Leader of anti-immigration group Texans for Strong Borders also runs anonymous, hate-filled social media accounts

Nick Fuentes (middle) is seen exiting the offices of Pale Horse strategies with Chris Russo, founder and president of Texans for Strong Borders (right) outside of Fort Worth on Oct. 6, 2023. (The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune)

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A prominent, anonymous figure in Nick Fuentes’ white supremacist movement is also the leader of Texans For Strong Borders, a well-connected group that has recently emerged as an influential voice in the Texas GOP and pushed lawmakers to crack down on legal and illegal immigration.

Since at least 2019, Texans For Strong Borders founder and president Chris Russo has operated in Fuentes’ racist movement on various social media platforms under the username “Optics Respecter.” Without sharing his real identity, Russo used the accounts to rail against immigration, feminists, the LGBTQ+ community and Black people, as well as share posts by other Fuentes followers that contain racial and homophobic slurs.

[What to know about Nick Fuentes, the white supremacist who was just hosted by a major Texas PAC leader]

Russo’s close ties to Fuentes, an avowed admirer of Adolf Hitler and misogynist who has encouraged his followers to beat women, were confirmed by two people who know Russo but spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisal by Fuentes’ followers. In a Dec. 23, 2019 post, Optics Respecter also wrote that they were turning “30 in a week and a half.” Russo’s birthday is Jan. 2, 1990, according to his Facebook.

On Wednesday, Amanda Moore, an independent journalist who spent more than a year undercover in far-right circles, also published audio of an earlier social media discussion featuring Fuentes and the Optics Respecter account. The voice appears to match Russo’s voice.

“Nick Fuentes has been right about everything else,” Russo wrote in December under the Optics Respecter account. “Why would you think he’s wrong about women?”

Russo did not respond to repeated requests for comment this month about the account or his involvement with Fuentes.

Texans for Strong Borders is one of the newest entities in the constellation of organizations funded by two West Texas billionaires as part of a decadeslong effort to pull the state to the far right. It receives most of its funding from Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee that is a major donor to Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Defend Texas Liberty has been under fire since The Texas Tribune reported that its leader, Jonathan Stickland, hosted Fuentes for nearly seven hours earlier this month. Stickland was quietly removed as the group’s president on its website last week.

Russo was seen driving Fuentes to and from that meeting at the rural Tarrant County office of a consulting firm that Stickland also owns.

Texans For Strong Borders and Russo often claim that Texas is being “invaded” by immigrants, language that experts have warned leads to violence against communities of color — including by the racist gunman who killed 22 people at an El Paso WalMart in 2019.

And the group’s influence is already making an impact with Texas Republican leaders. This month, Russo was the lead signature on a letter in which groups — as well as Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi — called on Gov. Greg Abbott and lawmakers to declare an invasion at the border and pass legislation that would make it much more difficult for non-citizens to own land or property in Texas.

The latter request from the groups was in response to Colony Ridge, a development near Houston that right-wing groups have repeatedly framed as a “no-go” zone for law enforcement that’s allowed illegal immigration and cartels to flourish — claims that local law enforcement have pushed back on in front of lawmakers during the ongoing special session.

Texans For Strong Borders also advocates for ending all birthright citizenship, which the group claims “encourages illegal immigration through birth tourism.”

The Optics Respecters’ various social media accounts are replete with posts railing against Black people, immigrants and women. They contain slurs against LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities; claims that women should not be allowed to vote; and screeds against a multiracial society.

The Optics Respecter account was banned from Twitter in 2022, but has remained active on Gab, a well-known haven for Fuentes’ movement and other far-right figures. Many of the posts have been in defense of Fuentes or parroted his vitriolic disdain for women, the LGBTQ+ community and non-white people.

“I don’t have Gettr because I deal with too much Chinese trash as it is,” Optics Respecter wrote in January, referring to the alternative social media website that is linked to a Chinese ally of right-wing activist Steve Bannon.

[Nick Fuentes is just the latest white supremacist embraced by Defend Texas Liberty]

Texans For Strong Borders has other ties to Fuentes. On Monday, the Tribune reported that two Fuentes followers are working with the group to develop videos for social media. That includes Ella Maulding, a well-known associate of Fuentes who has praised him as the “greatest civil rights leader in history.”

Maulding also frequently posts online about “white genocide” and “great replacement theory,” two foundational neo-Nazi ideologies that claim there is an intentional, Jewish-driven effort to replace white people through immigration, interracial marriage and the LGBTQ+ community.

Maulding — as well as Texans For Strong Borders’ executive director, Cary Cheshire — were both spotted by the Tribune outside the office building while Fuentes was being hosted on Oct. 6.