Plucked from relative obscurity, Tony Tinderholt was one of the Empower Texans-backed challengers that popped up in GOP primaries this year. In Arlington’s House District 94, he beat four-term incumbent Diane Patrick, who’d earned ire from conservative groups for moderate stands. In November, he’s facing a local Democratic businessman named Cole Ballweg, but it’s a heavily Republican district and Tinderholt is favored to win. Last week, Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick helped him block-walk the district.
Tinderholt is a veteran, and an excitable guy. He believes in gun rights and hates Obamacare, which is pretty standard. But he also thinks that border-crossing migrants who are coming here to take our “free stuff” won’t stop coming until we take up arms and put a stop to it ourselves, just like the Spartans did in the movie 300. “People are going to die,” says the likely legislator, and that’s the only thing that’s going to stop migrants from “taking the lifeblood of our country.”
This summer, Tinderholt took a trip to the Rio Grande Valley with the Texas Border Volunteers, one of the major militia groups. They don camo and ride around on ATVs. When he got back, he wanted to share details of his trip. So in July, Tinderholt gave a talk to a Ft. Worth-area 9/12 group. It was the high point of the flood of Central American children and teenagers that consumed the nation’s attention.
At the meeting, Tinderholt stood in front of an American flag, clutching a podium bearing the words “God Bless America.” To the side, a screen showed a picture of Tinderholt in Iraq, titled “Briefing: My Experience on the Texas Border.”
Tinderholt’s speech to the group was recorded and uploaded by his own campaign, which subsequently took it down. But others saved the video, which was provided to the Observer. The whole thing is worth watching, because it helps give a fuller impression of the man and his attitude toward the world. But here are some excerpts. (Emphasis added throughout.)
Tinderholt opens the talk by telling the crowd he’s going to be a little looser than normal. “I’m going to change this up a little bit,” Tinderholt says. “Sometimes God talks to you in different ways, and I feel like he’s talking to me right now. I want to talk about my trip down to Mexico.”
He tells the crowd not to be discouraged by how rotten things are right now—there had been several speakers that night. Conservatives shouldn’t be discouraged, he says. “There’s a whole lot of people like myself and you that are true conservatives. The Bill Zedlers, the Dan Patricks, the Konni Burtons, the Jonathan Sticklands. Myself.”
Then he gets to the subject of his speech. “I want people to quit coming into this country and taking free stuff from us.”
He expounds: “If someone came into my house and started stealing my food, wearing my clothes, and taking my checkbook and using it, I’d be a little bit frustrated. And that’s what’s happening right now,” Tinderholt says. It’s true that there’s a humanitarian side to this. It’s true that the kids who were coming across the border this summer were coming across “for hopes of a better life. But that better life for them is free stuff. We have to stop them.”
Liberty is under attack, he tells the group. Drastic measures are needed. “Have any of you ever seen the movie 300? It’s pretty graphic, right?” In the movie, an intensely homoerotic army of Spartans give their lives at a strategic choke-point to hold off the Persians. “We have to stand in that gap and stop this stuff from happening. We need to stand in the gap and not be scared.”
Having established the theme of military violence, he tells the crowd about his background. He worked with Air Force intelligence in anti-trafficking operations in the 1990s, and he took part in “combat operations” on the Mexican side of the border, he says. “I also did interrogations.”
So he knows about the border, he tells the crowd. He’s speaking from personal experience. It’s a terrible place. Take the “mothers and fathers who are sending these 8- and 10- and 12-year-old children with these coyotes to bring them across—if you got a cute child, do you think they’re going to make it to the U.S.?” Tinderholt answers: “I think they’ll probably make it here. But they’re going to make somebody money. And they’re going to make it in a very illegal disgusting and gross way. Immoral.”
After this tasteful evocation of sex trafficking, Tinderholt raises another “staggering and disgusting” concern: The border-crossers include people from Iran, Pakistan, Somalia and China. “They’re not friends of ours. They’re not coming here to live a great life. There’s probably a small percentage of them that might be harmless—but what are they bringing with them? Is it in their mind?” he asks, pointing to his noggin. “Are they coming up with plans to do horrible, disgusting things to American citizens? In a year? In 18 months? In 36 months? Are they regrouping? What are they doing?”
Now, Tinderholt gets real. “When I come here and speak to these events, my wife says, ‘Okay, hold your tongue,’” Tinderholt says. He’s a “passionate” guy. “What comes out of my mouth just kinda comes out sometimes.” But he’s going to speak the truth anyway.
Tell us, Tony. “It’s very hard for me sometimes to talk about this kind of stuff, because…they’re stealing from us. We’re being thieved. They’re taking from you and I and the American people and they’re taking from the lifeblood of our country.”
What should be done about this, Tony?
