Confederate sympathizers arrived at the south side of the Courthouse on the Square lawn Saturday morning to show their support for the Confederate soldier memorial there. An unrelated group of folk musicians led a jam session on the west side of the courthouse, tapping and plucking strings as if they didn't notice the jabber about statues and politics catty-corner to them.
About 10:30 a.m., the Confederate protesters arrived to wave flags and spread their message of support for keeping intact the “fine monument.”
Billy Sessions, from Arkansas, said the crew of four men and one woman was part of a group called the Hiwaymen. They were in Denton “to support our Confederate monuments and our history and our heritage here in the South,” he said while wielding a selfie stick with his phone streaming video of the event online.
He said four of the Hiwaymen were from Arkansas and one was from Texas.
The Hiwaymen, he said, travel across the country to demonstrate and protest, with many of them having historical connections rooting from the Confederacy. “We’ll go anywhere we need to go,” he said, adding they were in Charlottesville, Virginia, two weeks ago, when a white supremacist drove his car into protesters during a rally hosted by self-proclaimed “alt-right” supporters and white supremacists.
There to meet the Hiwaymen and the handful of other Confederate sympathizers and protesters at the Square were several dozen counterprotesters who climbed in numbers as the morning stretched into the afternoon.
Among them stood Mariana Velazquez, a senior at Guyer High School, and Arik Palileo, a freshman at the University of North Texas and a recent Guyer graduate.
“We did not want this in our town because this is not what Denton stands for,” Palileo said.
He and Velazquez stood by the Hiwaymen and held a sign that read “No Confederate Sympathy."
In front of them, heated exchanges and arguments took place as both sides clashed on ideologies, historical facts and the significance of the Confederacy. Neither side seemed to do much but agitate the other. Debates never escalated to more than yelling, and tensions remained at bay in nonviolence.
“I don't want this in our town,” Palileo said, with Velazquez adding, “It shouldn't be here.”
By 12:30 p.m. after several arguments and chants from both sides, the counterprotesters sang “Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye” as they followed the Hiwaymen from the Square to their vehicle and watched them leave. Most of the crowd dispersed, with a few remaining to continue discussions.
Denton police and the Denton County Sheriff's Department officers were on-site during the morning events and into the afternoon to keep the peace.
Denton Deputy Police Chief Lenn Carter said his department, in conjunction with the sheriff’s office, planned to have a presence at the Square after monitoring social media and finding a possible alt-right rally set to take place at 1 p.m.
“We monitor social media and saw that the protest was happening, and we planned accordingly,” Carter said. Although he didn't offer a specific number of officers onsite, he said there were plainclothes officers and “there were enough officers to match the amount of protesters.”
KYLE MARTIN can be reached via Twitter at @Kyle_Martin35.