The Texas Republican Party has gone off the rails. Corporate America is along for the ride.
Welcome to Popular Information, a newsletter about politics and power — written by Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria.
Three weeks ago, a deadly mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol, leaving five dead. Many of those who participated in the riots are adherents of QAnon – an extremist ideology that alleges top Democrats are Satan-worshippers running a child trafficking ring and that Trump is the only person who can stop them. According to the conspiracy theory, the January 6 siege was meant to trigger the long-awaited “Storm,” a day of “violent retribution” against lawmakers who stole the election from Trump. QAnon followers believed that by the Inauguration, the Storm would set off “mass arrests, military tribunals, and executions throughout the world."
Of course, none of that occurred. But the Texas Republican Party has adopted QAnon's mantra. And, with the support of major corporations, it is radicalizing politics in the Lone Star State.
State parties generally operate behind the scenes. But that changed in July 2020 when former Congressman Allen West was elected chairman of the Texas GOP. One of West’s first moves as chairman was changing the party’s slogan to “We are the Storm” – a not-so-subtle nod to the apocalyptic “Storm” that QAnon believers await. Most recently, the Texas GOP shared its "We are the Storm" rallying cry on Twitter on January 23.
The tweet directs followers of the Texas GOP to join Gab, a fringe social media site that caters to white nationalists.
The slogan of the Texas GOP, which is plastered everywhere from merchandise to social media campaigns, has drawn intense scrutiny. It was described by the New York Times as an “unusually visible example of the Republican Party’s dalliance with QAnon.”
West has not backed down. He insists that the phrase is from a poem and not related to QAnon. Even if that's true, QAnon adherents believe references to their ideology, or "bread crumbs," by prominent individuals and groups signal solidarity with the movement. Maintaining a slogan that could embolden violent extremists is grossly irresponsible. But West says that criticizing the slogan is racism. “It is obvious that as a strong conservative Black man I am not allowed to think or speak,” wrote West in a statement to the New York Times.
But West's extremism is not limited to a catchphrase. He has a long history of anti-Islamic bigotry. In 2013, West claimed that Islam “is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology” and “not a religion.” In 2014, West wrote that former President Obama is “an Islamist” who is “purposefully enabling the Islamist cause.” In 2016, West shared a meme on his Facebook page that celebrated Trump’s hiring of James Mattis as secretary of defense and featured the caption “Fired by Obama to please the Muslims. Hired by Trump to exterminate them.”
Now, West’s Islamophobia has found a new home in the Texas Republican Party. In August 2020, the party published a video on YouTube that featured “footage of Biden quoting the prophet Muhammad, with Urdu subtitles” that was taken from a voting drive for young Muslims. As The Texas Monthly noted, “the video seemed to imply either that Biden was a Muslim or that Biden was empowering a Muslim takeover of the United States.”
West, mirroring the actions of Trump, aggressively sought to undermine the election. In September 2020, West along with other Texas Republicans sued Texas Governor Greg Abbott over expanding early voting. The day after the election, West falsely asserted that both early voting and absentee ballots opened the elections up to “chicanery” and “fraud.” West went on to host a “Stop the Steal” rally in Texas on November 14.
In December 2020, following the Supreme Court’s decision to turn down a Texas lawsuit that sought to overturn the election results, West suggested that “law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.” Days later, West appeared on a radio show and said that if Biden is sworn in, “you're going to have an issue come January the 20th.” He went on to suggest that if a Democratic president starts to hand down “mandates, edicts, orders, and decrees,” then the American people have a right to ignore the law. Later that week, on December 19, he spoke at a “Stop The Steal” event in Texas and encouraged people to not “stand down” and “surrender.”
In a January 25 statement, West attacked Biden’s calls for unity. "Unity, for the progressive socialist leftists who now control the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, is synonymous with conformity," West wrote. His evidence is that the "left" is "banning My Pillow from Kohl’s, Wayfair, Bed Bath and Beyond, and HEB grocery stores."
West is leading an organization that regularly receives five-figure checks from some of America's most prominent corporations. Popular Information contacted 38 corporations who have donated to the Texas Republican Party over the last five years. Few offered any criticism of West or ruled out future contributions to the Texas GOP.
Popular Information asked the Texas Republican Party's corporate donors if, in light of the party's adoption of a QAnon slogan and West's suggestion of secession, they would ask for a refund or donate in the future.
The strongest response came from Lyft, which donated $5,000 to the Texas GOP in 2016. Lyft told Popular Information that it has “no plans to donate to the party in the future,” adding that the company is “troubled by Chairman West's statements.”
Other corporations did not weigh in on the Texas Republican Party or West, and instead relied on their general suspension of corporate donations that were put in place after the January 6 riot. General Motors told Popular Information that it has paused all political contributions and that this extends to the Texas GOP. The company donated $10,000 in 2016. Similarly, Bristol Myers Squibb has paused all political donations since January 6. Bristol Myers Squibb donated $2,500 in 2018. Microsoft has halted all donations as it conducts a review. The company, which donated $5,000 in 2020, said that it will announce its decision on political donations on February 15.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which donated $2,500 in 2016, said that its "contribution was made five years ago so we have not requested a refund.” The company shared that “PAC leadership will evaluate potential recipients’ actions as we make decisions on whom to support in the future” to “ensure that those who we do support share our values.”
Southwest Airlines and Union Pacific Railroad Company said that they are reviewing their political giving. Southwest Airlines shared that it does “not foresee giving any PAC contributions in the next couple of months” as it conducts its review. Southwest Airlines donated $25,000 to the Texas GOP in 2016. Union Pacific has donated $3,500 since 2017. CVS Caremark said it was reviewing its political donations giving strategy and that “this includes giving to both candidates and organizations.” Caremark donated $2,500 in 2016.
Phillips 66, which donated $25,000 in 2016, declined to comment.
This is a full list of the companies that did not respond to Popular Information’s inquiry. Amounts in parentheses represent total sum of donations since 2016:
Altria Client Services ($145,000), American Multi-Cinema ($5,000), Anheuser-Busch Companies ($113,000), Ashford Hospitality ($50,000), AT&T ($125,000), BNSF Railway ($60,000), Charter Communications ($100,000), Chevron ($32,500), CenterPoint Energy ($85,000), Comcast ($5,000), Expedia ($25,000), Farmers Group ($5,000), Frontier Communications ($7,500), Google ($25,000), iHeartMedia ($4,350), Juul Labs ($10,000), Marathon Petroleum ($100,000), Mercedes-Benz of Austin ($5,000), Oncor Electric ($30,000), PepsiCo ($65,000), Sprint ($10,500), Quicken Loans ($25,000), The GEO Group ($25,000), Time Warner Cable ($35,000), Toyota ($20,000), UnitedHealth Group ($45,000), USAA ($60,000), Verizon ($115,000), and Vistra ($35,500).