesters who were standing in a barricaded area.
“That’s exactly what we need to do,” another suggested.
“If I wouldn’t have been kicked out by that cop, I’d do it, but they all know my face now.”
Although TPN claims on its website not to be racist or bigoted, the group members traded casual sexist and racist slurs.
Houston-area Muslims are too familiar with bigots, particularly outside events like ISNA’s annual convention.
Based on “previous history, when it comes to people protesting, we realized the best option for us in Houston is to not give it any attention,” Sobia Siddiqui, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Houston chapter, told The Daily Beast. “Usually it fizzles out. If it doesn’t fizzle out, it’s minimal. That’s the course of action we took.”
But after the leaked audio revealed TPN discussing violence, CAIR called for the FBI to investigate what they described as “an apparent plot to kill people,” in reference to the “dead meat” threat.
“Now our conversation is changing a bit,” Siddiqui said. “If they’re threatening our community, if they’re threatening our safety—our physical wellbeing as well as our mental wellbeing—we need an investigation.”
An extended version of the audio conversation, shared with The Daily Beast, reveals that militia members bragged of close ties with law enforcement. One TPN member said an FBI agent present at the event warned them that the FBI planned on arresting a member of the Houston Socialist Movement.
“There’s a FBI agent that just informed us, so we’re staying our distance from that,” he said. Another boasted that he had nodded at two FBI agents and that they’d nodded back.
As the protest came to a close, TPN members instructed each other to photograph counter-protesters’ license plates. “Guys if you get their license plate number, I can get their address, everything, where I work at,” user Larryp316 said.
The claim implied he had access to databases that most Texas civilians cannot use. In general, only law enforcement and occasionally private investigators can legally look up people by their license plates.
Militia groups like TPN often style themselves after police or military groups, down to their language in group chats. TPN used a walkie-talkie style app and law enforcement lingo to communicate their locations over the two-day protest, occasionally over-sharing.
“10-4. We’re circling around a park,” Texasscorpio78 told the group shortly after they arrived for their second day of protest, in audio shared with The Daily Beast.
“10-4,” user Minuteman TM replied.
“I’m going potty,” user Karl0305 announced, his voice echoing slightly as if ringing off bathroom tiles.
“I said I’m going potty.”
While the group discussed violence outside the Houston convention center, conference attendees asked each other why the group had come to target them.
“If you walked through the conference at the time and just listened in on conversations, you heard people asking what they [TPN] were doing here, why are they bothering us, maybe we should keep the kids inside. Things like that,” Siddiqui said.
“I want to say it was completely out of the norm, but Muslims have been protested so long that it’s not quite out of the norm.”