Allegations of antisemitism within the Texas GOP

Accusations of antisemitism surrounding a far-right Texas group and state lawmakers it has supported are feeding the growing knives-out conflict among Texas’s ruling Republican Party.

The moderate and conservative wings of the Texas GOP are engaged in a broad fight over the “political rot” of white nationalism and antisemitism that Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) says is “festering” in the state Republican party’s ranks.

Conservative Texas GOP leaders including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have faced attacks from their enemies within the party after news broke in early October that the director of Defend Texas Liberty PAC had met with white nationalist and self-described Nazi sympathizer Nick Fuentes, according to The Texas Tribune.

A number of the conservatives have declined to return money they received from the PAC despite pressure from Phelan and others. 

Until Monday, Patrick was among them — but after facing weeks of criticism for taking $3 million from the group, the lieutenant governor said he would invest the money into the state of Israel, staking out a middle-ground stance between his fellow conservatives’ defiance and the position of his more moderate colleagues.

Patrick said he was “appalled about what I am learning about the antisemitic activities” among Texas Republicans.

The news of the meeting between the PAC leader and Fuentes broke just a day after the Palestinian militant group Hamas’s raid on southern Israel, adding further weight to the allegations of antisemitism within the state GOP. The raid and the Israeli response, which are estimated to have left more than 1,400 Israelis and 6,500 Palestinians dead, have become a lightning rod for the far-right, a movement with deeply idiosyncratic views when it comes to Jews.

On the one hand, there is the sizable contingent of Christian Zionists, a Texas-born movement of evangelicals that backs a hard-line government in Israel and an unchecked settlement campaign in the occupied West Bank.

Then there are those who have flirted with, or even embrace, the idea that evangelical Christians should have a dominant role in Texas’s public life — a principal talking point in past campaigns to unseat the state’s first ever Jewish House speaker, the moderate former Rep. Joe Straus (R). 

Defend Texas Liberty PAC belongs to the latter contingent. The PAC was set up in 2020 by three Texas oil billionaires to advance the cause of Christian nationalism, and it has spent heavily to remake Texas in its image: backing legislators who have effectively outlawed abortion, gun control, gender-affirming care and any community protections against the fossil fuel industry.

The group is almost entirely funded by evangelical oil billionaires Tim Dunn and the brothers Dan and Farris Wilks — a triumvirate that represents “part of a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple,” former state Sen. Kel Seliger (R) told CNN last year.

It also has a long history of ties to white nationalist groups, as the Tribune has reported.

Defend Texas Liberty PAC was also a staunch backer of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), who was impeached in May on charges of corruption by the relatively moderate Texas House — only to be acquitted in September by the far-right Senate.

As president of the Texas Senate, Patrick served as judge over the proceedings. 

In July, Defend Texas Liberty PAC gave Patrick $3 million in combined campaign contributions and loans — a donation that spawned such outrage from so many quarters that Patrick pledged to refuse all campaign donations until the trial wrapped up.

In September, after Patrick’s political allies acquitted Paxton, the lieutenant governor called for  “a full audit” of public money the House spent on impeachment.

When the Tribune broke the news in early October that Jonathan Stickland, the former director of Defend Texas Liberty PAC, had met with Fuentes, enemies of Paxton and Patrick pounced.

“I reject an individual who denies the holocaust and someone who supports the Aryan brotherhood,” Phelan told NBC’s Dallas affiliate.

Phelan added that “it should be easy for Republicans to do that, and I have yet to see these individuals do that.”

“That’s on them. That’s not on me. I haven’t taken a dime from these people and I never will,” Phelan added.

In the aftermath of the story — as the PAC quietly replaced Stickland — Phelan urged other Republican recipients of Defend Texas Liberty PAC donations to return the money.

Few agreed to do so. While state Reps. Jared Patterson (R) and Stan Kitzman (R) donated their contributions — $2,500 and $5,000, respectively — to charities, other recipients told Texas media that they would keep the money, and largely pointed to their support for the Israeli government as proof against any accusations of antisemitism.

