With rifles slung over their shoulders and some openly displaying pistols, a group of people marched downtown Tuesday morning, waving flags, carrying signs, handing out U.S. Constitution pamphlets and discussing the direction they want for the city, county and nation.
Beginning initially with two people, a handful of others eventually joined in the demonstration intended largely to exercise their First- and Second-Amendment rights.
Russell Hess organized the event through a Facebook video last week, calling on people to march downtown beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, encouraging open weapons carry for a “peaceful protest.” On a chilly start to the day, Hess was initially joined by Mikel Page just outside Mineral Wells City Hall.
“We just want to exercise our constitutional rights, and of course I am open carrying,” said Hess, displaying a holstered handgun across his chest and a rifle over his shoulder. “I am going to be passing out copies of the Constitution and trying to educate people on our rights that I think are being trampled on. I think people are losing sight of the constitution.”
The politically conservative Hess said he is concerned with people on the left who he says want to change the Constitution and the country, moving the United States toward socialism and communism.
“It’s time to make a standup and quit being scared,” Hess said. “You have President Trump trying to make things better and you have people fighting and trying to make it a socialist country and I will fight to the death to keep it a Constitutional republic.”
Page and Hess said they want raise awareness among citizens and increase voter turnouts in county and city elections. The last two City of Mineral Wells budget cycles, resulting in increases in property taxes and utility fees to pay for repairs and more public safety personnel and resources, and last November’s bond election gave rise to the group We The People that opposed the budget increases and the city bond election.
The people seen joining in Tuesday’s demonstration – which extended from City Hall to U.S. Highway 281 and up to the Palo Pinto County Courthouse Annex – are members of the group.
Hess said the focus is on the March 6 Republican and Democratic primary elections involving national, state and county candidates. He said the May 5 elections, for city council and school board seats, are also a concern.
“We just figured this will be a good place to start right here at City Hall because I know they have had trouble in this city for 20 years and we’ll be working on that next,” said Hess, who is not a city resident but lives and has a business in Parker County. “But right now we are just going to work on this March 6 election to try and get some good people in office and just not only turn the city around, turn the county around but you have to start at the city. The city level is where you start and work your way out.”
Asked what changed he wants to see locally, Hess responded, “I would like to see the good old boy system gone. That’s the way it’s been for 20 years. I am going to work my butt off to try and change the good old boy system.”
Page, a military veteran who resides in Palo Pinto County, said it is time for people to, “Put up or shut up.”
“If you want change, you’ve got to out there,” Page said. “You have to show that you want change. Don’t just at home on Facebook being a Facebook warrior. Get out and do something. Let people know, hey, I don’t like they way the system is run right now, let’s try and make a change. If the change is with the current administration or with another, new, administration. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just get stuff fixed and help the people and help this city grow. People stop fighting amongst each other and get the city fixed.”
Page said he wants a new direction in local government and more interest and participation among the citizens.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s different people,” he said. “As long as the people who are sitting in office now agree that there needs to be a change. Taxing everybody to death is not going to help. We need more of a community get together. You see City Council meetings. Maybe 10, 15 or 20 people show up. That is really showing everybody they care. I hear people around town all the time saying they don’t care what goes on in this town. I’m like, ‘How can you say that?’ You live here.”
Hess said people are so focused on their everyday lives they have become “complacent” when it comes to local, state and national issues and governments.
“Not everyone, but so many people are strapped with bills and their house payment and their car payments that they are working theirselves to death to worry about all of the financial obligations that they have and they don’t have time to think about the United States of America,” he said. “I know I am just a little fish in a big old fish pond but I am going to try and educate people on this Constitution. If we don’t educate people on the Constitution then our rights then our rights will be taken away and we will be living in a socialist country. That’s my opinion.”
Hess invited people running for county office in the March 6 primary to attend the demonstration. None of the candidates were there during the time the Index was present.
“We invited everyone,” Hess said. “I invited a few people personally ... invited candidates, to come meet and greet, pass out cards. Show us that they really do care about the situation.”
He said he plans to continue his demonstrations through the March and May elections, “to try and do my part to try and make Palo Pinto County a better place.”
Hess was asked why he included the open display of firearms for the demonstration. Rifles can be openly carried without a permit. Texas recently enacted an open carry law for permitted handgun owners.
“That’s another right that the state and the federal government make us buy back,” Hess said of the handgun permit requirement. “They make us buy back our right.”
He said the open carry part of his demonstration was another way for people to exercise their rights.
“I’ve never done it,” said Hess. “So many people are so afraid to exercise their Constitutional rights. I am going to try to show people they don’t eat and can’t kill you ... I guess they can kill you. But I just want to show people it’s alright man. Get some power. Quit being sheep. So many people are sheep. You got to get some power. Come down here and walk the street with your firearm and enjoy your freedom, your God-given freedom, that we’ve got and so many people don’t exercise. That’s my opinion.”
Hess said he wants people to know they can make a difference.
“I’ve got little children that I don’t want to grow up in a socialist country,” he said. “Everybody knows I am Republican so I am going to go Republican. The Democratic system, Democrats (today) ain’t like the old Democrats 50 years ago. They want a socialist government. That’s not what I want as a citizen and I’m going to fight to try and keep that away and do all I can, and hopefully we never get there but we are really close, my opinion.”
Local law enforcement were aware of the open carry demonstration last week. Mineral Wells Police Chief Dean Sullivan and Palo Pinto County Sheriff Brett McGuire said they respected the demonstrators’ rights as long as they stayed within the law. There was no police presence during the time the Index was present.
“The Mineral Wells Police Department is aware of the peaceful demonstration in front of the Courthouse Annex and City Hall building and will be monitoring the situation for the safety of the protesters and of the public. We respect the peaceful protesters constitutional rights to free speech and to safely bear arms and ask the public to do so as well,” read a post on the department’s official Facebook page.