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Texas Republicans are fighting about whether it's OK to associate with white supremacists
Last week, Jonathan Stickland — president of the far-right Defend Texas Liberty PAC and a former state representative — met with notorious white supremacist Nick Fuentes and other right-wing extremists. The meeting, first reported by the Texas Tribune, lasted “for several hours” at the headquarters of Pale Horse Strategies, a political consulting group owned by Stickland.
Fuentes’ views have been long documented. The provocateur describes himself as “just like Hitler.” An outspoken holocaust denier, Fuentes has claimed that the number of Jewish victims killed by Nazi Germany “doesn’t add up” and compared the killings to baking cookies. He has also called for “the military to be sent into Black neighborhoods,” defended Jim Crow segregation, and said that he’s seeking a “total Aryan victory.” He believes women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, and regularly espouses anti-LGBTQ and sexist views.
But in the aftermath of the meeting, “extraordinary criticism and infighting” has erupted among the Texas GOP over the meeting with Fuentes. The turmoil was triggered after Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan criticized Stickland for hosting a “Hitler Apologist” while Israel is at war.
“This [is] not just a casual misstep,” Phelan said in a statement on October 9. “It’s indicative of the moral, political rot that has been festering in a certain segment of our party for far too long. Anti-Semitism, bigotry and Hitler apologists should find no sanctuary in the Republican Party. Period. We cannot – and must not – tolerate the tacit endorsement of such vile ideologies.”
Phelan also called on elected officials who received money from Defend Texas Liberty “to immediately redirect every single cent of those contributions to a charitable organization” and “to state unequivocally that they will not accept further contributions” from the PAC. In his statement, the House Speaker specifically highlighted Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick who has received $3 million from Defend Texas Liberty. “I expect him to lead the way in redirecting these funds,” Phelan wrote. Sixty members of the House Republican Caucus – roughly two-thirds of the chamber – also published a letter criticizing the meeting as “profoundly disturbing” and “echo[ing] Speaker Phelan’s call” to redirect funds.
Patrick, in response, issued a statement condemning Fuentes and “his antisemitic rhetoric.” But, in the same statement, he also accuses Phelan of invoking the situation in Israel for his “own political purposes.”
“For anyone to try to use these invectives for their own political gain is below contempt,” Patrick said. “I am calling on Dade Phelan to resign his position before the House gavels in this afternoon.” Other hard-right Republicans have since called for Phelan’s resignation, including Attorney General Ken Paxton. Phelan recently pushed the Texas House to impeach Paxton for corruption.
Notably, Patrick does not mention Defend Texas Liberty in his statement. Created in 2020, Defend Texas Liberty is primarily funded by conservative Texas billionaires, brothers Dan and Farris Wilks, and Tim Dunn. The PAC is part of a robust network of conservative organizations that have received “nearly $100 million” from Dunn and the Wilks brothers over the last two decades. The Wilks brothers, for example, are among the biggest benefactors of PragerU and provided the initial funding for The Daily Wire.
The PAC, which is run by Stickland, says that it stands “with grassroots conservatives.” For the 2022 election cycle, Defend Texas Liberty spent $5.2 million on far-right candidates to unseat incumbent Republican House members and Texas Governor Greg Abbott because they were “insufficiently conservative.” These efforts, however, were unsuccessful — all 19 of the house candidates it backed lost, and Abbott easily won reelection. Meanwhile, State Representative Bryan Slaton (R), one of the largest recipients of the PAC’s money, was expelled earlier this year “for plying a 19-year-old staffer with alcohol and having sex with her.”
The PAC is also “one of Paxton’s largest campaign financiers.” During Paxton’s impeachment trial, the group “paid for campaign mailers, television ads, and text messages to try to sway senators.” It also “threatened to target pro-impeachment Republicans in next year’s primary elections.” Defend Texas Liberty's large contributions to Patrick came just before he presided over Paxton's Senate impeachment trial.
