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

Republican state leaders condemned a spate of racist social media posts from members of their own party on Friday.      Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
Republican state leaders condemned a spate of racist social media posts from members of their own party on Friday. Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

(Texas Tribune) – On Friday morning, Texas’ top Republican officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott, had condemned four GOP chairs for proliferating conspiracy theories on Facebook.

The posts, from chairs of some of the largest counties in Texas, suggested George Floyd’s death was staged to erode black support for President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, a fifth chairperson posted a racist image of a Martin Luther King Jr. quote next to a banana.

On Friday afternoon, The Texas Tribune identified similar posts from seven more GOP chairs across the state. Some of these posts suggested people who have been protesting Floyd’s death across the state and the country were being paid by Jewish billionaire George Soros — an oft-used anti-Semitic trope.

GOP county chairs are elected leaders of the Republican Party who help oversee local elections and head up county-level meetings and events. News circulating about the first five chairs’ posts sparked concern — both internal and external — about the Texas GOP.

“This is a disgusting level of ignorance that’s hard to hear from anyone, much less an elected official,” State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said in an email to the Tribune. “I’m glad to see Republican state leaders finally start to push back against this nonsense and look forward to a day when we can actually debate fact-based policy instead of constantly refuting conspiracies.”

Charles Blain, the president of Urban Reform, a conservative public policy nonprofit based in Houston, used Twitter to call for reflection within the party: “I’ll say more on this later but 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 that we have a problem in this party and y’all need to talk to more black people.”

The original five chairs — Cynthia Brehm in Bexar County, Sue Piner from Comal County, Jim Kaelin of Nueces County and Lee Lester from Harrison County, as well as Harris County GOP chairperson-elect Keith Nielsen — faced backlash from Democrats and Republicans alike over their social media posts.

But many of the GOP officials who criticized Brehm’s social media posts as inexcusable did not return calls from the Tribune seeking comment about the more recently identified posts from the seven other chairs across the state. Nor did they comment about Facebook posts by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller that included calls to “start the race war.”