James Dickey on white nationalists in the Texas GOP, xenophobia and “America First.”
Last week, the Observer reported that Ray Myers — who had a hand in crafting the platform for the most influential state Republican party in the country — had posted on his Facebook declaring, “Damn right, I’m a WHITE NATIONALIST.”
The story, which included an interview with Myers doubling down on the comment, quickly drew national attention. Just a few days earlier, the state party’s executive council passed a resolution affirming its opposition to religious bigotry after a handful of Tarrant County activists tried to oust the local party’s Muslim vice-chair. After the story published, another Facebook post surfaced in which Myers called for “a rope and a tree” for Brenda Snipes, the Broward County elections supervisor in Florida and a black woman.
The following day, Myers posted on Facebook a photo of state Senator Bob Hall, Kaufman County GOP Chair Jimmy Weaver and others who had traveled with him to Washington, D.C., to visit Trump Hotel and the White House. Hall, whose district stretches from east Dallas into rural northeast Texas, has not responded to a request for comment. Myers’ Facebook page has apparently been taken down.
As pressure grew to explicitly condemn Myers, Texas GOP chair James Dickey put out an op-ed Friday addressing the recent racist statements and bigoted actions: “We denounce them and we want nothing to do with them.”
I emailed the Texas Republican Party’s spokesperson to clarify whether Dickey had meant to denounce Myers’ comments or Myers as an influential activist within the party.
Soon after, my phone rang. It was James Dickey — he wanted to set the record straight. He commenced to perform a delicate high-wire act in real time, providing an insightful window into a party that has been led in recent years by an ascendant and increasingly extremist right wing — and which arguably prompted electoral consequences last month.
Many of my questions were followed by long periods of silence and carefully phrased answers as Dickey struggled to find a balance between condemning recent comments and actions within the party without calling out the people in it or the party itself. After all, Dickey helped found the Dallas Tea Party chapter around the same time that Ray Myers founded the Kaufman County Tea Party just miles to the east. He owes his powerful post to the party’s hard-right factions. After a contentious re-election bid at the state convention in June, he gave a victory speech flanked by tea party acolytes such as state representatives Jonathan Stickland and Matt Rinaldi and state senator Bob Hall. Myers was a vocal supporter of Dickey.
Dickey is a tea party activist, but he doesn’t sound like one at the moment. In our interview, he was careful and contained, talking about the raw anger fueling Trump’s brand of nationalism like a logician and addressing examples of his party’s extremist elements in terms of statistic probabilities and near certainties.
What follows is a lightly edited and condensed version of our interview. Dickey began by voicing frustration that Myers has been portrayed in news stories as a GOP official.
Justin Miller: He is a member of the platform committee though, right?
James Dickey: [Chuckles] If by “is” you mean “was for about 12 hours on one day, 6 months ago,” yes, as a volunteer. … They are permanent in that they are permanent for the duration of the convention. So literally, the guy was elected on Friday, the [committee] report was given Saturday. That’s it. He was one of 32 volunteers. He served on a committee that then referred stuff to the body that was then debated for hours by the body before being voted on by the body of thousands of delegates. He was a volunteer on a committee. That does not make him an official of the party. Not even close.
Then, of course, we entirely disavow any racist bigoted statements and positions from anyone and don’t welcome any such thing in our party.
Is it the statements or is it the people who are making these statements that are not welcome in the party?
Our history is full of tragic things that happen when people are judged as people instead of on their actions or their positions. As a party, we’re organized by our principles and our statements and our actions. As a party, and especially as chairman of the party, I make no effort to judge people on my assumptions of them or on their internal workings or on their worth as human beings as a whole. I can only judge the words and positions I hear and the actions I see.
We as a party are going to judge everyone for who they are based on the positions they espouse and the actions they perform. And we are going to restrict our comment, for good or ill, to those things. … There’s a very small line between— [sighs] It’s easy to get into bad territory if you do more than judge people based on actions and words. So I’m restricting my comments to be based on actions and words.
Do you think that’s enough? These things that continue to happen. Passing a resolution affirming that there is no bigotry is one thing. I think a lot of people wonder why the members of the Texas Republican Party are so often caught saying things or doing things that need to be condemned?
I would argue that it’s highly likely that what you’re seeing is confirmation bias. It’s selection bias. Why are examples being found of this? Because people are looking for examples of this. If people were looking for, if there was an equivalent effort looking for reprehensible things from Texas Democrats — granted, there are fewer Texas Democrats so there wouldn’t be quite as large a sample size — I would be quite comfortable in positing that it is highly likely there would be at least as many examples.
And as the party, for the most part, because we know that none of the exceptions found are anything other than extreme exceptions, we ignore that noise and focus on the positive benefits that our efforts are bringing for the state.
But is it just noise, or is it a significant segment and an animating element of the Texas Republican Party?
I know for a fact it is not a substantial segment or animating percentage, based on the tens of thousands of Texas Republicans that I have known for years. I also understand why Democrats try desperately to claim otherwise.
Going back to the attempt by activists in the Tarrant County GOP to oust the vice chair because he is Muslim. Do you think that it’s a problem that a lot of people within the party view Islam and Muslims as a threat to their Judeo-Christian values, which are enshrined in the party platform? Is that inherently at odds with the Republican Party?
There are positions held by people of all groups that are at odds with the positions of the Republican Party. Which is exactly why, as I said, we focus on the principles, positions and actions of the people — not the people. So the question for the party is not is someone Muslim or is someone Christian or is someone Jewish. The question is, does someone espouse support for the principles of the party and want to work to advance those.
Do you think this increased embrace of nationalism and people defining themselves as “nationalists” is a problem? Or do you agree with this emerging new nationalism espoused by President Trump?
If it’s defined as, and I believe it is, a contrast to globalism, there’s nothing — for much of our history, foreign policy experts have advised that we make sure that we conduct our foreign policy with a focus on our national interest. It is logical to do so. And if it’s logical to do so on foreign policy than it is possible, if not probable, that it is logical to do so in at least some parts of our economic policy. And, certainly, those who are elected with an accountability to our voters, have a duty to consider putting those voters first.
Do you think that framing of America First as an ideology can invite and fuel xenophobia as a matter of the politics and policy it espouses?
I have certainly seen people claim that. But the logical corollary fails. That would mean that the only way to keep our country successful and growing and diverse as it is already would be to put the interests of citizens of other countries ahead of the citizens of our country. That does not seem logical.
But what about the interests of marginalized U.S. citizens, whether they are Muslim, black, recently naturalized citizens from Latin America or wherever — do you think that there is a tendency and a risk of this style of politics to lead to something that borders on white nationalism?
Texas’ history is full of those who have made amazing positive impacts on our state after having immigrated here. So no. It does not necessarily follow that fighting for the interests of Texans means concluding that those coming here would not continue that tradition.
Do you think Ray Myers is a white nationalist?
My impression from [his Facebook post] and your article is that he was responding and reacting to the accusation against the president and was not focusing on how that reaction would be taken. That was my impression from your article. Which again goes to my comments on the words and the actions — not on the person.
Myers is close to and appears to have influence with both state Senator Bob Hall and Kaufman County GOP Chair Jimmy Weaver — both of whom are elected GOP officials. The day after the article ran, he posted on Facebook a photo of them at Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. Is that troubling to you?
I can’t speak to that. I’m unaware of anything to do with that.