The Texas GOP has also received donations from Defend Texas Liberty. According to the Texas Tribune, Matt Rinaldi, the chair of the party, was seen entering the Pale Horse Strategies building while Fuentes was there. Rinaldi told the news outlet that he “completely condemn[s] that guy” and “would never in a million years meet with that guy.” But Rinaldi is an associate of Stickland – the two sat on the board of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, an advocacy founded by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a high-profile “conservative activist,” the Houston Chronicle reports. Rinaldi has also “used his authority to throw the Republican Party of Texas behind Paxton and against the 60 out of 85 Republican representatives who held Paxton accountable,”
In a short statement, the PAC told the Tribune that it opposes Fuentes’ “incendiary views” and “reject[s] Speaker Phelan's effort to combine Defend Texas Liberty PAC with Nick Fuentes.” But it did not explain why the group spent hours meeting with Fuentes.
Popular Information contacted recipients of Defend Texas Liberty’s campaign contributions since 2022.
Most Texas Republicans are keeping the money
Popular Information contacted 45 campaigns that received donations from Defend Texas Liberty PAC since 2022 and asked if they would be returning the money or donating it to other causes.
Texas State Representative Stan Kitzman (R) sent Popular Information a statement promising to “redirect the $5,000 contribution from Defend Texas Liberty to support causes that resonate with my personal values as a Christian and as a representative of House District 85.” These donations include “$1,000 each to AIPAC, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Christians Engaged, Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center of Texas A&M, and the Texas DPS Officers Association.”
The statement condemned Defend Texas Liberty’s association with Fuentes, saying that, “Fuentes’ views stand in stark contrast to conservative values, and it is imperative that any serious conservative disavow such associations… While I have no intention of labeling the members of Defend Texas Liberty as antisemites or racists, their decision to engage with someone like Nick Fuentes is a step too far.” Kitzman was the only House Republican who signed the letter denouncing Defend Texas Liberty who also had previously received money from the organization.
David Lowe (R), who is running for Texas State Representative District 91 after losing the Republican primary runoff for the same seat in 2022, sent Popular Information a statement from his campaign manager James Scott Trimm and his wife Ingrid Kitty Trimm, who are both Jewish, defending Stickland. “I am proud to say that Jonathan Stickland is a friend of many years… Anyone who suggests that Jonathan Stickland is antisemitic, clearly does not know the man. I am personally offended at Speaker Dade Phelan’s disingenuous efforts to exploit the recent horrific attack on Israel by Hamas,” the statement reads. “We absolutely denounce Nick Fuentes without reservation.”
According to the letter from Ingrid Kitty Trimm, Stickland told her he "did not know much about Fuentes" and "met with Fuentes for about 15 minutes out of courtesy." Lowe's statement did not indicate that he planned to return any money from Defend Texas Liberty.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Lowe was among the candidates to receive the most funding from Defend Texas Liberty PAC during one reporting period in 2022. According to the report, Lowe received “nearly $171,000” from the PAC.
The other campaigns that received money from Defend Texas Liberty did not respond to Popular Information’s request for comment. The sitting Texas House members that received the most money from Defend Texas Liberty since 2022 include Tony Tinderholt (R) ($119,000), Nate Schatzline (R) ($26,000), and Brian Harrison (R) ($22,500).
Prominent Republicans can't stay away from Nick Fuentes
Despite his repugnant views, several prominent Republicans outside of Texas have chosen to associate themselves with Fuentes. In February 2022, two members of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), addressed Fuentes' white nationalist convention, the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC). Gosar addressed the conference by video while Greene appeared in person and was introduced by Fuentes. (Gosar addressed AFPAC in person in 2021.)
Greene initially claimed that she does "not know Nick Fuentes," had "never heard him speak," and was unfamiliar with "his views." But AFPAC was created because Fuentes was banned from the larger Conservative Political Action Conference. Greene appeared familiar with the group's origins, addressing the AFPAC crowd as "canceled Americans." Later, Greene reversed course, saying that she decided that she was not going "turn down the opportunity to speak to 1,200 young America First patriots because of a few off-color remarks." (She also described the group as "1,200 people gathered to declare that Christ is King.") She criticized the "establishment" for deciding to "cancel" AFPAC.
In November 2022, Fuentes dined with former President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Trump claimed he knew "nothing about" Fuentes prior to the dinner. Fuentes is active on Trump's social network, Truth Social. After the dinner, however, Trump "repeatedly refused to disavow the outspoken antisemite and white supremacist… over fears he might alienate a section of his base," the Guardian reported.