Conspiracy theories and racist memes: How a dozen Texas GOP county chairs caused turmoil within the party – Longview News-Journal

Posted By on June 8, 2020

One Facebook post falsely claimed the killing of George Floyd in police custody last month was a staged event, meant to rile up opposition to President Donald Trump. Another showed a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. next to a banana an established racist trope.

And a third claimed George Soros, the liberal billionaire, paid white cops to murder black people and black people to riot because race wars keep the sheep in line.

All were shared in recent days by Republican county leaders, some of whom are facing calls to resign from top officials within their own party, including Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and Gov. Greg Abbott, who called the posts disgusting.

By Friday afternoon, similar posts from at least a dozen GOP chairs across the state had been identified. They have unleashed a firestorm of controversy as Texas Republicans are struggling to beat back Democratic advances in the rapidly diversifying electorate.

I have said it before and I will say it again now: the GOP must not tolerate racism. Of any kind. At any time, George P. Bush, Texas land commissioner and a rising star in the party, said last week via Twitter. I urge them to do the honorable thing and step aside now.

At a news conference Friday, Abbott offered no wider takeaway about what the situation might say about his party in Texas.

The narrow point is this, and that is the death of George Floyd is a travesty and is a result of a criminal act, he said. It should not be the subject of any of these conspiracy theories. And its irresponsible for anyone to promote some conspiracy theory of what is otherwise a brutal act of police violence.

Floyd, who was black, spent most of his life in Texas. He died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee to Floyds neck for several minutes. His body Friday was taken to North Carolina, where he was born 46 years ago, for a public viewing and private service for family before his funeral in Houston this week.

One resignation

Keith Nielsen was the incoming chairman of the Harris County Republican Party in Houston who posted the quote from Martin Luther King Jr. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere next to a banana, which links black people to monkeys.

Saturday, Nielsen apologized and told the Houston Chronicle he was resigning from his post, which he had been due to start in August. He said he had zero malicious intent and that he used the banana to indicate his feeling that the protests were bananas, or out of control.

The original five chairs whose posts came to light Cynthia Brehm in Bexar County, Sue Piner from Comal County, Jim Kaelin of Nueces County and Lee Lester from Harrison County, as well as Nielsen faced backlash from Democrats and Republicans alike over their social media posts.

But many of the GOP officials who criticized the social media posts as inexcusable Thursday and early Friday did not return calls seeking comment about the posts from the seven other chairs across the state. Nor did they comment about Facebook posts by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller that included an image of Soros with the text start the race war.

Three county chairs Doug Sanford of Freestone County, Russell Hayter of Hays County and Jaime Durham of Foard County last week each shared a fake advertisement reading Get Paid to be a Professional Anarchist, with a note claiming Soros would pay people $200 for taking action.

Sanford and Hayter did not respond to requests for comment, and Durham only confirmed that she shared the image, noting it was posted on her personal account and declining to elaborate further.

Mostly a joke

Lynne Teinert, chair for Shackelford County, on Saturday shared a picture of Soros with the text, The pandemic isnt working. Start the racial wars.

The suggestion that Soros is puppeteering political happenings behind the scenes has routinely been put forth by conservatives. Soros, who has spent billions of dollars supporting liberal and pro-democracy causes around the world, has long been a target of conspiracy theorists on the ideological right. Some of these theories use his Jewish heritage to invoke anti-Semitic themes.

It was mostly a joke, like the murder hornets, Teinert said. You know, the pandemic didnt work so the murder hornets were next. Its just one thing after another, and it was just a joke.

Cindy Weatherby, GOP chair in Reagan County, shared a post with a series of 21 puzzling questions about Floyds death, including Can someone really not breathe when someone kneels on his neck and is the victim really able to speak for considerable periods of time if he cant breathe? and Why did the kneeling officer appear completely cool and calm, as if he was posing for the camera?

Weatherby said she doesnt believe Floyds murder was staged, but added she thinks some protesters are being paid.

Shawn Tully, GOP chair of Red River County, shared an image Tuesday of the 1992 Los Angeles riots when, after four white police officers were acquitted on almost all charges for severely beating a black man, the city erupted in violent protest. The post Tully shared features a crashed truck and a person lying on the ground, bleeding from the head. It reads, This is why you dont brake for protesters. Tully did not respond to a request for comment.

LaDonna Olivier, GOP chair from Reeves County, shared a post Monday saying people are trying to turn George [Floyd] into a saint but he was a brutal criminal.

Olivier said she is aware some of the theories she shares may be untrue.

As of Sunday, none of the four GOP chairs called on to resign by party members had offered to step aside, and at least two said they intended to stay. Abbott did not respond to requests for comment about whether he would call for the resignations of the other GOP chairs who peddled the postings.

Elections peril

Black leaders and the Republican Partys centrists have argued these racist controversies imperil the partys ability to woo minority voters, who are key to maintaining conservatives longtime advantage in the state. Last year, the Tarrant County Republican Party in Fort Worth was embroiled in controversy when some of its members tried to oust a Muslim party official.

The fact that in one day 4 Texas GOP chairs have come under condemnation for racist remarks including MY county should make it CLEAR AS DAY we have a problem in this party and yall need to talk to more black people, tweeted Charles Blain, the black founder and executive director of Urban Reform, a Houston nonprofit based on free-market solutions to urban issues.

County chairs are the face of our local parties, and statements like these, though they dont represent the mentality of Republicans as a whole, paint us in a bad light, he said in a follow-up interview. But he said he hoped the voters would take the partys swift condemnation into consideration going forward.

As the election approaches, the Democratic Party spurred by the near-defeat of Cruz by former Democratic congressman Beto ORourke in 2018, plus a gain of 14 state legislative seats has poured millions of dollars into Texas, which it sees as increasingly winnable.

In a statement Saturday, the Republican Party of Texas tried to shift the focus to the media and Democrats.

The Republican Party of Texas has made its position and values clear. Reporters dug through Republican county chairs social media with a fervor we have not seen from the press in decades, the statement said. Given what we all know about Joe you aint black Bidens and the Democrat Partys horrible track record on race, we can only imagine what they will find when they do the same with the Texas Democrat Party.

Bylaws change?

Blain, the conservative nonprofit president, said the state Republican Party needs to change its bylaws to allow the partys executive committee to remove county chairs in situations like this when they refuse to resign.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who also chastised Brehm and Nielsen, responded to questions with a press release saying the party needs to call out racism.

Going forward, we know that some Democrats and their allies in the media will continue to throw out charges of racism anytime they disagree with us on any issue, the statement reads. Without taking that bait, we should continue to unequivocally condemn racism where we see it in our party and in their party.

Patrick has previously faced criticism for referring to undocumented immigrants as an illegal invasion and boycotting a prayer led by a Muslim cleric on the floor of the Senate.

James Dickey, chair of the Republican Party of Texas, issued a statement Friday afternoon calling for all five chairs originally identified to resign, saying their social media posts do not reflect the partys history or values.

This story includes information from The Texas Tribune, The Associated Press and The Washington Post.

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Conspiracy theories and racist memes: How a dozen Texas GOP county chairs caused turmoil within the party - Longview News-Journal

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