On the morning of October 21, Farris Wilks, a North Texas fracking billionaire, was busy with matters of eschatology. Preaching at the Eastland County church founded by his father, Wilks explained to his congregation — the idiosyncratic, nondenominational Assembly of Yahweh 7th Day — that neither heaven nor hell awaited them when they died. According to Biblical revelation, they would “simply go to the grave to await the Resurrection and the judgment that will follow,” he said.
Four days later, the 66-year-old turned to more worldly affairs: He cut a check to state Senator Bob Hall’s re-election campaign for $100,000 — about 10 percent of the total amount Hall would go on to raise. That money helped the incumbent, a tea partier from Florida with a history of domestic violence allegations, fend off a primary challenge from Cindy Burkett — a relative moderate who gave up her state House seat to challenge him and has been succeeded by a right-winger, making the outcome a twofold victory for Wilks and Texas’ far right.
Along with his brother, Dan, Farris is among Texas’ top GOP kingmakers. Since July, the two have donated around $3.5 million to Texas Republican campaigns and groups, including $1.9 million to the PAC affiliated with Texas Right to Life, an absolutist anti-abortion group, and $1.25 million to Empower Texans, the militantly conservative enforcement unit funded by Midland oilman Tim Dunn. That makes the Wilks brothers far and away the top funders of Right to Life, and places them just below Dunn himself for Empower Texans. Other victories this March for the Wilkses included state Representative Mike Lang’s successful primary defense and the unseating of three state lawmakers (state Senator Craig Estes, as well as representatives Wayne Faircloth and Jason Villalba).
Though other high-profile far-right challengers were defeated this year, the primaries generally went according to the Wilkses’ plan, according to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “Their goal each year isn’t to sweep, but to always have a net gain,” he said. “The question for them is, did this election move us closer or further away from our goal? And this election clearly moved them closer.”
The Wilks brothers have a very Texas version of the rags-to-riches story. According to press accounts, they spent their early years living in a converted goat shed in Cisco and grew up laying bricks for their father’s masonry business. Then, in 2002, they got in on the ground floor of a natural gas boom by launching a company to provide trucking services to the fracking industry. Nine years later, the brothers sold their majority stake in Frac Tech Services for $3.2 billion. Today, they spend their fortune on land investments and political campaigns.
Unlike other heavy hitters of the Texas GOP donor class, such as late Houston developer Bob Perry or Dallas tax king G. Brint Ryan, the Wilkses prioritize ideology over seeking financial gain from elected officials, said Jones. “They’re more focused on electing people who share their broader worldview,” he said.
Farris, who couldn’t be reached for an interview, served as bishop of the fringy Assembly of Yahweh church for 31 years until his retirement in February 2017. He now returns regularly as a kind of guest star, or “elder.” The congregation celebrates the Sabbath on Saturday, observes dietary restrictions found in Leviticus and reportedly bans women from speaking during worship.
In the wake of Obama’s 2012 re-election, according to recordings reviewed by Right Wing Watch, Wilks preached, “I do believe that our country died that Tuesday night,” adding that millenarian musings were giving him comfort: “Maybe it’s time to wrap up some things, maybe it’s time to move on to the next 1,000 years.”
Conveniently for a fracking billionaire, Wilks has also asserted that man can do nothing about climate change, and, of course, he’s done the requisite gay-bashing. “This lifestyle is a predatorial [sic] lifestyle in that they need your children and straight people having kids to fulfill their sexual habits,” he said in a 2013 recording.
Judgment Day may be a ways off yet, but if Wilks continues to fill the Texas Capitol with the sort of politician he prefers, we’ll be living in hell soon enough.