Texas GOP leaders reverse course, ban antisemites from party


By Robert Downen, The Texas Tribune

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The Republican Party of Texas’ executive committee voted Saturday to censure House Speaker Dade Phelan and passed a resolution stating that the party will not associate with antisemites — a reversal from December, when a similar measure was narrowly and controversially defeated following outcry over a major donor group’s ties to white supremacists.

The antisemitism resolution, which passed unanimously with two abstentions, came four months after The Texas Tribune reported that Jonathan Stickland, then the leader of Defend Texas Liberty, had hosted infamous white supremacist and Adolf Hitler admirer Nick Fuentes for nearly seven hours in early October.

Subsequent reporting by the Tribune uncovered other, close ties between avowed antisemites and Defend Texas Liberty, a major political action committee that two West Texas oil tycoons have used to fund far-right groups and lawmakers in the state. Defend Texas Liberty is also one of the Texas GOP’s biggest donors.

In response to the Fuentes meeting, Phelan and 60 other House Republicans called on party members to redirect any funds from Defend Texas Liberty to pro-Israel charities — demands that were initially rebuffed by some Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who later announced that he was reinvesting the $3 million he received from Defend Texas Liberty into Israeli bonds.

Nearly half of the Texas GOP’s executive committee also demanded that the party cut all ties with Stickland, Defend Texas Liberty and its auxiliary organizations until Stickland was removed and a full explanation for the Fuentes meeting was provided. Stickland was quietly removed as Defend Texas Liberty’s president in October, but is still the leader of an influential consulting firm, Pale Horse Strategies, that works with Defend Texas Liberty clients.

Defend Texas Liberty has yet to provide more details on its links to Fuentes or Fuentes associates — including the leader of Texans For Strong Borders, an anti-immigration group that continues to push lawmakers to adopt hardline border policies.

The tensions came to a head in December, when the Texas GOP’s executive committee narrowly defeated a resolution that would have banned the party from associating with antisemites, Holocaust deniers or neo-Nazis — language that some members of the executive committee argued was too vague, and could complicate the party’s relationship with donors or candidates.

The need for such a measure was also downplayed at the time by Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi, who abstained from voting but argued there was no "significant" antisemitism on the right. Rinaldi is a longtime ally of Defend Texas Liberty who was seen outside of the one-story, rural Tarrant County office where Fuentes was being hosted. Rinaldi later denied meeting with Fuentes and condemned him. Last month, the Tribune also reported that, at the same time that he was attacking critics of Defend Texas Liberty over the Fuentes meeting, Rinaldi was working as an attorney for Farris Wilks, one the two West Texas oil billionaires who fund Defend Texas Liberty.

After the measure was defeated in December, Patrick also put out a lengthy statement in which he condemned the vote and said he expected it to be revisited by the Texas GOP’s executive committee at its next meeting.

The executive committee did as much on Saturday, passing a resolution that stated that the party “opposes anti-Semitism and will always oppose and not associate with individuals or groups which espouse anti-Semitism or support for attacks on Israel.”

The resolution’s language is significantly watered down compared to proposals from late last year, which specifically named Stickland and Defend Texas Liberty or sought to ban those who espouse — as well as those who “tolerate” — antisemitism, neo-Nazi beliefs or Holocaust denial. Since then, Defend Texas Liberty’s funders have spun off a new political action committee, Texans United For a Conservative Majority, that has been active in this year’s primaries.

Separately, the executive committee also voted 55-4 to censure Phelan over, among other things, his role in the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, his appointment of Democrats to chair House committees and for allegedly allowing a bill on border security to die in May. Phelan was not at the committee meeting.

Phelan’s spokesperson, Cait Wittman, slammed the censure on Saturday, as well as the executive committee’s previous failure to ban antisemites from the party and what she said was its delayed response to last year’s scandal involving Bryan Slaton, a Republican state representative who was expelled from the Texas House in May after getting a 19-year-old aide drunk and having sex with her.

“This is the same organization that rolled out the red carpet for a group of Neo-Nazis, refused to disassociate from anti-Semitic groups and balked at formally condemning a known sexual predator before he was ousted from the Texas House,” Wittman wrote on X. “The (executive committee) has lost its moral authority and is no longer representative of the views of the Party as a whole.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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Latino lawmakers recall Jan. 6 terror: ‘I’m not white, I’m going to be a target’

California Rep. Jimmy Gomez said the halls of Congress had already been hostile before the previous president incited his white insurrectionist supporters to violently storm the U.S. Capitol to try to overturn the 2020 election one year ago today.

