AUSTIN – Emily Holmead decided there was something she needed to know about the Mike Ramos Brigade Facebook group. The group popped up over the past week or so, but it has concealed who’s behind it.
On June 1, two representatives from the MRB group stood in a grassy field inside an Austin city park with their faces covered, giving a speech through a bullhorn.
Their message was clear: their plans for protesting in Austin would not be peaceful.
“The Mike Ramos Brigade is a militant organization. We believe in militant rebellion. We believe in organized militant rebellion. Riots are going to happen,” an unidentified man wearing a scarf covering his face told a crowd gathered at the Krieg Softball Complex on June 1.
Holmead wasn’t supposed to be recording the meeting and a newspaper reporter was asked to leave just before the meeting started, Holmead told KXAN. Still, she decided to pull her camera out and record 90 seconds of the meeting.
It was all she needed to know.
“At that point I was like, ‘No one is actually seeing this group right now for what it is,’ so I decided to record it to see what they were going to say and right out — two seconds into the gist of what they were saying — they came out and said they were a militant group,” Holmead told KXAN.
Holmead said she found the MRB page while searching for a group she could help peacefully protest in Austin. It was named after Mike Ramos, a man who officers shot and killed in southeast Austin in April.
A friend suggested she check this group out and sent her the Facebook link. Within the first few posts, Holmead said she knew something “fishy” was going on within the group.
Then, on Sunday, May 31, the Austin Justice Coalition — a group of black activists — planned a rally at the capitol. Its purpose was to peacefully protest police abuses in Austin and across the country, according to AJC Executive Director Chas Moore.
The keynote speaker was Brenda Ramos, Mike Ramos’ mother.
But, an hour or so before the AJC rally, Moore said he called it off over concerns the rally would be hijacked by groups like the Mike Ramos Brigade. We showed Moore the video of the June 1 meeting, which he had not seen.
“When you hear them say ‘We’re a militant organization,’ does that change the dynamic in all of this?” KXAN investigator Jody Barr asked Moore.
“I think that’s who they want to be. I think things like that is why I canceled the event,” Moore replied.
Moore said his group has nothing to do with the Mike Ramos Brigade and does not know who’s behind the group. In a May 31 Facebook post, the Mike Ramos Brigade called Moore’s decision to cancel the capitol rally an “act of cowardice.”
The MRB page then scheduled a 6 p.m. event that night at the Capital Plaza Target store. That store would later become a crime scene.
Target looted by ‘violent extremists’
By the time law enforcement got to the Capital Plaza Target store at 5621 N Interstate 35 Frontage Road, it was too late. Looters had already gotten inside the store and at least one of the glass front doors was smashed in.
A line of Austin police in riot gear lined the front of the store, which was already boarded up and empty earlier in the day. Apparently, state and federal investigators knew the Target hit was coming. After all, the Mike Ramos Brigade’s Facebook page shows the Target hit as a planned event.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw described the people who planned and carried out the Austin Target looting as “violent extremists.” McCraw said the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is helping the Texas Rangers investigate the people “inciting riots or looting in the state of Texas.”
“There are individuals that have been indicated that came from out of state and into — and we’re even aware of, in terms of May 31st , protest and looting of Target in Austin. That was done and organized by an ANTIFA web page and of course the surveillance that was provided over the internet identifying where law enforcement resources were staged was done over ANTIFA accounts. So, there’s no question that there is involvement from these violent extremists that are trying to exploit these things.”
In the comment section of the MRB post, at least one Facebook account posted a picture of two Austin officers who were staged at a bank near the Target store. State and federal agents have gone undercover to identify the people involved in the violence connected to the Austin protests.
KXAN sent messages to the MRB Facebook account asking for an interview so the group could address the allegations made against it. The MRB page responded to a message, declining an interview because of a past KXAN report detailing ANTIFA-types being involved in the violence in the protests.
McCraw said agents have found no evidence that white supremacists groups were behind any of the violence so far, but McCraw said he would not be surprised to see those groups counter-protesting or working to pit different protest groups against one another.
“I don’t mind advertising this. We do have special agents embedded trying to identify criminals that are leveraging these or using this as an opportunity — exploiting these demonstrations. We’re going to identify them, and we already have identified some of them and we will be arresting them, but not at this particular moment,” McCraw told reporters during a press conference alongside Gov. Greg Abbott on June 2 in Dallas.
McCraw said investigators have developed “a list” of names of people they’ve identified who were involved in the violence connected to the looting and rioting but were not ready to release the list or make the arrests.
“We’ve got a long memory and we’ve recorded evidence and we’ll continue to investigate each and every event to identify those individuals who were involved in criminal conduct and make the appropriate arrests based on probable cause and getting prosecution,” McCraw said. A “majority” of the people on the list are from within the state, he said.
McCraw said law enforcement is not interested in any of the conduct of the protesters who are showing up and not committing criminal acts. “The majority of the people that are protesting are doing it for lawful reasons,” McCraw said.
Brenda Ramos: ‘Disgusted, angry’ over use of son’s name
Brenda Ramos had just gotten off the phone with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office when we showed up to her east Austin home. The DA’s office called her to discuss the next steps in the investigation of her son’s shooting death at the hands of an Austin police officer on April 24.
Ramos said she knew about the Facebook page before the interview, but that she has no idea who’s behind it.
It’s definitely not the Ramos family, she said.
“I was really disappointed. It made me angry what they were doing. I’m not about violence and stuff like that,” Ramos said as she sat under the shade of a large pecan tree behind her home on Wednesday.
“I feel hurt because they’re using my son’s name and that makes me angry,” she said.
During the May 31 Austin Justice Coalition rally at the capitol, Ramos was set to publicly address her son’s killing for the first time. With the threats of violence from two different protest groups — one of those the Mike Ramos Brigade — Ramos said she and the AJC decided to cancel their rally.
“Someone just comes in the picture and just — everything was quiet from the beginning, like I asked for, and all of a sudden you see more and more with these different states, bigger states and they figure, ‘Oh, they’re doing this. We’re going to have to do it, too,’ that’s what I felt. Because it was quiet. It was peaceful,” Ramos said.
Ramos fears the MRB group is destroying her son’s memory.
“It’s not good. I don’t like that. I don’t like his memory to be like that. I’m thinking positive. I want peace and quiet and respect. My son is dead, have respect. I don’t like this protesting violence … it’s just uncalled for. I disapprove of it,” Ramos told KXAN.
Ramos said she will continue to push for changes in Texas law that would expedite investigations of police shootings but said she plans to do so peacefully and by having discussions with the people who can make the changes.
“Stop,” Ramos said of the protesters committing the violence, “You can be heard by mouth, but the violence’s got to stop. It’s ridiculous. It’s just got to stop. I don’t agree with that — not at all. The throwing, this and that, that’s really disrespecting me, especially when I see having my son’s name — does not have nothing to do with that. I don’t — I do not know who they are, but something should be done about that.”
Ramos and the Austin Justice Coalition rescheduled the canceled May 31 rally for June 7 at Huston-Tillotson University. Ramos will talk about her son’s death and the pending investigation and organizers planned a march from the university to the Capitol.