Council Member Jimmy Flannigan Harassed by Opponent’s Biker Friends
Confrontation between D6 CM and Wind Therapy Freedom Riders CEO caught on tape
As City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan entered his car to leave a campaign event on Saturday, Nov. 21, the leader of a motorcycle club called the Wind Therapy Freedom Riders approached, looking for a confrontation. Luis Rodriguez, CEO of the WTFers, opened Flannigan's door and aggressively demanded the District 6 CM apologize for allegedly insinuating the organization was racist.
"Why the fuck are you calling us racist?" Rodriguez asks in a video recorded by Flannigan. As Rodriguez shouts at Flannigan, Jacob Aronowitz, the Flannigan campaign's field director, steps in between the two men in an attempt to defuse the situation. "Get the fuck away from me," Rodriguez responds. Things escalate from there, as Rodriguez grows more and more aggressive and Flannigan repeatedly asks him to leave. "Answer the fucking question, you fucking pussy," Rodriguez shouts at one point.
Rodriguez is referring to Flannigan campaign literature that claims his opponent in the D6 run-off, Mackenzie Kelly, "stands with Trump and white nationalists," citing a photo taken at a "Back the Blue" rally organized by the staunchly pro-police and pro-military WTFers, in which Kelly and other local GOP candidates were featured guests. At the rally, Kelly, the bikers, and Austin police officers took a photo with local Proud Boys, whose group promotes white nationalism and accepts using violence to create an American white ethnostate.
Rodriguez says that the Proud Boys, who are flashing a white-power symbol in the photo, were not invited to the event and jumped into the photo without his knowledge. This seems to suggest some distance between the WTFers, Kelly and other Republicans, the Proud Boys, and APD, but in an interview with the Chronicle, Rodriguez refused to condemn the white nationalist organization. "I couldn't tell you what the Proud Boys are or what they stand for or what they believe," Rodriguez told us, later adding, "The only thing I'm responsible for is my organization, so I don't have any reason to denounce the Proud Boys."
Kelly has thus far also been unwilling to condemn either the Proud Boys or Rodriguez for his harassment of Flannigan. Kelly declined to speak with us about the incident; her campaign communications advisor, Andy Hogue (who also serves as the communications director for the Travis County Republican Party) later told us she was away on a family vacation.
In a statement, the Kelly campaign makes passing reference to the Nov. 21 incident, mostly to frame her as the real victim. "The endless name-calling for short-term political gain must stop. Since I entered this race in May I have dealt with vile, baseless attacks almost daily, including threats regarding my well-being," the statement reads. "Right now I see a bunch of angry men shouting back and forth – but this is not some game. We are here to keep our streets safe and bring our community together, not sow the seeds of division in order to win an election."
Kelly is pictured in another photo with the WTFers and other GOP candidates, so she's clearly familiar with the biker group and its members, but Rodriguez and Hogue both say she had no knowledge of Rodriguez's plans to confront Flannigan. When we followed up with Kelly via text to give her an opportunity to specifically address Rodriguez's behavior, she did not reply. In response to the same question, Hogue told us simply: "The statement is all we have to say for today, though I appreciate the opportunity."
Does Rodriguez regret the way he handled the confrontation Saturday? Not really. "I could have been a little calmer," he told us, "but it's very simple. Calling somebody a racist, when I'm nowhere near a racist, that's second only to being called a pedophile. It's not if [my behavior] was warranted or not, but being called a racist gets some people emotionally charged." If Flannigan does not apologize, Rodriguez says he'll file a defamation suit against Flannigan sometime next week, although neither Flannigan nor his campaign have actually called him racist; the campaign ad is referring to the Proud Boys, not WTF. Meanwhile, Rodriguez and other Kelly allies on social media have seized on a claim that actually Flannigan is the racist, since at one point in the confrontation he makes the same familiar "OK" hand gesture that's been co-opted by white-power backers including the Proud Boys.
Despite threats from Rodriguez to continue showing up at Flannigan's campaign events to demand an apology, the incumbent remains undeterred. "We are not slowing down the campaign," Flannigan told us this week. "If anything, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure the voters in D6 know what's at stake in this election, and to ensure reasonable people and supporters of democracy come back and vote in December." Early voting in the run-off begins on Dec. 3 and election day is Dec. 15.