Chaos in the Texas GOP as FOUR Republican County Officials Face Criticism for Sharing Racist Posts, George Floyd Conspiracies
Republican political leaders in Texas, such as Governor Greg Abbott, faced an unusual challenge this week: having to denounce some of their own local leadership, for posting racist comments and conspiracy theories related to the death of George Floyd, who was allegedly murdered in the custody of Minneapolis police late last month.
All four officers involved in Floyd’s death have been arrested and charged, and protests have spread across the country over the past week, seeking justice for Floyd and several other unarmed African-Americans who have been killed by police.
So it isn’t very surprising that Republican county party chairs might find themselves the target of criticism, from Democrats and others unhappy with Trump’s response to the protests or other issues. But now, four different county chairs have made comments on their social media drawing criticism from their state’s top elected officials and own party leadership.
The first entrant into today’s Lone Star Hall of Shame is Bexar County (San Antonio) GOP Chairwoman Cynthia Brehm, who wrote a post on her personal Facebook page sharing a conspiracy theory asking whether Floyd’s death was a “staged event,” intended to hurt Trump’s reelection chances. Brehm deleted her post, but not before screenshots were captured by several people, including San Antonio Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia, who posted it on Twitter:
Abbott called for Brehm’s immediate resignation and his communications director, John Wittman, told reporters that Brehm’s comments were “disgusting” and “have no place in the Republican Party or in public discourse.”
Brehm’s comments also drew rebukes from both of Texas’ Senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. The two Republicans agreed with Abbott and called for her to resign, as did Congressmen Will Hurd and Chip Roy, the two Republicans whose districts include parts of Bexar County, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).
Cynthia Brehm’s comments were wrong, and only serve to divide us at a time when we all need to come together. Given those harmful comments, she should resign from leadership.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) June 4, 2020
— Will Hurd (@WillHurd) June 4, 2020
Cynthia Brehm must resign now, today. There is no excuse for this outrageous,ignorant racist message made worse by using her position as a local party leader to spread it. It does not reflect the thinking of Bexar GOP or Republicans anywhere. https://t.co/p570WuAHIJ #txlege
— Dan Patrick (@DanPatrick) June 4, 2020
The chairman of the Texas Republican Party, James Dickey, joined with the statewide elected Republicans in calling for an end to Brehm’s tenure, saying that Brehm’s “position regarding the tragic injustice of the death of George Floyd has no place in the Republican Party of Texas.”
“We can not abide by her caustic remarks,” added Dickey. “They are out of alignment with our core beliefs and our platform. I have personally reached out to Cynthia Brehm and called on her to resign her post as Chair of the Republican Party of Bexar County immediately.”
So far, Brehm is unrepentant, telling a local TV station in San Antonio that Abbott and Dickey “do a lot of things, too, that I don’t agree with but I don’t ask for their resignation.”
This was far from Brehm’s first dalliance with conspiracy theories. As the Austin American-Statesman reported, in a press conference on May 22, Brehm suggested that the coronavirus pandemic was “promulgated by the Democrats to undo all the good President [Donald] Trump has done for our country — and they are worried.” She then urged the audience to take off their masks, exercise their constitutional rights, and vote Republican.
The second county chair who has found himself in the hot seat is Jim Kaelin, Chairman of the Nueces County (Corpus Christi) GOP and a former longtime sheriff there.
Kaelin shared the same conspiracy theory that Brehm had posted — the original post had apparently been written by someone else and had spread far enough around Facebook that PolitiFact dedicated a post to debunking it (rating: Pants on Fire) and Facebook flagged it as misinformation.
After the news about Kaelin’s post broke Thursday evening, Abbott and Cornyn called for his resignation as well. Many of the other Republicans who had called for Brehm’s resignation had not yet been reached for comment, but considering that Kaelin reportedly shared the exact same post, a similar response seems likely.
Cornyn’s press secretary Krista Piferrer sent an emailed statement to reporters saying, “Jim Kaelin should resign.”
“The death of George Floyd was a crime and an act of police brutality and must be treated as such,” said Wittman, Abbott’s spokesman. “Spreading conspiracy theories that the murder was staged simply defies reality; it is irresponsible, and unbecoming of anyone who holds a position in the GOP.”
— Evan Smith (@evanasmith) June 4, 2020
“This is a developing story” is text that you will often see on breaking news stories where updates are expected. As this article was being written, news broke about two more Texas county GOP chairs making racist posts.
MORE: In addition to two GOP county chairs spreading racist George Floyd conspiracy theories, Harris County chair-elect shared an MLK quote on Facebook against a background of a banana https://t.co/adIBWajshD #txlege
— Evan Smith (@evanasmith) June 5, 2020
Two TX GOP county chairs said Floyd’s death was staged to trick black people into voting against Trump; a third shared an image of an MLK quote next to a banana and a fourth posted a meme that George Soros paid for Floyd’s killing and for people to riot. https://t.co/C3Dzown9XG
— Matthew Watkins (@MWatkinsTrib) June 5, 2020
As the Texas Tribune reported, Keith Nielsen, the GOP chairman-elect in Harris County (Houston), posted an image on Facebook showing a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote (“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”) superimposed over the image of a banana.
Nielsen deleted the banana post and wrote another post on Thursday evening, saying that sometimes he has said things that “came out less than perfect,” and blaming people’s “misinterpretation.”
“It is unfortunate that the sentiment of the quote and my admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been overshadowed by people’s misinterpretation of an image,” wrote Nielsen. “Our country needs racial reconciliation. My hope is I will continue to be part of the solution and never part of the problem.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican whose district includes parts of Houston, condemned Nielsen. “Nielsen has no place in our party,” Crenshaw told the Tribune. “Not now. Not ever,” calling Nielsen’s post “a sad reminder that such blatant ignorance and bigotry still exists.”
The final (so far, this Thursday night) GOP county chair with troublesome social media posts is in Comal County (New Braunfels), Chairwoman Sue Piner. Piner reportedly shared a post on Sunday with a photo of billionaire George Soros and text that said, “I pay white cops to murder black people. And then I pay black people to riot because race wars keep the sheep in line.”
So far, Piner had not been reachable for comment about her Facebook post.
UPDATE: Late Thursday evening, Texas Land Commissioner (a statewide elected office that oversees the state’s oil and gas resources, veteran’s homes, beaches and other natural resources, and hurricane/natural disaster response) George P. Bush weighed in, calling for the resignation of all four of the county chairs who made the racist posts:
I have said it before and I will say it again now: the GOP must not tolerate racism. Of any kind. At any time. The appalling behavior by the four GOP County leaders must not stand. I urge them to do the honorable thing and step aside now. https://t.co/84CiZFW1kx
— George P. Bush (@georgepbush) June 5, 2020
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