PHOTO: Eric Brown (at Mic), Michael Burnett (on Right), at JUST America press conference with APD
By David Martinez
JUST America, a brand new organization in Austin that has arisen in the national uprising against police brutality, has built its young reputation on collaborating with the Austin Police Department in press conferences, vilifying combative protesters, and displaying questionable associations with right-wing extremists such as the Boogaloo Boys. Their leadership has sought the limelight while alienating other groups, even those pushing progressive reforms, as well as aggressively attacking organizations such as the Mike Ramos Brigade, which has been one of the most well-known and uncompromising voices against the police in Austin.
With its actions and politics, JUST America has revealed itself as part of the right-wing of the current protest movement, with a key purpose to push the ruling class’ false narrative of ‘peaceful protesters’ vs. ‘aggressive’ or ‘non-peaceful’ protesters. This is a strategy to stop rebellion and single out militants and revolutionaries for repression, as well as to label any activist the police feel threatened by as a criminal element. Whether they are officially working with the state or not, JUST America is functioning as a helpful servant of the police and ruling class.
The leaders of JUST America first emerged in the week following the Austin uprisings of May 30-31, taking advantage of the calming conditions after a weekend of rebellion to conduct PR stunts with the police. Eric Brown and Michael Burnett, who would become JUST America’s ‘co-presidents,’ featured prominently in highly manufactured photo-ops with APD in which they talked to and shook hands with police, marched arm in arm with officers, and encouraged the notoriously vile Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers at the Texas capitol to raise their fists in a mockery of the militant gesture.
At other protests where they were present, community members reported that the two aided law enforcement in physically removing protesters who attempted to take the highway, and became aggressive with anyone expressing militant politics or action. Neither Burnett nor Brown should be trusted in any protest setting, as they aggressively attack whomever they perceive to be against the police, and try to paint all rebellious action as being done by white people.
At first, many affiliated the two men with another new group, Peace in Austin, however that group has since distanced themselves, Tweeting on June 13, “To clarify: PEACE in Austin has absolutely no affiliation with, Just America.”
After JUST America’s first organized event, an awkward press conference on June 11 with APD Chief Brian Manley, questions about their origins and purpose were brought up in the community and in online forums such as Reddit.
Standing alongside Manley and other officers, ‘co-presidents’ Brown and Burnett took to the mic in order to praise APD for working with them as well as offering meaningless reforms that were nothing more than simple reworks of existing APD policy. Both Brown and Manley emphasized that JUST America was not violent, but ‘borne out of the peaceful protests.’
Many community members mocked the idea that a group only a few days old could get a sit-down with the Chief of Police. Manley stated that he was approached by APD Officer Bohannon, who said he had met “these two great leaders out in the community,” and introduced Manley to “Mike and Eric.”
JUST America sits with the police because their politics are aligned with the police and the imperialist state they serve. Eric Brown’s own Facebook page reveals these tendencies in alarming ways.
In a Facebook post from June 1, Brown wrote (in all caps), “WE HAVE TO START ORGANIZING TO REMOVE THESE ANTIFA PROTESTORS AMONGST OUR RANKS.” He also states that he is within his rights to arrest these supposed instigators.
The ‘ANTIFA’ boogeyman claims are directly out of Trump’s mouth. Brown fearmongers against Antifa, but he has no problem associating with a Boogaloo Boy, a movement of mainly white men seeking to start so-called ‘race wars.’ On June 5, Brown posted a picture of himself at a protest standing with his arm around a man, identified as Brandon Lucio, holding an assault rifle, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and tactical vest. Brown wrote, “Boogaloo boys. Standing here!”
Brown vilifies antifascists and criminalizes anti-police protesters who show militance, but finds no problem with an eclectic right-wing movement that wants to instigate racial civil war.
Brown has made it a personal crusade to aid in the rumors and repression against the Mike Ramos Brigade, which represents the most left-wing voice in the Austin anti-police protest movement. In a Facebook livestream from a protest on the night of June 17, Eric Brown ranted about the Mike Ramos Brigade and their name. In addition, he made paranoid claims that the group had hacked his Facebook account.
“Fuck the Mike Ramos Brigade, and fuck everything that you stand for,” he continued, “Stop hiding white militant actions with Black bodies.’
Brown ignores the countless militant actions of Black people and wants to paint all combative action as a supposed conspiracy of white people, because ultimately, he is aligned with the state. Regardless of who is taking these actions – what people like Brown fear most is that people clamor for true rebellion, including Black people, and are not interested in playing nice with the ruling class.
During his rant, both Brown and the live-streamer focus in on the internet rumors that Brown is working for the cops or federal agent as a straw-man to ignore the actual politics that Brown has exhibited. It matters little if Brown is on the government payroll or not – all of his actions and statements show his politics are aligned with the imperialist state. It was Brown and company who marched with police, attacked protesters, collaborated with Manley at their press conference, and it is Brown who is criminalizing and attacking the Mike Ramos Brigade, which is already facing state repression.
Brown has criminalized the Mike Ramos Brigade, but happily made lunch plans with a DPS officer, an exchange he proudly posted on his own Facebook with the comment “All cops ARENT bad.” Brown seeks harmony with the police while seeking to paint those who won’t break bread with them as the enemy. Socializing with police while pushing pro-cop lines shows that he is a voluntary agent of the police in the movement, although maybe he is just too stupid to get paid for this work
While Brown has been more the prominent representative of JUST America, his ‘co-president’ Michael Burnett is more of a cypher. During the string of the police’s PR stunts, Burnett was one of the key coordinators, but since the press conference with Manley, Burnett has not been visible as part of JUST America.
While Burnett has faded for the time being, Brown has continued with further actions, including a bizarre, brief press conference held on June 16 in front of APD headquarters in which Eric Brown announced that they were now actually in support of Manley’s resignation, reversing themselves after they realized how out-of-step they were with the people. Brown tried to claim this was somehow their plan all along. Instead of the suit which Brown wore for his first conference with APD, he and another supporter wore Black Berets to dress themselves up as militants. After making his statement, Brown abruptly walked off, followed by supporters, one of whom was Alex Blum dressed in Black tactical gear with a shield on his back. Blum is a failed City Council Candidate and has been seen online getting defensive about the Community’s questions and criticisms of JUST America.
JUST America’s inconsistency, going from standing beside Manley to calling for his resignation reveals total opportunism and a lack of any tangible political direction other than what is convenient in the moment. Brown is not competent to lead anything, except to perform as a useful idiot for the police and ruling class. While this protest movement will give birth to many new organizations and elevate questionable personalities, few will be as backwards and untrustworthy as Eric Brown and JUST America. Fortunately, the people have already seen through their organization, though this will not stop Brown and company from trying to mislead the people. They will likely continue to be propped up by the imperialist state, which recognizes them as willing agents in the goal of defeating the current rebellion, however with a well-informed community and firm revolutionary politics, these charlatans will become as irrelevant as the dying state they defend.