Although the Texas Legislature is out of session, the attack on the Alamo rages on. Texans should be concerned because the ideology driving these changes threatens to erase a core element of our identity as Texans – independence.
The Trojan Horse
The “Reimagine The Alamo” plan is an ever-changing Trojan horse meant to surreptitiously transform the Alamo over the course of generations from the ‘Shrine of Texas Liberty’ to a progressive object lesson on the evils of Anglo imperialism. Under the guise of preservation and respect, the ultimate goal is to federalize, globalize, and sanitize the Alamo.
While the plan contains some points for which the TNM has advocated for years, such as restoring the Alamo complex to its original footprint, an overwhelming majority of Texans who have studied the plan find it odious in all of its forms. The process of developing the Alamo Master Plan, as it is officially known, has suffered from an unprecedented lack of transparency and accountability. Whether it’s the near-exclusive use of non-Texas companies in its development and execution, the $450 million price tag, the major design issues, or the proposed commercialization of the site, objections from the concerned public have been both loud and completely disregarded.
The effort to re-imagine the Alamo is, in reality, a sugar-coated poison pill. While the majority of the opponents of the plan focus on the “business end” of the equation, the true threat lies in the desire by those pushing the plan to erode our proud Texas heritage. While this and previous generations will remember the Alamo as the place where over 180 men gave their lives in defense of liberty and independence and became heroes, if those who want to re-imagine the Alamo get their way, the Alamo may tell a completely different story.
The latest attempt to transform the Alamo story began in earnest in 2007 with the push to have the Alamo added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site program. Promoted as a move that would boost international tourism, a coalition of business owners and civic leaders began the process of applying for the World Heritage Site designation.
When Julian Castro became Mayor of San Antonio, he entered into negotiations with UNESCO to have the Alamo grouped with four other historic San Antonio missions to have them all added to the World Heritage Site program. As part of this process, the familiar Alamo name was discarded and the name “Mission de Valero” was used. While there is no direct evidence to support the theory that this was done to hide the Alamo’s inclusion from the public, it was the effect. Only a small number of activists were aware that the Alamo would be included as part of the World Heritage Site application until it was virtually a done deal.
When Julian Castro stepped down as Mayor to join the Obama administration as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, his brother Congressman Joaquin Castro became engaged in the latter stages of the effort. Their singular focus on getting the Alamo listed as a World Heritage Site was evident when Joaquin Castro tried to include a provision in a massive spending bill that would allow the Federal Government to pay its World Heritage Fund dues without paying larger UNESCO fees. According to NBC News, “The designation threatened to be political after the U.S. lost voting rights when it stopped paying its dues in protest of UNESCO’s recognition of Palestine as a state in 2013.” Castro’s effort failed, but the missions got the approval without it.
The Alamo’s inclusion in the World Heritage Site program becomes problematic when the level of power and control transferred from Texans to the Federal Government and, ultimately, UNESCO is fully understood. The United States is a signatory to the United Nations treaty and a signatory to the creation of UNESCO under that treaty as well as the World Heritage Convention. Article 5 Section 4 requires signatories “…take the appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures necessary for the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and rehabilitation of this heritage…”
The danger of UNESCO’s inclusion of the “presentation” of World Heritage Sites as an obligation of the convention signatories becomes apparent when considering the political nature of UNESCO.
Under the Supreme Court decision in Missouri v. Holland, the Federal Government can preempt state law in the furtherance of a treaty obligation. Therefore, if UNESCO objects to any aspect of the Alamo, including how it’s presented to the public, it can leverage its role under the convention with the Federal Government who, in turn, can override decisions made by Texans about the Alamo by invoking Missouri v Holland.
While this is not likely to be a problem under the current administration in Washington, Texans have to assume that at some point the rest of the United States will elect someone to the Presidency who is far more progressive, far more comfortable with changing the narrative of the Alamo, and far more amenable to the wishes of UNESCO than anything that we’ve previously seen. While we can hope for the best, we should prudently prepare for the worst.
The willingness of UNESCO to use their role in cultural affairs to make polarizing political statements and erode the sovereignty of a nation-state cannot be overstated. In 2017, a resolution was passed by UNESCO that declared:
“All legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and must be rescinded forthwith.”
