GUEST COMMENTARY - Last weekend in Houston, Texas Republicans got a taste of just how far right their party has become.
At the state's biennial GOP convention, delegates officially declared Joe Biden an illegitimate president, proposed repealing the 1965 Voting Rights Act and voted for a platform calling on schools to teach that life begins at conception and to avoid all discussion of gender identity or sexuality. Additional planks attacked trans rights, cast gender-affirming medical care as actionable malpractice and declared homosexuality "an abnormal lifestyle choice." When one delegate pushed back on that last point — saying, "We are the Republican Party of Texas, not the Westboro Baptist Church" — he was greeted with boos, laughter and another delegate's tirade about "dildos and fisting."
But perhaps the most explosive takeaway from the convention was a series of heated confrontations (inevitably turned into viral videos) in which a group of far-right activists and social media personalities, led by self-described comedian Alex Stein, followed Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, through the hallways of the convention hotel, chanting"eyepatch McCain." This ended in a violent scuffle between Stein and two Crenshaw staffers. Stein also targeted Sen. Ted Cruz in similar fashion, while a different protester shouted that Crenshaw should be hanged. After the hecklers were ejected from the convention, some were photographed standing amid a group of men wearing the black-and-gold shirts of the "Western Chauvinist" Proud Boys.
Although Stein and his cadre's complaints on Saturday were mainly focused on gun laws and Ukraine aid rather than queer rights, his presence at the convention followed the national notoriety he'd gained just two weeks before, when he filmed himself trying to force his way into a Dallas gay bar that was hosting a family-friendly drag show.
As Salon reported at the time, the protest, organized by a right-wing nonprofit called Protect Texas Children, attracted a broader coalition of far-right activists, including members of the white nationalist America First/groyper movement, which hosted a conference last February praising Vladimir Putin, Hitler and the hanging of political enemies. Also involved were a Catholic youth organization that openly endorses theocratic fascism and a network of anti-LGBTQ activists who have gained substantial social media followings through stunt provocations in the broader Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area, often with the Proud Boys in tow.
Kelly Neidert, the youthful founder of Protect Texas Children, was banned from Twitter for posting: "Let's start rounding up people who participate in Pride events."
(Kathryn Joyce is an investigative reporter for Salon and the author of two books: "The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption" and "Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement." Formerly a reporter with Type Investigations, a contributing editor at the New Republic and a contributing writer at Highline, her work has also appeared in Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, the Marshall Project, Longreads, the New York Times Magazine, Pacific Standard, The Nation and many others. She is an adjunct lecturer in Brooklyn College's political science department.)