The Oversight and Reform vice-chair told Newsweek that the House was amid a vote on the Build Back Better bill last November when he was verbally accosted in an elevator by an unmasked Republican legislator. "You people are ruining the fucking country,” he said Texas Rep. Roger Williams told him. “Gomez, who is Mexican-American, was taken aback,” Newsweek reported. Williams would later vote to overturn democracy and against the impeachment of the disgraced former president.

“Every member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) inside the building during the attack who spoke with Newsweek thought it would be the last day of their life,” the report said leading into the one-year anniversary of the insurrection. Gomez said that even as he considered ways to look like less of a target to the insurrectionists—such as removing his Congressional pin and jacket—he could not allow himself to just run away. “So he began helping lawmakers who were older and couldn't move as quickly as he could,” the report continued.

California’s Nanette Baragán told Newsweek that she had similar intuition to hide her pin. But other things could not be so easily hidden.

"The part that is not often spoken of is the fear members of Congress of color had," she said in the report. "When you're a person of color and a member of Congress, the thought on that day was ‘hide your pin, I'm not white, I'm going to be a target.’ That was something that was really real."

It wasn’t just members of the Hispanic Caucus, either. “One year after Jan. 6, Sarah Groh, Representative Ayanna Pressley’s chief of staff, still does not know what happened to the panic buttons torn from their office,” Boston Globe’s Jazmine Ulloa tweeted earlier this week. “It’s one of many details still under investigation, and a memory that continues to haunt her.”

Ulloa writes in her piece that the U.S. Capitol is also a workplace for janitors and food service workers. Some of these workers, notably Black janitors, had to clean up the mess created by white insurrectionists.

For Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, the insurrection brought back terrible memories of the white supremacist mass shooting that shook El Paso in 2019. In tweets immediately after the insurrection, she wrote that the terrorists “not only breached the Capitol and got into Statuary Hall, but they were banging on the locked doors of the House Chamber as we were told by Capitol Police to get down on our knees.” 

In his House testimony last July, U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell recalled how he also had his life threatened by racist insurrectionists.

“I was at the front line and apparently, even through my mask, they saw my skin color and said, ‘You’re not even an American,’” the Latino U.S. military veteran told legislators. Naturalized as an American citizen more than two decades ago, Gonell said insurrectionists “called me traitor, a disgrace and that I, an Army veteran and a police officer, should be executed.”

"This wasn't a group of tourists. This was an armed insurrection,” President Biden said during stirring remarks on Thursday. “They weren't looking to uphold an election. They were here to overturn one."

In a statement Thursday, Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego said that “if we want to keep our democracy intact, then we must bring to justice those responsible for Jan. 6th, including everyone from those who laid siege to the building to those who sat idle in the White House or in Congress as their plans came to fruition. He urged the passage of pro-democracy legislation including the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. “To do so is not a partisan or political issue—it is the bare minimum we must do if we want to keep our democracy.”

Democrats lean on Ku Klux Klan Act to hold Trump and Giuliani accountable for Capitol riot

Republican enablers may have let former President Donald Trump get away with inciting a deadly Capitol riot, but his recent impeachment acquittal isn't squelching the seemingly endless and much-deserved flood of lawsuits against Trump. The NAACP, Rep. Bennie Thompson, of Mississippi, and the civil rights legal firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll filed a suit against the former commander in chief Tuesday in federal court.

In the suit, the advocates allege that Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, and the hate groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers "conspired to incite" the march to the Capitol to disrupt “by the use of force, intimidation and threat,” Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. “The insurrection at the Capitol did not just spontaneously occur—it was the product of Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani lies about the election,” Joe Sellers, a partner at Cohen Milstein said in a news release announcing the lawsuit. “With the Senate failing to hold the President accountable, we must use the full weight of the legal system to do so. The judicial system was an essential bulwark against the President during his time in office, and its role in protecting our democracy against future extremism is more important than ever.”

Trump urged the march to the Capitol during his Save America rally on January 6, and an insurrection that left Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick dead, reportedly hit with a fire extinguisher, followed. More than a dozen other police officers were injured; three people died in medical emergencies; and one rioter was shot and killed when she attempted to breach the Capitol.

Thompson, the NAACP, and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll cited the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 in their lawsuit, which is intended to “protect against conspiracies, through violence and intimidation, that sought to prevent Members of Congress from discharging their official duties.” 

