Update: This piece has been updated from the original published at 12:46 a.m. on Oct. 15.
The crowd at Monday’s meeting of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party got more than they bargained for. The event at Concordia Lutheran Church in the Fort Worth suburb of Bedford was originally planned so tea party members could learn about the Muslim Brotherhood’s supposed infiltration of the United States. But the crowd was also treated to a dose of the sniping that’s come to define the Texas lieutenant governor’s race — and saw the state’s second-highest elected official, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, call for President Obama’s impeachment and removal from office.
Dewhurst was the first lieutenant governor candidate to speak. Since losing a 2012 Senate primary to Ted Cruz in part because of his insufficient tea party cred, Dewhurst has been working hard to ingratiate himself with his party’s right wing. He’s reached out to, and won praise from, tea party leaders around the state. And given the chance to appeal to the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, Dewhurst opened with the big guns.
“This election is about protecting you and your freedoms, which are given to you by God, but which are being trampled on by Barack Obama right now. I don’t know about you, but Barack Obama ought to be impeached,” he declared to hearty applause. “Not only for trampling on our liberties, but what he did in Benghazi is just a crime.”
Texas Republicans have increasingly been flirting with the idea of impeaching the president. One of the first instances came before this very same group in 2011, when U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Lewisville), told the Northeast Tarrant chapter that he’d support impeachment, if only to “tie the president’s hands.” But rarely has so high-profile a state political figure as Dewhurst called for impeachment.
After the event, Dewhurst expanded on his comments to the Observer — pointing to executive decisions Obama has made, which he said fell outside the president’s authority.
“I think this president, Barack Obama, has disregarded federal law. He’s tried to do things which are not authorized under federal law, such as with immigration, such as not following our federal drug laws,” he told the Observer. “He’s created winners and losers out of Obamacare where he has no authority, such as allowing for the unions and big businesses to postpone their mandates for a year.”
Dewhurst also elaborated on his criticism of the administration’s handling of last year’s attack in Benghazi, in which an Islamic-militant group attacked a lightly guarded U.S. Consulate in post-war Libya, killing several, including the American ambassador. The lieutenant governor repeated an assertion made often by conservatives in the wake of Benghazi: that footage of the attack was streamed live into the White House and yet the administration failed to respond.
“I’m very concerned about Benghazi, in which all of the national news reporting indicated that live video was streaming into the White House. That means that there was an overhead platform, probably a drone in the area. At least that’s what it tells me,” he said. “And for not mobilizing some response to protect the ambassador and those three Americans is just outrageous to me. Just outrageous.”
However, there is no evidence that the White House witnessed the attack and chose to do nothing. CBS reported that a surveillance drone flew over the site hours after the initial attack — but the meme-ified idea that the White House watched the entire seven-hour attack from the situation room and halted rescue operations out of cowardice or malice has stuck. In December, the U.S. State Department released an accountability report that debunked many of the most popular claims, as reported by Slate’s Dave Weigel. (That is, if you believe the State Department.)
Dewhurst, concluding his remarks, clarified that he was speaking as a “private citizen.” But when pressed on the fact that he also happened to be a powerful public figure, he didn’t back down.
“I’m a private citizen, and that happens to be my view,” he said. “The man has committed crimes that do not warrant his staying in office.”
State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) tweeted after the impeachment call that Dewhurst had “lost his compass” and “will do anything to get re-elected.”
But Dewhurst wasn’t the only candidate in the lieutenant governor’s race to throw bombs on Monday night — the race has become increasingly acrimonious, especially after claims from Houston state Sen. Dan Patrick’s opponents that Patrick fibbed in a recent campaign ad regarding in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.
Patrick’s used his time to go on the offensive with overt criticism of Dewhurst.
“As the lieutenant governor, what will I do? I won’t appoint half of the Democratic senators as committee chairs, for one,” Patrick said. It was his biggest applause line of the night. After his pitch, Patrick left the line of candidates standing at the front of the church and stood apart from them, in the corner.
Candidate Jerry Patterson opened with a shot at Patrick. “He’s a talk show host,” he said. “He talks a lot.”
But the candidate forum was just an appetizer to the night’s main course of red meat — a lecture on the history and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, given by the ex-chair of the state Republican Party and top Texas lieutenant in Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, Cathie Adams.
Adams gave a stemwinder on how Islam — the religion of the “illiterate Arab, Mohammed” — threatens the American way of life. Adams’ pitch, that crypto-Muslims guiding American political life include such notables as Republican stalwart Grover Norquist and CIA Director John Brennan (who, it should be said, has helped cause the deaths of a great many non-secret Muslims,) received an awed and hushed reception, with several audience members visibly or audibly moved by the threat facing their country.
Most of the candidates left the impromptu lecture hall, preferring to hang around outside and talk to activists. Dewhurst stayed for a short time but left to catch a flight. After the meeting’s conclusion, the remaining pols, including lieutenant governor hopefuls Patrick and Todd Staples, formed a line by the door. That’s when one of the attendees, fresh out of the presentation about the Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of Texas, came up to shake Staples’ hand.
“How are we going to keep the Muslims out of Austin?” he asked.
Staples smiled: “Boy, I tell you. I think they’re all concentrated and camped out down there. It’s a weird place.” In fairness to Staples, I don’t know how I would have answered that question, either.
But as I stood outside of the church, waiting to talk to Patrick and Staples on their way out, the negative attention around my presence reached a tipping point. I had contacted someone from the organization about the event more than a month in advance, and had freely identified myself as a reporter with the Observer to everyone I talked to. I was the only reporter there.
As the night wore on, the group started replying to my tweets, and I could tell my presence was wearing thin. A tall, burly, bald man, younger than most in attendance, started hovering around me. He seemed agitated. He disappeared momentarily, then emerged from the church with a similarly proportioned friend.
“You’re done,” he said. “You’re done.” He grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me toward the parking lot where my car was parked. When I protested, the heavy, bald man urged me to “take a swing,” then called me a “whiner.” I said that it generally wasn’t a good idea to muscle out members of the press, regardless of their affiliation, and his friend yelled: “Is that a threat? Are you threatening us?”
“Nah, he’s not threatening us,” said the burly guy. “He’s just a whiner.” Then he snapped a picture of my license plate, and they watched as I drove away.