Outside of Houston, Cambodian immigrants built a small community in the unincorporated town of Rosharon, growing water spinach, called trakuon, for the Cambodian community. Then Hurricane Harvey hit and flooded the town’s homes and its farms.
For the Texas Observer, Michael Hardy reports on a surprising, uneasy alliance in the rebuilding efforts: Volunteer assistance from white far-right groups wearing Confederate flag jackets and camouflage. These anti-government neo-Confederates arrived to help Rosharon before the local government or the Red Cross arrived, and they took over the rebuilding effort so firmly that they initially refused to let in FEMA. Who were these people, and did they really just want to help?
The groups are affiliated with the so-called Patriot movement, which emerged in the early ’90s from the ashes of Ruby Ridge and Waco’s Branch Davidian compound, and whose ranks expanded dramatically during the Obama administration. The Freedom Keepers are an Oregon-based group whose members appeared at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer brandishing assault rifles and wearing body armor. (Marion, the Freedom Keepers and the New York Light Foot Militia are among the defendants currently being sued by Charlottesville and Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection to prevent them from returning. They’re also being sued by two women injured in the car attack that killed Heather Heyer.) The Confederate Riders, a Missouri-based group, travel the country protesting the removal of Confederate monuments. The two groups share information and coordinate protests mainly through their Facebook pages, which each have 10,000-plus followers.
Both groups harbor extreme anti-government views and believe the Constitution is under siege by a range of nefarious forces. On the Freedom Keepers’ weekly Facebook Live broadcast, “The American Radio Show,” Marion rails against Hillary Clinton, George Soros, Muslims and undocumented immigrants. He portrays the Patriot movement as America’s last line of defense. “This country will fall if we don’t get into the middle of it and change it from within,” he said on the show in December. “We have to become a disease. Some bacteria and some infections are beneficial. And we need to become an infection inside the body.”
Having infected Little Cambodia, the far-right groups were not eager to give it up. They didn’t see an impoverished community that had been shamefully underserved for decades and abandoned by the government in its time of greatest need; they saw a proudly self-reliant people who had built a libertarian paradise. “It’s been a really awakening experience to see what it means for people to live on their own, live their way, make their choices,” Marion said in a Facebook Live video from Rosharon. “It really is the American dream.”