APD Officers, Proud Boys, and Candidates Don’t Mix

WTF are they doing?

Proud Boys supporters counterprotest Women's March Austin on Oct. 17 (Photo by Jana Birchum)

At least 10 persons have complained to the city's Office of Police Oversight about a Nov. 1 photograph showing Austin police posing with members of the Proud Boys, a white supremacist organization. The incident is being described as a photobombing, but Austin Police Department has launched an internal investigation.

Fox 7 reporter Shannon Ryan captured the photo, which shows the pro-police bikers known as the Wind Therapy Freedom Riders clustered around eight APD officers, with three Proud Boys to the side, flashing the white power sign. Also present in the picture are members of Your Minute is Up, a group seeking Mayor Steve Adler's recall, and five conservative candidates for local office, four of whom were defeated in the Nov. 3 elections (the fifth, Mackenzie Kelly, is in a December run-off with incumbent Jimmy Flannigan).

It’s easy to argue that the APD officers did not intend to be photographed with white supremacists, but harder to assert that they were unaware of the political nature of the event.

The photo was taken at the end of a demonstration denouncing Adler and City Council, when WTFer CEO Luis Rod­ri­guez asked police detailed to the event to pose with demonstrators. Ryan then captured the shot and posted it on Twitter, requesting comment from Chief Brian Manley.

Rodriguez told the Chronicle that the Proud Boys photobombed his group's picture. He said that although he knows Christopher Ritchie, the only Proud Boy in the photo to be identified, he was unaware that Ritchie was a white supremacist. "I knew Christopher Ritchie, because on Mem­or­ial Day, at the Texas State Cemetery, we used to go out and place flags on soldiers' grave sites," Rodriguez said. "Then he showed up to a few other events that we had. He's just an independent, he's not part of our group or anything."

Rodriguez said that he and members of his group confronted Ritchie at a restaurant after the demonstrations concluded. "When I saw him at dinner, myself and a few of my guys walked over and said, 'What the hell were you doing? I just found out that you did a white power symbol on the picture that we had.' And he said, 'No, no, that was just an 'OK' symbol, I don't know what everybody's tripping about.' I said, 'Dude, I better not find out different. Because I don't put up with that bullshit.' I think it kind of freaked him out, 10 bikers walking up to him going, 'What the hell are you doing?'"

Rodriguez was perhaps more upset with Fox 7's Ryan, whom he accused of trying to fabricate a scandal out of thin air. In a Facebook post, he ridiculed the idea that the WTFers support white supremacy. "Have we missed the part where I'm Hispanic?" he asked. "The notion that we're all gathered there, and the cops went there to gather with some white supremacists – that's a ridiculous notion."

By the time the picture was snapped, the Proud Boys had been among the demonstrators for close to an hour. Video uploaded to Facebook on the Silent No More – We Back Our Protectors page shows at least two of them, one highly visible in black and yellow clothing, standing with the group and listening to remarks by the Republican candidates in front of the W Hotel. A Proud Boy can be seen making the white power sign at the 1:43 mark of the video and is visible at the 19:40 mark and thereafter, standing perhaps 20 feet from the speakers.

Photo by Jana Birchum

It's easy to argue that the APD officers did not intend to be photographed with white supremacists, but harder to assert that they were unaware of the political nature of the event. By agreeing to stand for the photos, they seem to have violated APD policies against publicly advocating for political candidates or causes. After Ryan's photo surfaced, APD issued a statement announcing an investigation. "We do not justify or condone political activities in uniform," the statement read, adding that a training bulletin had been sent to officers, reminding them of the policy.

Before the protest began, the WTFers were received cordially by Austin police, as they have been at past rallies. Commander Eric Miesse, Lieutenant Jonathan Her­ring, an as-yet-unidentified officer whose name tag read "Jones," and another officer whose name tag was not viewable shook hands and stood for selfies with the group as they arrived outside APD headquarters. Miesse and Herring were again present in Ryan's photo at City Hall.

Also present at the greeting was Dennis Farris, a former APD officer whom Rodri­guez described in an Aug. 26 Facebook post as a go-between for the group and APD. "Thank you to Dennis Farris and his wife for your guidance and connecting me with the 'powers that be' so we can wield a much heavier hammer and make the changes that need to be made," Rodriguez wrote. Pre­sum­ably, the "changes that need to be made" are actually changes that need to be "unmade" – the WTFers object to the vote taken by Adler and Council in August to cut APD's budget by 4% and to reallocate up to 20% more over the course of 2021.

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