Above: Left to right: James Dickey, Bob Hall, Ray Myers, Rafael Cruz
Kaufman County tea party insurgent Ray Myers long had a reputation for extremist views, off-the-cuff bigotry and an in-your-face style of activism. But recent Facebook posts declaring himself to be a “white nationalist” and calling for a “rope and a tree” for a black female elected official in Florida were beyond the pale even for him.
After his comments drew national attention, leaders within the Texas GOP scrambled to distance themselves from Myers, a connected member of the far-right firmament who served on the platform committee at the state party’s 2018 convention. But not state Senator Bob Hall, a fellow tea party activist from East Texas. He chose to lean in.
The day after the Observer broke the story about Myers’ “white nationalist” comments, Hall showed up in a photo on Myers’ Facebook page enjoying a meal at Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., with other Kaufman County activists.
The Observer reached out to Hall for comment. Five days later, his chief of staff emailed several paragraphs of responses to a number of our questions. Hall asserted that Myers was merely the victim of the P.C. police. “Those who sit on a self-appointed seat of judgment where they view others through the faulty prism of perverted extreme political correctness, rather than the clear glass of honesty, will always see the ugly they seek to see rather than the truth,” Hall wrote.
The senator said it was “simply a coincidence” that he and Myers were in the nation’s capital at the same time. He said, “I agree with Mr. Dickey’s denouncement of actual racist statements; statements which are made with malice of forethought.” Hall didn’t address specific questions about Myers’ “rope and tree” comment or whether he had talked with Myers about his statements.
Asked whether he condoned Myers’ “white nationalist” declaration, Hall said, “According to the dictionary I use ‘nationalism’ is defined as ‘Devotion and loyalty to one’s own country’ and ‘white’ is a socially accepted term for Caucasian. It is clear that his statement was made based on these definitions.”
Myers was a local force at the height of the tea party movement and his biggest coup was helping Hall, himself a tea party activist in nearby Canton, oust Republican incumbent Senator Bob Deuell from his post in Senate District 2 in the 2014 primaries. He and his band of tea partiers became Hall’s most active foot soldiers in Kaufman County — knocking on doors, putting up signs and watching the polls.
“They’re not very nice people,” Deuell said of Hall and Myers in an interview with the Observer. “They’re just uninformed people, extreme right, and they’re tearing the party apart if they haven’t already done so.”
During the primary campaign, Hall claimed that a bill Deuell cosponsored aiming to improve streets for bicyclists and pedestrians was part of a United Nations conspiracy. Hall accused Deuell of pushing for “medical death panels” and advocated for reviving state nullification as a tactic. Hall called to “shut down the candy stores” [i.e. public assistance programs] that he said were attracting a surge of illegal immigration. He insisted that Common Core academic standards are “true communist indoctrination of our kids.”
Once elected, some local Republicans quickly became fed up with what they saw as Hall’s inefficacy in Austin. He’s spent an impressive amount of political energy on the potential threat of electromagnetic pulses frying the country’s electric grid. “He is a very ineffective state senator because he’s linked to Ray Myers and people … who are obvious extremists,” said Ken Cates, a Republican who recently won a seat on the Kaufman County Commissioners Court despite drawing the wrath of Myers.
After he narrowly survived a primary challenge in 2018, many local GOP leaders, including Deuell, Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood and Kaufman Mayor Jeff Jordan, openly endorsed Hall’s opponent, Kendall Scudder, a young moderate Democrat.
“[Senator Hall] is unhinged,” Scudder told me. “When I tried to talk to him once about [education funding], he said, ‘What you don’t understand is public education is socialism.’ I looked at him and said, ‘When you talk like that, I feel like we are on different planets. He said, ‘Maybe we are’ and just walked out.”
In September, Hall’s campaign sent out an email promoting the Kaufman County Tea Party’s ninth annual fundraiser. The senator appeared alongside Frank Gaffney Jr., who runs a notorious Islamophobic “think tank” in Washington, D.C., and would be discussing matters of “Sharia supremacism” in Texas, as well as John Guandolo, a former FBI agent who leads seminars for Texas police departments about the threat that all Muslims pose to national security.
Hall’s campaign email boasted that Gaffney had been pegged as an “extremist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center and that Guandolo was on the group’s “Hatewatch” list. Guandolo has also been enlisted by a faction of the Tarrant County Republican Party to give a training on December 29 before they hold a vote on whether to oust members that were Muslim or associated with Muslims. The party’s State Republican Executive Committee responded with a nonbinding resolution denouncing the attempted purge and affirming its opposition to bigotry.
“Senator Hall is so outrageous that we were just inundated with things to talk about, but we just didn’t have resources [to publicize all them],” Scudder said. “It got to the point where people just said, “Who cares? It’s just Bob Hall.”
Scudder lost by nearly 20 percentage points in the deep red East Texas district.
Texas GOP Chair James Dickey, who owes his post to right-wing activists like Myers and legislators like Hall, took pains to clarify that when the 74-year-old Myers served on the platform committee he was nothing more than a volunteer; not a party official. When asked about Myers hanging out with Hall (who very much is a party official, representing more than 800,000 Texans) in the aftermath of his comments, Dickey deferred. “I can’t speak to that. I’m unaware of anything to do with that.”
In his emailed responses, Hall suggested that if I wanted to learn about Myers’ “true relationships” that I should consult “one of the many black or brown friends and associates” who know him.
He ended with this (emphasis his): “Fact: We are all created in the image of the one true God and such we are all one race.”