Dan Patrick’s Long History of Toxic Immigrant-Bashing

You know, the kind that might encourage violence in a place like El Paso.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick at the 2016 Texas GOP convention.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick at the 2016 Texas GOP convention. Patrick Michels

You know, the kind that might encourage violence in a place like El Paso.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick at the 2016 Texas GOP convention.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick at the 2016 Texas GOP convention. Patrick Michels

On Saturday morning, a 21-year-old white man allegedly opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle in a Walmart just a few miles from the Bridge of the Americas connecting El Paso to its sister city of Juárez. Stalking terrified shoppers in the aisles, the shooter left 22 dead and more than two dozen injured. According to an anti-immigrant screed that police believe he wrote, the shooter carried out the massacre to combat “the Hispanic invasion of Texas”—making his act perhaps the deadliest single anti-Latinx attack in American history.

Within hours, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick was on Fox News. But Patrick didn’t focus on the safety of Texas’ 4.6 million immigrants and 10.7 million Hispanics; instead, he zeroed in on an upcoming event in El Paso supposedly organized by “antifa.” The next day he was back on Fox, and while he did acknowledge the shooting was likely a hate crime, he spent the bulk of his airtime blaming video games, social media, and the paucity of prayer in public schools.

It’s standard for conservatives, in the wake of mass shootings, to deflect attention to chimerical causes like mental illness. But Patrick—even more than other statewide Republicans in Texas—may have a deeper motive for distraction: his own yearslong record of inciting anti-immigrant hatred.

From the beginning, Patrick staked his political fortunes on xenophobia. Way back in 2006, when he was transitioning from radio shock jock to candidate for a state Senate district in the Houston ’burbs, Patrick was busy telling audiences that immigrants are pathogenic marauders. “The No. 1 problem we are facing is the silent invasion of the border,” he once told a small golf club gathering. “They are bringing Third World diseases with them,” he added misleadingly, citing tuberculosis, malaria, polio, and leprosy.

At the time, most Texas Republicans shied away from such incendiary talk. State Senator Jon Lindsay, the retiring legislator who Patrick sought to replace, spurned the latter’s focus on illegal immigration, calling him an “extremist.” But Patrick destroyed his primary opposition, pulling 69 percent of the vote.

In the next stage of his political ascent, Patrick took on incumbent Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in 2014. During the primary fight, Patrick stuck to his old script: “The first question is to stop the invasion; until you secure the border, you cannot address any other issues,” he said during a televised debate. That still made many Republicans squeamish, and numerous Hispanic conservatives condemned him. But Patrick whipped Dewhurst in the runoff. In all, Patrick played a major role in shifting the state GOP to the right on immigration, paving the way for reactionary measures like the “sanctuary cities” ban of 2017.

Post-Trump, Patrick has only gotten worse. In February in El Paso, just after Trump held a rally during which he lied about crime rates in the city, Patrick claimed that if it weren’t for El Paso’s border wall, there would be mass decapitations in the streets. A month earlier, he’d gone full paranoiac: “The reason the deceivers—the Democrats and the mainstream media—have this manufactured cover-up is because they want another 10, 15, 20 million [immigrants] to continue to pour in, to where they turn those into votes one day and they control the country and they move our country to the left,” he told Laura Ingraham on Fox.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick  Sam DeGrave

That last bit is tantamount to a racist conspiracy theory known as the “Great Replacement.” Originating in France, the crackpot contention—in its American form—is that native Anglos are being replaced by nonwhite immigrants, and the change is being pushed by either the Democrats, unnamed “elites,” or the Jews. In his alleged manifesto, the El Paso shooter specifically said he’s fighting “cultural and ethnic replacement.” In parts of the document, he’s almost indistinguishable from Patrick. “The heavy Hispanic population in Texas will make us a Democrat stronghold,” he wrote. “Losing Texas and a few other states with heavy Hispanic population to the Democrats is all it would take for them to win nearly every presidential election.”

Other recent white supremacist mass murderers, including the man accused of killing 51 in New Zealand and the shooters who targeted synagogues in Pennsylvania and California, also cited the bogus replacement theory.

To be clear, targeting El Paso on the grounds of a “Hispanic invasion” is absurd. The area was part of Mexico just a century and a half ago, and Anglos have never been a majority there. The shooter, who said he was out to get immigrants, primarily killed American citizens. Among the Mexican nationals who died, some were simply visiting from Juárez to shop—as fronterizos are wont to do—including a schoolteacher and a mother who was in El Paso to get her daughter from the airport. Unsurprisingly, the shooter wasn’t from the border but from the majority-white Dallas suburb of Allen.

The attack reveals how blurry the line between xenophobia and pure racism is. Politicians may refrain from using explicitly racist terms, but that’s not nearly good enough. Texas, with its majority nonwhite population and large number of immigrants, could very well be the target of another similar attack. It’s irresponsible to assume otherwise. The state needs leaders who can credibly defend both immigrants and citizens of color in the same breath, politicians who don’t have dozens of past statements on which to backtrack when a hate crime occurs.

A decent example came Monday from presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke. Asked by a reporter whether President Trump—who’s called immigration an “invasion” countless times—could do anything to help avoid tragedies like the one in El Paso, O’Rourke snapped back. “What do you think? You know the shit he’s been saying,” he said, suddenly recovering his profanity-laden style from the 2018 campaign trail. “Connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country. He’s not tolerating racism; he’s promoting racism. He’s not tolerating violence; he’s inciting … violence.”

Only one quibble with O’Rourke’s otherwise solid reply: He should’ve found a way to work in the lieutenant governor, too.

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Gus Bova reports on immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border and grassroots movements for the Observer. He formerly worked at a shelter for asylum-seekers and refugees. You can contact him at [email protected]


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