Editor’s note: Portions of this story were included in our Wednesday e-edition. However, it has been updated with new information.
The downtown Cleburne streets are empty but on Tuesday afternoon they were packed.
Gossip mill rumblings crescendoed Monday into Tuesday as social media post claims of protesters possibly heading Cleburne’s way steadily increased. Expected on Tuesday, according to the posts, were bus loads of Black Lives Matter and/or Antifa members bent on targeting downtown’s Liberty Hotel, Wright Plaza mural, Gone With the Wind Museum and Gen. Pat Cleburne statue.
Several on Facebook posted alleged credible evidence of such while several others labeled such claims unlikely or outright hoax. The fact that a clash not unlike the scenario rumored on Facebook between protesters and counter protestors occurred last weekend in Weatherford further fueled chatter that such a possibility not out of the question in Cleburne.
Many also took to Facebook on Monday vowing to show up Tuesday to counter protest and protect Cleburne property. Claims and counterclaims abounded early Tuesday of buses and/or Antifa members spotted as did word of doctored photos of buses sporting Black Lives Matters logos.
Following the day’s events, readers took to the Times-Review’s Facebook page to voice support and opposition of the happening with some expressing pride in Cleburne standing strong while others labeled the rally a faux, manufactured event at best, display of Cleburne racism on parade at worst.
Word of the possible presence of Black Lives Matter protesters began circulating around 8 p.m.
“I responded to the scene, which was near Wright Plaza and the Liberty Hotel,” Cleburne Assistant Chief Craig Huskey said. “There were some people there and there was what I would call some heated discussion. But, pretty soon everybody, the main people on both sides were hugging it out and talking.
“So while there was some heated discussion at first there no violence or real trouble. The Black people there were locals. Several I even recognized from seeing around town and it doesn’t appear that any of them were from out of town.”
The self-described patriots and counter protesters began to arrive about 1 p.m. Tuesday and soon packed Wright Plaza, the sidewalks of South Caddo Street and other downtown locales.
As of 7:30 p.m. no protestors, Black Lives Matter or Antifa were to be found. Several Black men who stopped by the Pat Cleburne statue were locals said to be either sympathetic with the counter protester’s desire to protect town property or simply curious as to what was going on.
“We’ve not found any information to corroborate the rumors of Black Lives Matter or anyone else planning to protest in Cleburne,” Cleburne Police Chief Rob Severance said. “There are a lot of citizens out here right now who care about their community but everything’s been peaceful and we’re just here to help if we’re needed.”
County Judge Roger Harmon shared similar thoughts on the matter Tuesday afternoon.
“I’ve been visiting with Sheriff Adam King and so far no one can confirm that there is going to be any protesters in town,” Harmon said. “Unfortunately, rumors, especially on Facebook, get started and they can get out of control. We’re still cautious to see if anybody shows up. But, as of now, we can’t verify any credible evidence that anybody’s going to show up today as far as protesters. As far as everyone else downtown today, I just hope everything’s peaceful and works out without any problems.”
With or without protesters, the counter protesters, many of whom arrived armed and/or displaying flags and signs, expressed pride in their city and county and a distaste for those who would impose their views upon it.
“I came to stand up for what’s right for our nation and our president,” Burleson resident Rebecca Taylor said.
A counter protester further down the block said he showed up because he read on Facebook that a party was in the planning in Cleburne.
Nearby, Cleburne residents Angela Sotelo and Bob Hill held a Trump 2020 sign for passing motorists to see.
“We’re here to show that we’re not going to stand for it,” Hill said. “This is America.”
“We’re here to protect our city.”
Two blocks down, three counter protesters waved as passing traffic receiving thumbs up and honks of approval from many.
“No, I don’t have anything against peaceful protests,” Cleburne resident Mike Perry said. “But we’re against the fact that anyone would take aggravation toward our city. We live here. This is a quiet town.”
Both of Perry’s friends said they support the right to peacefully protest as well but said the tactics of Black Lives Matter protesters amount more to attempts to takeover and bully a city than to peacefully protest.
The city’s Gen. Pat Cleburne statue, one counter protester said, should only be removed if the residents of Cleburne vote to have it removed.
Several blocks away Cleburne resident Will Armstrong stood in front of the Gone With The Wind Museum waving flags with his son and his son’s friend.
“More than anything, this is about coming out here to stand together as a community and not let people tell us what we can and cannot do,” Armstrong said. “This is not about race. There isn’t a racist person out here. This is about us standing together and not letting an agenda come and be shoved down our throats and tell us what we can and cannot do. We’re standing for community and we’re standing for our country.”
Cleburne resident Seth Miller said it’s about protecting the city.
