ROCKDALE, Texas — Rockdale's city council, mayor and city manager posted a joint statement to Facebook on Monday, addressing the events of Aug. 5, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke hosted a scheduled campaign tour at the historic Kay Theater downtown.
"Concerning certain behaviors shown by protesters in person and on social media afterwards; such actions are not reflective of the values and goals that we, as your elected officials, know that Rockdale holds," the statement said. "In fact, they were an embarrassment to the town. Regardless of anyone’s race, religion, gender, or political affiliation, all citizens are to be treated with respect and should, in no way feel threatened for their expressed position on any matter..."
A video taken by protest attendee James McQuinn has circulated social media, depicting demonstrators holding Gov. Greg Abbott campaign signs circling O'Rourke and his staff as they exit the theater. Demonstrators stand in close proximity to the candidate, and music with profane language can be heard playing from an outdoor speaker.
“We have a very, very conservative city council," Rockdale City Manager Barbara Holly said. "And they think it’s important to protect everyone’s first amendment rights. Knowing that political speech is the most highly protected speech we have, they want to see whatever candidate that comes here, they are treated respectfully — and protesters are respectful.”
While she said no physical violence was enacted on O’Rourke or his supporters, the actions shown in this social media video are, to her, inexcusable.
“The candidate Beto O’Rourke was coming out, and they were surrounding him," she said. "They were having to have the police move people back, [people] were pounding on [O'Rourke's] car, shouting curse words.”
KRHD reached out to numerous Rockdale locals who attended the event to protest O'Rourke, including members of Milam County’s GOP. All declined to be interviewed on camera. One protest attendee did speak on camera, but then called KRHD before air time to withdraw his consent.
An O'Rourke supporter, Ken Flippin, did speak about his own attendance in the theater.
“There were a few Abbott supporters that made it in [the theater]," Flippin said. "A lot of them were just standing around and listening. A couple would make comments when he said something... He answered their question honestly and straight forward. Like – his staff has obviously been trained to let it happen.”
Flippin said he is a fifth-generation native Texan who traveled to Rockdale from his home in the nearby town of Taylor to attend the rally. He shared that he and his friend were both called homophobic slurs by protesters as they exited the building, after the rally ended. But the response didn’t bother him, and he didn’t let what he saw in the video afterward affect him.
“These people are just trying to rile you up," Flippin said. "I saw that, and it was really more humorous than anything. They’re really embarrassing themselves, you know.”
This response from the city of Rockdale has spawned divisive commentary online between those who condemn and praise the actions of the protesters. Those in support of protesters’ actions maintain that these individuals did not harm anyone physically, and the protest was peaceful.
To read the city's statement in full, visit the following link: