Texas GOP leaders reverse course, ban antisemites from party

The Texas Republican Party’s executive committee on Saturday approved a resolution stating the party won’t associate with antisemites, and also voted to censure House Speaker Dade Phelan. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

By Robert Downen, The Texas Tribune

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 at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/10/texas-republican-party-antisemite-resolution-defend-liberty-fuentes/.

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