Republicans have flirted with fake news super spreaders like Alex Jones for years but lately the alternative news crews just don’t seem that into the Grand Old Party. This weekend critical conservative voices held a rally attacking Governor Greg Abbott personally, including jokes about his disability and his integrity.
One of the rally’s speakers, “InfoWars” host Owen Shroyer, who was recently banned by Twitter for breaking their terms of service, encouraged Texans to disobey Gov. Abbott’s “unconstitutional” orders. Adding insult to injury he perversely joked that he, “heard a rumor he [Abbott] doesn’t stand for the national anthem.” Abbott has been in a wheelchair since before serving in public office.
Shelley Luther, a candidate in the runoff for Senate District 30 also spoke at the event. “We’re looking for people to primary these fools in 2022,” she told the crowd. “We have a governor that we need to primary out.” Before Abbott endorsed her opponent State Representative Drew Springer he appeared at a press conference with Luther as she became a symbol of the movement to unmask Texas and reopen businesses without restrictions.
Luther is the infamous salon owner who opened her business in violation of Abbott’s executive order. Abbott rewarded her law-breaking protest by rescinding his health safety protocols and hamstringing local officials trying to combat the spread of COVID-19. Other statewide elected officials also tried to jump on the bandwagon. Indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a press release supporting her release from jail and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick paid her legal fines. Luther leveraged her new fame into a $500,000 GoFundMe campaign and her run for the State Senate is largely based on her crusade against the governor’s mask mandates and shutdowns of non-essential businesses.
Perhaps most alarming for Abbott is that this strain of rightwing contageon has metastasized through the body of the Republican Party, bubbling up from the bowels of the Tea Party to become competitive GOP primary candidates and installing their own as Texas Republican Party Chair. The new TRP Chair, Florida man Allen West, has led these anti-Abbott rallies in what looks like the foundation of his own run for Governor in 2022. West had considered a primary challenge to John Cornyn before successfully overtaken the more “moderate” party chair at this year’s Republican state convention. Now he uses QAnon wink-winks like “We are the Storm” to ominously signal the internal wrath they are currently reaping on institutional party leaders.
Abbott isn’t the only Texas politician taking shots. Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Dan Crenshaw are taking arrows for not sufficiently backing President Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. Abbott, Patrick and even Paxton who served as Chair of Lawyers for Trump have been mysteriously silent when it comes to backing the president’s claims of a stolen election.
Before conservative credentials were measured by one’s fealty for Donald Trump, Abbott used the boundless energy of the conspiracy crowd to shore up his own base. In 2015, the governor asked the Texas State Guard to monitor a US military exercise known as Jade Helm that had been riling up the pre-QAnon set. It was later reported that the disinformation campaign was led by the Russians and Abbott unwittingly attributed to their success and emboldened them towards larger targets such as the 2016 US election and beyond. At the time Democrats questioned Abbott’s judgement and some outgoing Republicans criticized the governor of “pandering to idiots”. Former Gov. Rick Perry said, “I think it’s okay to question your government — I do it on a pretty regular basis,” but that the military was “something different.”
Abbott is beginning to reap what he has sown. Just five years after planting the seeds of doubt and discontent, Abbott’s own Little Shop of Horrors has outgrown his ability to satiate it with fresh red meat. He should hope he doesn’t end up like Sydney Krelborn, the flower shop owner from the classic movie, whose man-eating flytrap eventually devoured the hand that nursed it.
Photo: Gary Miller/Getty Images
Joe Deshotel is originally from Beaumont, Texas, but a combination of live music, politics, and natural beauty brought him to Austin in 2010. He has over a decade of experience in public policy that covers federal, state, and local government and has worked on a number of successful election campaigns. He continues to consult on Democratic campaigns and serves as the Chair of Austin’s Community Development Commission which advocates for affordable housing and solutions for homelessness.