Since its inclusion into the World Heritage Site program, UNESCO is already insinuating itself in the Alamo redevelopment project. The Texas Nationalist Movement obtained scans of two letters that were obtained through the Texas Public Information Act, that verify this fact. They are asserting their authority under the Convention and demanding to be included in discussions and planning for development and expansion of the Alamo through their agents the National Park Service.
Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson expressed concerns about the growing role of UNESCO and the National Park Service in an op-ed in the Rivard Report.
“While it’s reasonable to listen to the experts, or inquire about national or international historic preservation standards, none of that matters when it’s time to decide. The recent revelation that the General Land Office (GLO) asked the National Park Service (NPS) if the Reimagine Plan complies with UNESCO standards indicates that priorities are wrong, and that Texas and San Antonio elected officials need to take charge and represent their constituents, not the NPS or UNESCO.”
It is painfully clear that unless the Alamo is removed from the World Heritage Site program, the people of Texas will have lost final authority over the disposition of the Alamo and the story that it tells to future generations.
The Destructive Ideology Behind Changing The Alamo Story
Texans cannot trust key partners in the planning and execution of the Alamo Master Plan if they do not understand basic history. The Alamo Master Plan designer, George Skarmeas, admitted that he knew very little about the Alamo when he was hired for the project and had to hire a team to give him a crash course. In one of their earlier presentations, Skarmeas and his team listed the following falsehood on their timeline of Texas history: “Mexican-American War ends with sale of Texas to US.”
Their lack of knowledge about the Battle of the Alamo and its relevance to the larger causes of liberty and independence is not really an impediment to their plans if their intention is to radically change the narrative and re-imagine the Alamo without the battle as the focus.
In the public input phase of the development of the Alamo Master Plan, Skarmeas was asked, “Why not restore the Alamo to its 1836 appearance?” His answer, as reported by multiple news sources, was, “The events of 1836 were just one small chapter in 10,000 years of history.” Signalling the general willingness to sanitize the Alamo story by those involved in the project, in an op-ed for the San Antonio Express-News on July 16, 2016, Skarmeas declared:
“No single entity has an exclusive ownership of the entire site, the plaza and shrine, and its grounds. It is our obligation to listen to all voices, opinions and views before we begin the planning process.”
This desire to water-down the Alamo story or rewrite it entirely has survived throughout the planning process. In the final draft of the Alamo Comprehensive Interpretive Plan, you find their goal clearly articulated.
“Additionally, over the last 20 years, perspectives on cultural identity and contextual history have evolved, allowing for a comprehensive and inclusive story using evidence-based research. While the 13-day battle at the Alamo in 1836 is clearly the best known and celebrated segment of history at the site, it is critical that multiple cultural perspectives and stories be presented…”
Left to their own devices, the pivotal 1836 battle, a story of valor, heroism, and independence, will become secondary to a larger progressive narrative. One must ask, “what will that narrative be?”
It is reasonable to assume that the story will be rewritten to fit an ideology for which the Alamo as we know it is completely incompatible. The roots of this ideology are best described by the mother of Julian and Joaquin Castro and it explains their drive to see seize control of the Alamo and remake it in their image.
“Maria del Rosario Castro, the mother of former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, said in 2010 that she grew up being told the battle was ‘glorious,’ only to learn the so-called heroes were really ‘a bunch of drunks and crooks and slaveholding imperialists who conquered land that didn’t belong to them.” – Fox News, December 23, 2015
It is likely that this sentiment served as the ideological undercurrent for a recent proposal debated by the State Board of Education (SBOE). A “streamlining work group” issued a recommendation to the SBOE calling for the removal of the famous Travis letter from state Texas History standards as well as the removal of references to the Alamo defenders as “heroic”. Although recommended under the cover of streamlining educational standards, the true motivation was revealed in an interview with the Texas Tribune. Stephen Cure, a historian and member of the SBOE work group stated, “There was a brief discussion about the appropriateness of using the word ‘heroic’ that was based on perceptions of heroism and the inconsistent use of the term in the standards.” The work group’s notes called “heroic” a “value charged” term and recommended its removal.
Although those who wanted to remove the word “heroic” from Texas History standards were defeated, they appear to be dangerously close to successfully removing one of the key pieces of the current Alamo story – the Alamo Cenotaph.