Tinderholt recalls the metaphor of the house that’s been broken in to. “At some point, you’re going to lock your doors. You’re going to put up video cameras. You’re gonna do surveillance on your house. You’re gonna call the police to come over and do security around your house every once in a while. If it keeps getting broken into, you’re going to get a gun. You’re going to protect your family and your house.”
He continues: “Well, with 21 years in the military, I’m not proud to say,” he continued, “I saw and did a lot of things that many people would think were very horrific. And they were.”
He had seen the dark side, the scum, for what they were. And he knows exactly what needs to be done about it. “It’s really sad to say that at some point, what’s going to happen on that border is going to be bad. And people are going to die. And it’s a sad, sad thing to say. But it’s the only thing that’s going to stop this infiltration of our country.”
He returns to his “horrific” past. “War is not pretty. Being in the military is not a glorious heroic cool job like everybody thinks it is. It’s dirty. It’s disgusting sometimes. I’m just telling you the facts, and I’m sorry if you don’t like them. But we have to stop this influx at the border.”
One way to stop it would be to send troops into Mexico, to kick some ass. But that’s in the longer term. “I think we should go across the border and stop it. I think we should shut money off across the border. But I’ll tell you in the short term, we gotta put our military at the border and stop this crap from happening now.” The room applauds. “But we can’t have our military men and women standing at the border with their weapons hugging drug cartels coming across because they don’t like hugs. They use chainsaws. We use rifles.”
Perry’s National Guard deployment is a joke, Tinderholt says. “Our border is not even close to secure. Our border is not gonna to be secure with 1,000 National Guardsmen. Our border will be secure when we arm it and stop the people from coming across.” How the rifled men would stop people from coming across, Tinderholt doesn’t say. He doesn’t need to say it. We’re in Dirty Harry territory.
If that seems extreme, Tinderholt would like you to know that you have more to lose by not shooting at migrants than by shooting at migrants. “Your faith. Your family. Your inalienable rights granted to you by God. Your rights granted to you by the Constitution of the United States. All those things are really important to you, and they’re important to me,” says Tinderholt. “And if we don’t secure that border right now and take charge of it, we’re going to lose everything we have.” Everything.
He’s coming to Austin, he tells the crowd, and he’ll use his seat in the hallowed chamber of the Texas House to beat back against the scum and the RINOs and the traitors. “I don’t care who watches this video and I don’t care who’s watching me and listening,” he says. “I’ll tell you this: If you get in my way of trying to stop people from trying to come across the border, I’m rolling over the top of you, period.”
If you have time, and you’d like to know Tony Tinderholt, watch the video. The remarkable thing about his delivery is how neatly he slips in between comparatively reasonable statements—the messaging that conservatives need to talk to moderates—and grandiose threats of violence and profoundly delusional statements. It’s really something. He’s a few shades away from Travis Bickle territory. Some day a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the border: Tony Tinderholt 2014.
How the hell did this guy get so close to the statehouse? On the one hand, the message of “people are going to die” is not too far from the talk of ostensibly more responsible figures, like Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who told Waco Tea Party Radio in August that state troopers would target threats with “suppressing fire, and somebody’s going to get hurt.” But at least in Dewhurst’s fantasies, the violence was a two-way street.
Like with many of our other biggest legislative lumps, you can in part thank Michael Quinn Sullivan for Tinderholt. To knock off Republican incumbents, his groups will back just about anybody. In fact, if the challenger is a nobody, that’s better: They’re easier to control. There’s no vetting process. They really don’t care. When another one of the anti-Straus coalition’s challengers, Phillip Eby, told a room full of folks that Sun Tzu was the guiding light for his primary campaign in March—two months before one of his supporters allegedly assaulted his opponent’s campaign manager—it was par for the course. But this is an entirely different order of magnitude.
For the record, here’s how Empower Texans described Tinderholt in the primary:
Some dedicate their lives to serving others. Others use public office to serve themselves. Tony Tinderholt is one of those who has dedicated his life to serving others, even putting his life on the line on behalf of his country.
Voters in Arlington need to ask themselves who they would like representing them, a liberal like Rep. Diane Patrick who uses her office to benefit herself and her husband, or a fiscally responsible conservative like Tony Tinderholt who has a lifelong record of service.
Here at TFR we think the choice is obvious. We have endorsed Tinderholt for State Representative.
A lifelong record of service. Let’s allow the man himself to close this out: What kind of state representative will you be, Mr. Tinderholt?
“I’m not going down to Austin to make friends,” he tells the 9/12-ers as he closed his talk. “I’m probably not the greatest speaker in the world, but I tell you what: When I get down to Austin and [others] can come back and tell you how much I fought ‘em at that back mic and pissed a whole bunch of RINOs and Democrats off, you’ll love it.”
The crowd cheers.