“From what we hear they’re supposed to burn down or do something to the Liberty Hotel,” Miller said. “We don’t know what their problem with it is, but that’s what we’re here for.”
C2 Plumbing owner Chris Cortez agreed.
“People here worked hard to build this community,” Cortez said. “I service this community. I have a business here in Cleburne. My kids grew up in Cleburne and went to Cleburne schools. My grandkids are growing up in Cleburne now and I just don’t feel like people have the right to come out and vandalize what we’ve worked hard to build up. No, not in this town.
“We have so many people who love Cleburne, which you can see by the size of the crowd here and are here today to do the right thing for Cleburne.”
Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said he supports the right of peaceful protest and counter protest with a stress on the peaceful part.
“What we need now is civil discourse and civil debate,” Cain said. “We’ve seen across our country a lot of anger, hate and bitterness these past few months. But we’ve got to get through all that and tackle the issues instead of attacking each other.”
Several black people circulated the largely white crowd gathered at the courthouse square. Standing side by side were one Black man sporting a Make America Great Again cap and another wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.
They and others debated the definition of Black Lives Matter with several of the white people present. Although both sides voiced points of disagreement, the encounter also fostered dialogue and understanding.
Among the counter protesters present was Jessyca Estrada Norman, a U.S. Army veteran from Fort Worth. Norman applauded those present at the courthouse for choosing to talk instead of yelling or chanting slogans at each other.
“Talking is good,” Norman said. “We don’t have to agree. We’re all human. Everyone has their own mindset and point of view of where they’re coming from and what they’ve been through and life experiences.
“However, the only way to get this moving forward, not staying stagnant in the chaos that this is, is to have dialogue like this. We don’t have to agree and I can respect your opinion and where you came from. But, we have to agree on the fact that what’s happening in our country right now is not going to take this world forward. It’s not going to move our country forward in any way, shape or form.”
Understanding and common ground is key, Norman said.
“You learn that in church on Sunday afternoon,” Norman said. “Find something in common with the person next to you and build on that. That’s networking 101. The minute you do that instead of walking up to each other all chest puffed and that stuff, we’re fine.”
Norman added that she’s not against peaceful protests.
“But when it comes to damaging things and breaking the law that’s where the line differs,” Norman said. “But quite frankly, the average person is not involved in that and therefore average people, not the little splinter cells, are the ones who need to sit down and have dialogue with each other just like these people are doing right here.”
Cleburne resident Stephen Allen, a Black man, felt much the same.
“I agree this, talking to each other, is a good thing,” Allen said. “You can’t judge a book by its cover and that’s what I’m here today to represent. I’m a resident of Cleburne and so I wanted to come here in this community we all share. Maybe some people here are thinking there’s no Black people here or the ones that are are just here to cause trouble. And I’m out here today to listen, to talk and spread dialogue. Everyone I’ve spoken to so far are really good people and we all stand united for humanity.
“Is everyone out here like that? I don’t know. There’s a lot of people out here today. But the ones I’ve talked to so far are obviously trying to raise awareness and find some common ground on this thing.”
Allen said he and his white counterparts didn’t agree on everything but he nonetheless characterized Tuesday’s event as a good start.
“We need to have these debates, these conversations that need to be had,” Allen said. “There’s been a bunch of good dialogue today and I think this is a great experience for people to come and be a part of because it’s things like this that are going to propel our community forward is what I think.”
Somervell County resident Tanya Logsdon engaged Allen in conversation for several minutes.
“I think it’s a God thing,” Logsdon said afterward. “I believe with all my heart that this is confirmation that this is what’s supposed to be happening. That if more people like him would approach more people like me and vice versa we wouldn’t have a lot of the problems we have going on in America.”
More needs to be done, Logsdon said.
“I don’t believe in destroying and rioting and looting,” Logsdon said. “That’s not a way of life. That just amplifies, magnifies the situation. There needs to be understanding, compassion and love on both sides. I look around today and see a lot of good people on both sides who want a lot of the same things. The rest has got to stop. At some point somebody has to stop. Somebody has to speak up and say enough.”
Severance on Wednesday reported that Tuesday’s proceedings resulted in no arrests or major incidents.
“I was out for quite a while yesterday talking with people and so forth,” Severance said. “Some said they saw people with Black Lives Matter T-shirts and whatnot but they seemed peaceful. We got word of someone possibly spray painting the courthouse, but that turned out not to be true. All that was there were people talking to each other and we really didn’t encounter any public safety issues.”
Tuesday went about as well as could be hoped for, Severance said.
“It made me proud to be part of Cleburne given that the community members present seemed to talk and work out their differences peacefully as opposed to the way things have played out in some other cities,” Severance said. “That’s what’s needed, is to move past the rhetoric and talk to each other as brothers and sisters.”