The Cenotaph stands as the grave marker for the Alamo defenders. After the Battle of the Alamo, Santa Anna had the bodies of the defenders stacked and set ablaze. They were not allowed proper burials. After the victory at San Jacinto, Colonel Juan Seguin returned to the site to collect and bury what remained of his friends and comrades but they had no marker to commemorate their sacrifice.
The Alamo Cenotaph, officially called the “Spirit of Sacrifice”, was erected by the Texas Centennial Committee in 1939 to memorialize the defenders who fell at the Alamo. It is akin to the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” and has become a specific target of those who want to re-imagine the Alamo.
One version of the Alamo Master Plan calls for the removal of the Alamo Cenotaph where it will allegedly undergo repairs. When those repairs are complete the Cenotaph will be placed in a location that is no longer on the Alamo grounds in an unsecured area that will be designated as a “free speech zone”. Given the antipathy that some feel toward the Alamo and those who died there, as well as the current politically-charged climate, it is reasonable to assume that it will immediately become a target of vandalism from increasingly violent protests. There are some who doubt that it will be returned at all.
Much like the attempt to eliminate the heroism of the Alamo defenders was done under the guise of streamlining education standards, the proposal for the Cenotaph in the Alamo Master Plan is being marketed as a preservation effort. Proponents of the Alamo Master Plan, including the General Land Office, the designers of the Alamo Master Plan, and the City of San Antonio, have been less than honest about their plans and motivations behind those plans regarding the Cenotaph. In fact, the most recent damage assessment for the monument shows that the Cenotaph could be repaired in-place for a fraction of the cost of the proposal in the Alamo Master Plan. This leads many to believe that the real goal is to remove the Cenotaph from the grounds of the Alamo to further remove emphasis from the 1836 battle.
The New Battle of the Alamo
Activists from all over Texas are becoming aware of the challenges facing the Alamo and are joining the battle to defend our heritage and history. Unless action is taken now to protect the Alamo, the rewriting of our history may be a virtual certainty.
Every true-blooded Texan wants to see the Battle of the Alamo properly memorialized. This includes actions that are nearly devoid of controversy such as restoration of the Alamo complex to its 1836 footprint, construction of a world-class museum to house the Alamo artifacts, and much-needed restoration and preservation work on the original structures. Reclaiming the space where over 180 Texians gave their lives in defense of liberty and independence to offer a proper, solemn, and inspiring memorial to their sacrifice is not in question.
The fixation by the proponents of the Alamo Master Plan on the more controversial elements, such as moving the Cenotaph and de-emphasizing the 1836 battle, speaks volumes as to their ultimate intent for the site. This is a battle that we cannot afford to lose.
While this briefing does not address the financial irregularities or the governmental oversight and transparency issues surrounding the project, the course of action is still clear. No action should be taken on the Alamo Master Plan until it is reviewed and the Texas Legislature has the time to implement proper oversight. This includes removing the Alamo from under the authority of the General Land Office and placing it either under the authority of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department or under the Texas Legislature directly.
No matter the course of action taken legislatively, the Cenotaph must remain in place until the Texas Legislature and all the people of Texas are given an opportunity to be heard. This is our only opportunity to ensure that future generations of Texans will still remember the Alamo for what it truly means.
With the Legislature out of session, this make our job much harder. But there are steps that we can all take, individually and together as the TNM, to make a difference.
First, not enough Texans know the danger being faced by the Alamo. Time after time battles for the Alamo have been fought and the number of Texans who lend their voice to our cause has been too small in number. The fact is that too few Texans know about this issue because those that do are not talking about it in a way that stresses the severity of the problem. You need to get bold and loud.
Next, you need to let your elected representatives, as well as those running for office, know that you expect them to get publicly involved in this issue now. You must tell them that this is a voting issue for you and they will not get your vote unless they step up in a big way.
Finally, you need to connect with the TNM as a member. There is strength in numbers and we need you on the team. Our defense of the Alamo is tied directly to our mission. If we lose our cultural independence, then our political and economic independence won’t be far behind.
We honor those who fell at the Alamo by preserving the memory of their sacrifice. We honor them more by fighting for what they fought for – independence.
“Let the convention go on and make a declaration of independence, and we will then understand, and the world will understand what we are fighting for. If independence is not declared, I shall lay down my arms, and so will the men under my command. But under the flag of independence, we are ready to peril our lives a hundred times a day…” – Colonel William Barret Travis, Commander of the Alamo, March 3, 1836