Emergency Aid, Minority Communities, and a Militia: involvement of a regional group in response to Hurricane Harvey
In an earlier story, we explored the positive impact of a Texas militia (Texas Republic Militia) in response to Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area.
In this story, we focus on another militia’s response, examining a case of a responding group in great disagreement with other emergency response agencies and media organizations.
Areas often ignored in hurricane relief regardless of location are those that are exceptionally rural or those that house high minority populations. In Brazoria County of Texas, a community of Cambodian immigrants saw their homes destroyed by the storms. Little Cambodia is connected largely by unpaved roads and in response to such little relief, the community called out for assistance from any volunteers willing to help them survive the storm and rebuild.
The Little Cambodia community is located in and around Rosharon, Texas, a bit south of Houston. Due to the storm, most families evacuated and many have seen significant flood damage to their homes and property. At the center of the community sits a temple, which was also damaged by the flood.
In response to Little Cambodia’s call for assistance, a mix of different militia and security organizations reported to Rosharon to help the community. This group of organizations includes the American Freedom Keepers (AFK) and Confederate Riders of America (CRA). SSG, a local business, provided warehousing space for militias to store goods and headquarter their delivery of aid. SSG is a metal fabrication shop that moved a lot of its productivity towards hurricane response and away from projects after Harvey made landfall.
Groups present: The Confederate Riders of America (CRA)
The CRA is a Confederate heritage group. Unlike the League of the South, CRA is not a neo-Confederate nor a White Nationalist organization. CRA does not hold an institutional belief that secession is necessary nor do its members officially hold beliefs that blood and soil are intimately tied to one another. Instead, CRA appears to be an organization interested in forwarding “Southern values” and preserving what they deem the “Southern Way of Life”. They are not explicitly a militia organization, but they are an informal network of individuals who might have militia links. CRA is headquartered in Missouri, but has chapters across much of the South.
They are not the sole nor primary focus of this brief nor are they the primary group responding to the hurricane’s damage in Rosharon. Rather than as a primary implementer of hurricane response, CRA acts more as a giving circle and network for volunteer recruitment or resupply. The role of a more direct responder is filled by a militia organization.
Primary militia: American Freedom Keepers (AFK)
AFK is a militia organization with chapters in over 30 states and a very active top tier of members. They are a Constitutionalist militia headquartered in Portland, but have come out to defend Confederate statues when there were perceived threats the landmarks might be removed. The organization has slick site design and engages with its audience through both YouTube vlogs and Facebook Live broadcasts. AFK also has a strict media policy for members, with the understanding that most media are more interested in using interview clips to sell stories rather than attempt to understand the goals of the members of the militia.
The group describes itself not as a militia, but as a Constitutionalist organization within the overall Patriot Movement. However, use of military equipment and association with other militia movements indicates this semantic difference is fairly moot.
The militia is led by Francis Marion (also the name of an American Revolutionary from South Carolina), who signs each press release from AFK and runs their media engagement.
Francis Marion is also a member of CRA and is often pictured wearing shirts with CRA or III% logos.
Francis Marion and the AFK have been at the center of a media controversy due to their emergency response in Little Cambodia. A journalist from ABC13, who was touring damage dealt to southeastern Texas, caught wind of the militia response to the hurricane and reported to Rosharon to survey the community. Marion, who was wearing a CRA shirt at the time, began arguing with the reporter before determining it was not worth it to give the reporter and their crew the film. A comrade of his, a fellow Constitutionalist media personality, continued to argue with the reporter before Marion returned to intervene and once more tell the reporter to leave. A member of the Cambodian community came to the commotion and confirmed that the militia members had been helping the community and the crew eventually left.
The confrontation has led to weeks of militia-sympathetic individuals haranguing the reporter and her network for her initial bad reporting. No apology has been issued by the network nor the journalist, something that continues to drive the online harassment. No other stories on the community have been attempted by the reporter in question.
Further details of response
The scale of militia deployment around Little Cambodia remains a little unclear, but there are some aspects of this response that are known. The militia presence is significant, invited, and appreciated. In addition to Francis Marion, a couple of other leading figures as well as a number of less public militia individuals have responded to Little Cambodia’s call for assistance. The militias were part of the initial response to this cry for help and have been the only continuing element of this aid. FEMA agents were kicked out by militias and have indicated they will not return.
The residents of Little Cambodia held an appreciation ceremony to thank and honor the work that the members of the militia have done for the Cambodian community.
Aid works and services provided by the AFK and its coalition were very similar to those provided in Houston by the TRM. This involved immediate food aid and deconstruction/reconstruction work after the storm’s end. AFK members remain involved in deconstruction and reconstruction efforts and have continued to call upon an extensive network of donors of goods and funds. SSG provided the space for a headquarters and storage space for the relief efforts and both CRA and AFK (largely through Marion) have secured the necessary aid to respond to needs.
The fiasco with the journalist has likely caused AFK and its partners to double-down and expand outwards in the way that they approach aid to Little Cambodia. This means not only a stronger commitment to aid works but a fiery and aggressive media campaign to justify their response.
It is yet unclear as to whether or not the work done by AFK and its partners in and around Little Cambodia will be perceived by the public as positive given the standoffish nature of those leading the efforts to help out.
AFK and Francis Marion have been explicitly mentioned in the City of Charlottesville’s lawsuit against militias present at the #UniteTheRight gathering of an assortment of far-right organizations. This court case has spurred major outcry from a number of militias, including the AFK.
A complementary piece on militia response to Harvey was published previously, available here. Consider subscribing to MilitiaWatch to have stories like these appear in your Medium feed.