The legal team stated in the suit:

“The insurrection at the Capitol was a direct, intended, and foreseeable result of the Defendants’ unlawful conspiracy. It was instigated according to a common plan that the Defendants pursued since the election held in November 2020, culminating in an assembly denominated as the “Save America” rally held at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021, during which Defendants Trump and Giuliani incited a crowd of thousands to descend upon the Capitol in order to prevent or delay through the use of force the counting of Electoral College votes. As part of this unified plan to prevent the counting of Electoral College votes, Defendants Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, through their leadership, acted in concert to spearhead the assault on the Capitol while the angry mob that Defendants Trump and Giuliani incited descended on the Capitol. The carefully orchestrated series of events that unfolded at the Save America rally and the storming of the Capitol was no accident or coincidence. It was the intended and foreseeable culmination of a carefully coordinated campaign to interfere with the legal process required to confirm the tally of votes cast in the Electoral College.”

The NAACP cited in its news release a segment of Giuliani’s remarks at the Save America rally last month. “If we’re right, a lot of them will go to jail. So let’s have trial by combat,” the unscrupulous attorney said. The NAACP also quoted the former president in its release. “So we are going to … walk down Pennsylvania Avenue… we’re … going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country,” Trump said at the rally.

1 hour before MAGA stormed the Capitol: Trump: "We're going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue... and we're going to the Capitol... we're going to try and give our Republicans ... the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country." He specifically incited it. pic.twitter.com/ROoVictxqa

— Brent Black (@brentalfloss) January 6, 2021

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement that Trump needs to be held accountable both "for deliberately inciting and colluding with white supremacists to stage a coup" and for "his continuing efforts to disenfranchise African-American voters." “The insurrection was the culmination of a carefully orchestrated, months-long plan to destroy democracy, to block the results of a fair and democratic election, and to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of African-American voters who cast valid ballots,” Johnson added. “Since our founding, the NAACP has gone to the courthouse to put an end to actions that discriminate against African-American voters. We are now bringing this case to continue our work to protect our democracy and make sure nothing like what happened on January 6th ever happens again.”

Thompson called January 6 "one of the most shameful days in our country’s history," and he added that "it was instigated by the President himself." “His gleeful support of violent white supremacists led to a breach of the Capitol that put my life, and that of my colleagues, in grave danger,” the congressman said. “It is by the slimmest of luck that the outcome was not deadlier.

“While the majority of Republicans in the Senate abdicated their responsibility to hold the President accountable, we must hold him accountable for the insurrection that he so blatantly planned,” he added. “Failure to do so will only invite this type of authoritarianism for the anti-democratic forces on the far right that are so intent on destroying our country.”

Rep. Thompson is also seeking punitive damages which is A+ trolling insofar as it may force Trump to admit he’s a broke ass. pic.twitter.com/vQY3IpWn2I

— ⚓️🚢Imani Gandy 🚢⚓️ (@AngryBlackLady) February 16, 2021

Immigrant rights groups demand ‘immediate impeachment’ of Trump for inciting violent mob

More than a dozen organizations including leading immigrant rights advocacy groups are calling for the “immediate impeachment, removal, and prosecution” of Donald Trump following his incitement of a violent mob that sacked the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Following the white seditionist siege, five people, including a Capitol police officer, are dead.

“Donald Trump incited today’s violent attack on our democracy,” organizations including the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) and Presente said in the statement. “Every moment that he remains in office is a severe danger to our country. Congress must respond decisively and immediately. We call on Congress to immediately certify the election, impeach and remove Trump, and refer him for prosecution.”

The organizations also call for legislators who aided Trump in inciting this violent seditionist mob, including Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Missouri (though he actually lives in Virginia) Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, to be punished by Congress. “Further, all members of Congress who joined Trump in inciting today’s violent coup attempt based on baseless, provable lies must be held accountable through censure, expulsion, or other means,” the organizations continue.

“As of Friday morning, 159 House Democrats and 22 Senate Democrats have issued statements supporting impeachment,” Daily Kos’ Joan McCarter writes. “A Republican, Sen. Ben Sasse, is also on board, saying that he will ‘definitely consider whatever articles [the House] might move because I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office. … What he did was wicked.’”

Yet Vice President Mike Pence, who has the power to begin the process to remove Trump from office using the 25th Amendment, is nowhere to be found. But that’s because Pence is also a soulless charlatan who cast away the couple of convictions he may have had to become a starry-eyed sidekick to a reality show host authoritarian.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that the House “may be prepared” to go ahead with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act first, but his inaction as Donald Trump continues to remain an ongoing threat to democratic values has made it clear the House must go ahead and act first—and now. “We cannot wait one day longer,” tweeted Faith for Black Lives, another one of the leading organizations to have signed the letter. “Congress must act TODAY.”