Man brandishes gun in Zoom lecture on racism and ‘Eyes of Texas’ song

A student-organized Zoom lecture about the University of Texas at Austin’s school song, “The Eyes of Texas,” turned frightening when a masked man loaded and brandished a gun in view of some participants.

The Thursday lecture was led by Alberto Martinez, a history professor who says his research shows the song has racist origins, contrary to the university’s position. There have been calls for the university to stop using the song, which made its debut at a minstrel show and is seen by some as tied to the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. 

Organizers of the lecture believe only moderators of the Zoom meeting saw the man with the gun because the professor leading the discussion was “pinned,” or spotlighted, onscreen.

A screenshot provided to NBC News late Tuesday shows a man wearing a beanie, with a bandanna covering much of his face and only his eyes showing. He is holding the firearm with both hands in front of his chest.

Martinez alerted university police, who said they are investigating but would not comment further.

The discussion of the school song, organized by the student group Texas Orange Jackets, was livestreamed on Facebook and was open to the public, so prior vetting of participants was more lenient.

The Orange Jackets is a service organization whose members act as hosts at UT Austin events and to UT Austin visitors, including veterans and celebrities. The group has joined other students in demanding the university end use of the song.

“I think this kind of violence made me realize that this isn’t just an argument between students about a song,” said Irene Ameena, the Orange Jackets’ director of inclusion.

“It’s traumatizing to see someone loading a gun in front of you,” Ameena said.

She said the incident is more unnerving becomes it comes after a report by the Texas Tribune that said wealthy alumni threatened to pull donations to the university if the song was replaced and after a football player’s tweet saying he received death threats because of his opposition to the song.

Ongoing controversy

The Orange Jackets traditionally walked onto the football field in UT Austin’s stadium during games and sang “The Eyes of Texas.”

In 2017, the group decided to stop singing the song at its meetings and stopped singing the song altogether last year. It has joined other students in demanding the university replace the song.

A university committee that reviewed the song’s origins concluded in a report that the song made its debut at a minstrel show, but its intent was not “overtly racist.” The university has allowed students to choose not to sing it.

Martinez has countered the university’s findings with his own research, which he presented in the Zoom meeting titled “Investigating the Eyes of Texas – Dr. Alberto Martinez.”

Ameena said her group is taking responsibility for being “complicit” in promoting the song over the years and organized the lecture as a way to keep attention on the history behind the song, which began to wane after UT Austin issued its report.

Martinez was told of the man with the gun when Ameena announced it during the lecture, which can be heard in the video.

“Somebody came into the call and turned the camera on and showed themselves loading a gun. We removed them as soon as we could,” Ameena said in the video.

Martinez said he was told the gun brandishing could be considered a terroristic threat. The FBI has not responded to an inquiry from NBC News about whether it is looking into the incident.

Martinez consulted a student more familiar with guns who identified the weapon as a KelTec KSG 12-gauge shotgun.

“It’s certainly frightening to see someone with a tactical shotgun when you’re just talking about a song,” Martinez said.

“I guess to many people it’s a symbol of Texas or things they value,” he said. “But at the same time, we are just talking, so it’s shocking to see anyone wearing a mask and brandishing a weapon in a threatening manner.”

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