Above: Former Republican State Representative JonathanStickland laughs during a 2015 debate on the House floor.
The Texas GOP’s full-on embrace of extremism continues unabated.
Over the weekend, a majority of the Texas State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) voted to remove language from a resolution affirming support for Israel that would have prohibited party associations with people and groups “known to espouse or tolerate antisemitism, pro-Nazi sympathies or Holocaust denial.”Members of the state party committee—who are elected by party delegates—voted 31-29 to remove that language. About half the committee also tried to block a public record of the vote.
The proposed ban on associating with such extremists came during the first quarterly meeting since Hitler admirer and antisemitic far-right activist Nick Fuentes was caught on camera in October while visiting the Fort Worth offices of former state representative and prominent right-wing operative Jonathan Stickland, which the Texas Tribune exposed. GOP chair Matt Rinaldi, who has helped transform the state party into a far-right elephant gun to hunt down suspected RINOs, was also photographed entering the same building while Fuentes was there, but denied meeting with him.
At the time, Stickland was president of Defend Texas Liberty (DTL), a super PAC operating as the latest iteration of the far-right political machine financed by the Christian nationalist billionaires Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks.
The meeting with Fuentes prompted growing calls from others in the Texas Republican Party—led by House Speaker Dade Phelan—to condemn DTL and its supporters. Phelan also called on Dan Patrick, whose campaign received $3 million from the PAC earlier this year, to return the money and condemn his benefactors. Patrick declined, instead issuing a statement that claimed Dunn had described the meeting as a “serious blunder.”
Dunn is the same guy who also reportedly said that he believes only Christians should hold leadership positions in Texas government, and pumped millions of dollars into a political crusade to take down moderate Republican House Speaker Joe Straus—who is Jewish—and Straus’s allies. (Straus left office in 2019. His successor, Dennis Bonnen, resigned after a secret recording scandal orchestrated by Dunn’s Empower Texans. Since helming the House, Phelan has become the far right’s top target.)
The proposed language that would have banned party association with Nazis, antisemites, and Holocaust deniers was a watered-down version of prior proposals from party leaders who previously sought to officially cut ties with DTL, the Tribune reported.
Yet that even more general language was still unacceptable to far-right conservatives who lobbied against its inclusion, with some saying it was too vague and others likening it to the tactics of Marxist communists, complaining that it would just play into the hands of anti-conservative enemies. As one member said, “It could put you on a slippery slope.” (In contrast, conservatives have generally papered over concerns about vague language when it comes to their priority policies of bans on abortion, drag shows, transgender healthcare for youth, “critical race theory” curricula, and DEI.)
State Senator Bob Hall, a top ally of the Dunn machine, showed up at the party meeting to push against the resolution language. In an interview with the Tribune, Hall said meeting with Fuentes did not prove Stickland was antisemitic. “I’ve had meetings with transgenders, gays and lesbians,” Hall said. “Does that make me a transgender, gay or a lesbian?”
This is all, of course, part of an escalating proxy war between the state’s top Republican leaders—including Phelan, Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton. The speaker and lieutenant governor have been at each other’s throats for the past two years over their respective handling of the party’s legislative agenda. And Paxton—who owes his political career in large part to Dunn and Co.—has gone to war with the House ever since members voted to impeach him on 20 charges, including alleged bribery and abuse of office, of which the Senate acquitted him in September.
Phelan issued a statement Sunday calling the SREC’s vote “despicable.”
He continued, “@TexasGOP/SREC can’t even bring themselves to denounce neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers or cut ties with their top donor who brought them to the dance. There is a moral, anti-Semitic rot festering within the fringes of BOTH parties that must be stopped.”
The SREC’s failure to call for the explicit disassociation from Nazis and the like sparked criticism (albeit more tepid) from even Dan Patrick, later Sunday evening. “This language should have been adopted—because I know that is our position as a Party. I am confident that the SREC will correct this at their next meeting—not affirming this language is totally unacceptable to me,” Patrick said in his statement. “I, and the overwhelming majority of Republicans in Texas, do not tolerate antisemites, and those who deny the Holocaust, praise Hitler or the Nazi regime.”
(On this matter, Governor Greg Abbott is probably still holding a wet finger in the air).
Paxton had nothing to say publicly about the party’s anti-Nazi opt-out, but was quick to tweet his response to the news that the SREC had unanimously voted to censure Republican state Representative Andrew Murr, who led the House impeachment investigation of Paxton.