AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Capitol and grounds reopened Thursday one day after the Department of Public Safety closed the Capitol out of an “abundance of caution” amid largely peaceful protests outside.
Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday in front of the Texas Capitol waving signs, American flags and Trump flags on the same day the Congress was set to count electoral votes in Washington, D.C.
The rally, which according to one Facebook event was called “Operation Occupy The Capitol Texas,” coincided with others around the country and in the nation’s capital. The event description noted, “We will stand with states across the country to show our elected officials we will not stand for corruption!”
KXAN crews spoke to protesters who said they were from a variety of groups supporting President Trump and not necessarily a single organizer.
Although violent clashes happened in Washington, D.C., the Austin protest that grew to an estimated 700 or 800 people remained mostly peaceful. Despite closing the Texas Capitol grounds, DPS did not make any arrests.
There were a few heated exchanges between groups, including Trump supporters and a group that labeled itself as “antifa,” but they were dispersed.
Supporters of President Trump have rallied this week in support of the president’s unproven claims of widespread voter fraud, and some broke into the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, causing lockdown and evacuations. Judges, including a majority of the Supreme Court, have rejected almost all legal challenges from Trump and his allies related to the election. Additionally, election officials representing both political parties, leaders in battleground states and former attorney general, William Barr, also said there was no widespread fraud during the November election.
A number of protesters KXAN crews spoke with said they were not from Austin. Some said they came from as far as Dallas and areas in south Texas. According to the event schedule on Facebook, some people had met in Bastrop and drove in a “Trump Train” to an area near the Congress bridge, and then marched to the Capitol.
A protester named Jason explained many people there were hoping they could make a difference in the vote count and hoped their protest would “at least have the government look at the possible election fraud.”
“I think the more divided people are, the easier they’re controlled, you know, so hopefully it’s something good to come of all this,” he said.
Stephanie Phelps, who attended the Austin protest, said she and others were standing in support of Trump, “who has been fighting for us for the last four years. And we all voted for him.”
“We believe in America, we believe in Liberty, we believe that the election was stolen,” Phelps said. “And we believe that it’s time to take this country back — that’s why we’re here.”
Earlier in the day, a teenager flew a lone Joe Biden campaign flag above a crowd of Trump supporters. Felix Luna said he spent the day before his 17th birthday standing out in front of the State Capitol, because he wanted a different message to be heard.
“I believe that my opinion mattered, too, and I disagree with them that the election had fraud in it,” he said.
Luna was seen in tense discussions with several protesters including Brenda Bamberg, who drove to Austin from Tyler Wednesday morning after seeing protesters in Washington, D.C.
“I’m thinking, ‘Man, it’s just too cold and too rainy. But then I started thinking about the Revolutionary War and George Washington and all these that died,” she said. “What they did for me to get my rights, to be able to sit here in my fat chair at home and watch this in TV in a warm house? It just made me cry, and I said, ‘I can’t. I’m going to go stand up for a president that is trying to keep our freedoms.’”
She went on, “I said, ‘if the sun don’t come out, we are going to stand out there in the rain.’”
As for her conversation with Luna, Bamberg said, “I wanted him to tell me his facts… I just wanted him to give me facts, and me to give him facts of — at my age — what I’ve seen.”