Dozens of left-wing activists protested a local conservative event in Denton, Texas, last week, leading to tense interactions with counterprotesters and security, according to investigative reporting by Upward News. The protest was the latest of frequent demonstrations by local "antifascist" or "antifa" groups in North Texas cities.
Local conservative group True Texas Project hosted a public event at the Denton County Commissioners Court on September 20, featuring guest speakers Kelly Neidert and Michael Sullivan. Leftist Twitter pages linked to antifa activism, including Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, Don't Mess With Trans Texans, and Trans Resistance Network, shared a notice in advance. It encouraged activists to arrive and "demand" that officials "do away with this hate group's event at our courthouse," advising them to wear black clothing, cover their faces, and "make noise."
“Just Keep It Cool”
Antifa arrived at the steps of the courthouse over an hour early, dressed mostly in black and displaying communist or anarchist symbols. At least two carried pistols. Several carried backpacks and items such as baseball bats, a holstered knife, a wooden staff, flags, a megaphone, walkie-talkies, and a speaker. One appeared to have a sheathed sword and a large metal shield painted with the words, "death waits for no man."
Right-wing counterprotesters, some with American flags on their clothing, showed up simultaneously. Two were armed with rifles while three more carried pistols. Some said they were there to "protect" guest speaker Neidert. The 22-year-old activist was at the event to promote her organization Protect Texas Kids, which campaigns against LGBT books in schools, gender transitions for minors, and more.
"Just keep it cool," said one unarmed counterprotester to others as they stood several yards away from antifa members. He wore a neck gaiter bearing the Buc-ee's logo, which has been adopted as a symbol by the conservative Proud Boys in Texas. He was confident that antifa wouldn't incite conflict as there were "too many guns" on his side.
As both groups waited outside for the event to start, they had a series of interactions ranging from playful mockery to tense arguments. One armed man repeatedly asked antifa members if they were going to “remain peaceful.” “No one’s here to hurt anybody," one replied. Other times, antifa accused a woman of not holding her rifle low enough.
The protesters got into several heated discussions about antifa's reputation for violence and conservatives' mission against “grooming” children. Antifa later gathered in a circle and gave speeches to one another through a megaphone. They denounced the “fascists” at the True Texas Project event, especially Neidert, who is well known in the area for protesting in person against businesses that host sexualized drag shows with children present.
“The people in there have harassed our local businesses, they've harassed our bars… They've harassed so many institutions that we've had here,” a young male protester said.
“Y'all burned down whole police stations!” shouted the man who questioned them earlier, referencing antifa riots in 2020. “You burned down whole cities!” As he kept throwing accusations, the leftists drowned him out by chanting, “Denton is gay!”
As Neidert was set to give her speech, multiple antifa members who appeared to be unarmed went inside the courthouse. After a heated argument with the head of Texas Defense Force, a militia hired as security, they were allowed into the event on the condition that they didn't disrupt it. They stood in silence at the left side of the room as Neidert spoke, holding signs that displayed a Soviet hammer-and-sickle symbol and the words, “Don't just protect trans kids fight their oppressors.”
Antifa left the building after Neidert's speech, which lasted less than 20 minutes in the 2-hour event. All protesters outside eventually left, and the evening ended without any reported threats or violence.
Kelly Neidert, Target of Antifa
For Neidert, this was the latest in a series of encounters with antifa in Texas, one she described as “relatively tame” in an interview with Upward News. Since beginning her conservative activism last year, these radicalized groups developed a bitter and violent feud with her that has continually escalated.
While attending the University of North Texas (UNT), she hosted a pro-life demonstration in October 2021 for Young Conservatives of Texas, her student organization. Antifa agitators and UNT students arrived in the hundreds, disrupting the event by chanting anti-Christian slogans, throwing objects, using a megaphone, and attempting to pick fights with the small group of conservative students. This was the first of many encounters Neidert would have with antifa during and after her college career.
The antifa group Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, which has a Twitter page with over 18,000 followers, had incited the mob by tweeting earlier that day, "UNT: fascists are organizing in your area," claiming that students had invited "white nationalists" to promote "christo-fascist abortion legislation." The far-left group, which has similar units across the country, advertises itself as "community defense" against "white supremacists/fascism" and is the most prominent antifa unit in Texas. Its members have been known to appear in black military-style gear, armed with rifles in places where it's legal to carry.
In a story that made national headlines, antifa crashed another of Neidert's events in March, when she invited Republican candidate Jeff Younger to give a speech critical of gender transitions for minors. Dozens of UNT students and antifa members stormed the event. They chanted, pounded desks, cursed and spat at Younger, and grabbed his microphone, all to keep him from speaking. Law enforcement failed to contain the situation and evacuated Neidert and Younger as a mob chased them.
“If you were at the UNT protest, no you weren't,” the Elm Fork group later tweeted. “Be proud of what you've accomplished and wary of the media hype circulating your faces.”
As Neidert's activism has expanded locally with Protect Texas Kids, antifa have been “obsessed” with targeting her.
“Now that we're doing off-campus stuff… they can get away with, you know, being more intimidating and carrying their guns and everything, so on that level I'm a bit more concerned. I mean, some of these people are unhinged.”
After seeing certain masked antifa members multiple times, she has often tried to identify them by taking note of tattoos, license plates, and searching public information. She has posted some of their names online, leading them to delete their social media accounts. She alleges that some have criminal records or have directly threatened her.
Antifa in North Texas grew bolder over the summer, blocking government workers from a homeless encampment in Dallas and guarding a drag show in Roanoke with AR-15s. Armed right-wingers, including members of paramilitary groups, now appear more frequently wherever antifa presence is expected in a supposed attempt to keep the peace.
Neidert told Upward News that antifa failed to disrupt last week’s event because, for once, they were “outnumbered” by armed individuals, police, security, and a strong showing of conservative attendees. One antifa member seemed to agree.
"I am f—ing egregiously disappointed in denton tonight," wrote an anonymous Twitter user who later deleted their account. "The turnout for kelly's event was abysmal. we have LGBTQ+ events cancelled in denton [because] of her/[fascists], where the f— were yall? this was a great chance to make a show of force."