Some made the point in particularly stark terms.

“If everyone’s a ‘white supremacist’ then no one’s a ‘white supremacist,'” Rep. Steve Toth (R) wrote on Oct. 9 in response to a post on X, the platform previously known as Twitter, noting that he had refused to sign a letter condemning Defend Texas Liberty.

“Every time Republicans pander and apologize to progressive Democrats on issues of race they show the world how little backbone they actually have,” Toth added.

Until Monday, the ranks of the defiant included Patrick himself. After the Tribune story broke, the lieutenant governor announced that he was keeping the money from Defend Texas Liberty PAC.

Patrick said that the group’s funder Tim Dunn had assured him that “everyone at the PAC understands that mistakes were made and are being corrected.”

“I accept Mr. Dunn at his word. I know him to be a man of integrity and an avid and staunch supporter of Israel,” Patrick added, calling Phelan’s criticism of the group a “smear campaign.”

“Mismatching socks is a ‘blunder,'” Phelan’s chief of staff retorted on X. “Meeting with a pro-rape, pro-Taliban, pro-Hitler, anti-Semitic, Holocaust denier like Nick Fuentes for 6.5 (hours) is NOT a blunder.”

On Monday, the lieutenant governor seemed to strike a middle ground: He said he would use the $3 million to buy Israel bonds, which offer returns of about 5 percent — the equivalent of putting the money in a high-yield savings account.

This move was likely a gesture of disdain by Patrick to Phelan, his longtime political enemy, University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus told NBC.

“This is a sidestep at best towards complying with the trend” among more moderate GOP members to distance themselves from Defend Texas Liberty, Rottinghaus said.

After Patrick’s announcement, Phelan called for further reforms within the party, including the immediate resignation of state Republican Party chair Matt Rinaldi. “If we’re to ‘root out this cancer’ [of antisemitism] as Lt. Gov. Patrick states, those efforts begin with Matt Rinaldi’s resignation as Chair,” the Texas speaker wrote.

“Dade Phelan’s beer goggles have prevented him from seeing the truth,” Rinaldi shot back, referring to allegations by the Paxton camp that Phelan presided over the House drunk. Phelan’s office has dismissed those accusations as a “last ditch effort to save face” amid the Texas House’s investigation into Paxton. 

“I have been a lifetime supporter of Israel and denounced Nick Fuentes from the moment I first became aware we were in the same zip code,” Rinaldi said, before accusing Phelan of “the backstabbing of Republicans and empowerment of Democrats.”

Support for Israel doesn’t negate allegations of antisemitism. Fuentes, for example, has said that all he wants is “revenge against my enemies and a total Aryan victory” — a position that leaves little room for America’s approximately 8 million Jews, a community larger than Israel’s Jewish population.

Antisemitic tropes have long been a feature of the far right in Texas. In one recent example, then-Rep. Paxton mounted a right-wing campaign against Straus — the first Jewish member to hold the Texas House Speakership — in 2010, with Paxton’s supporters in state Republican leadership circulating emails arguing that Straus should be replaced by a Christian.

“We elected a house with Christian, conservative values,” then-State Republican Executive Committee member John Cook wrote, according to emails obtained by the nonpartisan Quorum Report. “We now want a true Christian, conservative running it. This is not about Straus, this is about getting what the people want.”

At the time, Paxton sought to distance himself from these remarks — while scolding those publicizing them.

“There is absolutely no place for religious bigotry in the race for Texas Speaker, and I categorically condemn such action,” Paxton said, noting “it is just as shameful for anyone to imply that I would ever condone this type of behavior.”

Responding to Phelan’s call Monday for Rinaldi to resign, Paxton remained pugnacious.

“Matt has been a warrior to the conservative cause and I stand by him,” he wrote on X.

Paxton wrote that he and Rinaldi “share similar values that include standing strong in support of Israel, and against Speaker Phelan appointing BLM-supporting Democrats to House leadership.”

“The liberal speaker and RINO establishment’s attempts to say otherwise are pathetic,” he added, using the acronym for “Republicans in Name Only.”

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post