Ever heard of Sara Legvold? She’s a diminutive, older Cuban-American woman from Roanoke, Texas. She loves animals and small dogs. She’s also friendly with fascists and white supremacists, supports apartheid and is a nearly bottomless fountain of paranoid racism. And for two years, she’s proudly served as an elected member of the Republican Party of Texas’ Executive Committee. She’s served as an elected part of the leadership team of the state GOP—even after they realized who she was, and what she believed.
In the wake of the theatrics at the state GOP convention in Fort Worth earlier this month, observers and moderates in the party are asking—what happened? Those who can see the future of the party clearly know that it must change to have a future, but conservative intransigence on immigration is getting stronger, not dissipating. The forces keeping the state GOP a racially and ethnically monolithic party are ascendent, not in decline. And with the rise of Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, the Christian right has a stronger hold on the party than ever, squeezing out younger and centrist voters.
Legvold’s mystifying acceptance by the state party is a case study in those trends. As many of the activists who determine the course of the party have grown more insular and paranoid, more motivated by fear and bigotry, the party’s leadership has done little to repudiate them. Legvold is wrapping up a two-year stint with the State Republican Executive Committee, an organization that, according to the committee’s bylaws, “act[s] as the governing body” of the party. Her name and photo are prominently displayed on the party’s website. And her status as a member of the Republican Party’s leadership lends her considerable influence.
At this year’s convention, she sat on the committee that helped write the party’s 2014 platform. For weeks, she had strategized with other conservatives looking to gut the so-called Texas Solution, and helped draft new platform language that did just that, beginning with the words: “In support of Dan Patrick…” In the list of committee members that endorsed the hardline language, her name was at the top. That language was ultimately defeated, but a measure similar to what Legvold’s team proposed was eventually adopted.
Her endorsement of an anti-gay rights rally was trumpeted on that rally’s flier—she was listed as a co-sponsor, her name sitting alongside the state’s most powerful Republicans. When a minor physical altercation broke out between a Texas Solution supporter named Norman Adams and a member of the Texas Nationalist Movement, Legvold was there, confronting Adams until the police arrived.
And after the Texas Solution had been killed, Legvold helped bring the convention to a close—pre-empting debate on the platform’s toxic anti-gay language. In the most prominent debates at the convention, Legvold’s side won.
Here are some things that Legvold believes. In just the last couple months, Legvold has characterized Muslims as “vermin,” “threats” and breeders and cheered the efforts of the British fascist party Britain First. She expressed her belief that Muslim fighters in Syria are selling the blood of exsanguinated Christian children for “$100,000 per bottle.” She calls New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a “fat POS” and a “Muslim Dhimmi,” calls for GOP House Speaker John Boehner to be jailed for collaborating with President Obama, and calls for Bowe Bergdahl to be executed.
She warns her friends about the specter of racial violence—she links to a World Net Daily article, headline: “House torched in black-on-white revenge attack,” and exhorts like-minded friends to pack heat and “make sure your aim is true and deadly.” She indulges in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, crediting Russian President Vladimir Putin with taking action against the Rothschild banking family.
She urges “real Americans” to stand up to “crimmigrants” who want to latch on to the “government teat.” On the question of gay people, she quotes from a blog approvingly: “Homosexuals have a lot in common with the little dogs people like Paris Hilton hold in purses: they’re generally vain, generally high maintenance, and their bark is always far louder and more obnoxious than their bite.” Homosexuality, she says, is a precursor to socialism.
The state party has long known exactly who Sara Legvold is, and what she believes. In December of last year, Legvold aimed her bile at the recently deceased Nelson Mandela, and people took notice. She called Mandela a “butcher/destroyer:”
You probably Don’t know much about this man except that he battled the Aparthied system in South Africa, a system where all blacks had Jobs, food to buy in their stores, and few had AIDS! Now that’s all Changed with 50+% unemployment, little food to buy and runaway Inflation further reducing buying power, and over 20% of the population has aids!
When some began looking more closely at her social media presence, they realized she posted racist links pretty frequently, including from Stormfront, the internet’s foremost repository of neo-Nazi and white nationalist organizing, and American Renaissance, which bills itself as a bastion of “race realism.”
The story blew up: Legvold, and the state GOP with her, was briefly shamed. She apologized that her scuffles had “distracted” people from the Republican Party’s goals.
“I am not a racist and view people as individuals on their own merit, but,” she said—isn’t there always a but—“when those individuals work in concert as a group to undermine my positions, I am not afraid to call them out as a warning to those who have sympathies with them. I will not shy away from speaking plainly at the risk of offending someone.”
She claimed she’d only visited Stormfront once: The link she posted was the “First & only time I have visited that site,” she wrote. Nonetheless, Stormfront posters took quite a shine to Legvold—and reported that she stayed in touch with them during her hour of tribulation. Here’s the words of a poster named Glacier, a “Friends of Stormfront Sustaining Member:”
I will not post our entire conversation… Because I haven’t got permission. She states that she is willing to pay any price to defend against what is happening to our country. Don’t mess with Texas.
Another commends the Texas GOP for not kicking her out: “The Republican party has gone up in my estimation,” writes whitehouse90310.
Were this any other state, Legvold would have been quietly persuaded to step down for the sake of the party. But this is Texas. She didn’t even get more cautious. A week after her “apology,” a friend posted a photoshopped picture of Michelle Obama on Legvold’s wall, in which the first lady is given a grotesquely distorted behind and back hair. A friend comments: “Looks like they trimmed some off Moochelle’s booty, too.” Legvold “likes” it.
Six months later, Legvold showed up at the Fort Worth Convention Center, where she helped draft the platform that will, hypothetically, guide the party until 2014. The party didn’t bat an eye at her presence—all had been forgotten. Indeed, Dan Patrick and Sid Miller include Legvold’s name in their list of endorsements.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about L’Affair Legvold is how unsurprising it is. Much of the media in Texas has never quite learned how to talk about something that most recognize but can’t find a way to express within the bounds of “objectivity”—there’s a core of the conservative movement in Texas that is absolutely bonkers. Legvold might be one extreme example, but there are plenty just a few shades away. The platform itself—nearly every part of it—is shot through with the fear of a changing country and changing generational attitudes about what it means to be an American. Heba Said, a editor for UT-Arlington’s student newspaper and a Muslim woman, attended the convention and gave one account of what that fear looks like up close.
Paranoia and fear has always been a major constituent element of the state’s politics, of course, but spend time around conservative activists and it’s hard to escape the feeling that that segment is becoming even more unglued. And as a new generation of Republican nominees steps up, that cohort is playing an even greater role in driving the party. Republicans here, like they were nationally, were happy to ride the dragon of inchoate populism that constituted the rise of the tea party in 2009. Maybe they can rein in it, maybe they can’t. They haven’t really tried.
When Wendy Davis recently suggested that Republicans in Texas were intolerant of “people who don’t look like them or come from where they come from,” GOPers expressed extreme umbrage. Greg Abbott’s spokesman, Matt Hirsch, tweeted about Davis’ remarks for days. Consider the party’s tolerance of people like Legvold, and it’s hard to see why.