Extremists have turned Texas into a hotbed for hate, report finds

A sign with the message "Pray for Allen Tx" hangs from a makeshift cross in memorial of the eight victims of the Allen Premium Outlets mall shooting outside the mall in Allen on May 7, 2023.
A sign with the message "Pray for Allen Tx" hangs from a makeshift cross in memory of the eight victims of the Allen Premium Outlets mass shooting, in Allen on May 7, 2023. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

Texas continues to be a hotbed for extremism and antisemitism, driven by the heavy presence of white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ+ groups that are headquartered or active in the state.

That’s according to a report released Thursday by the Anti-Defamation League that examined nearly three years of “alarming levels of extremist ideology and activity” in Texas, and suggested a handful of policies to combat the growing problem.

Since 2021, the report found, antisemitic incidents in the state have jumped by 89%, and there have been six “terrorist plots” in addition to 28 “extremist events” such as training and rallies. Texas also led the nation in white supremacist propaganda last year; had the most residents charged in relation to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection; and, in March, saw a neo-Nazi and extreme misogynist gunman kill 8 people at an Allen shopping mall.

The report specifically noted the presence of white supremacist groups such as Patriot Front, which is based in the Dallas area and has repeatedly marched in major cities across the country, including this summer in Austin. Patriot Front was founded by Texas resident Thomas Rousseau after 2017’s deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and was responsible for roughly 80% of all white supremacist propaganda incidents nationwide last year. The group also was present at former President Donald Trump’s rally in Waco this year, and 31 of its members were arrested near a 2022 Idaho Pride event on conspiracy to riot charges.

The ADL report also notes the uptick in neo-Nazi activity in the state, specifically at anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations. Experts have for years warned that extremist groups are using “groomer” panic as a way to recruit, and neo-Nazis have been a fixture at anti-drag rallies that have been organized by groups with close ties to Texas lawmakers.

Texas is also home to churches affiliated with the New Independent Fundamental Baptist movement that preaches extreme — and often violent — messages about the LGBTQ+ community, the report found. This includes Stedfast Baptist Church, a Dallas-area church whose pastor has said LGBTQ+ people "should be lined up against a wall and shot in the back of the head.”

Also driving the surge in extremism, the report found, is the heavy presence of anti-immigrant and “vigilante” groups that have been active on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The report follows years of warnings that extremist groups have been emboldened by the Republican Party and its amplification of things such as “great replacement theory,” a white supremacist conspiracy theory that claims there is an intentional, Jewish-driven effort to destroy white people through immigration, interracial marriage and the LGBTQ+ community.

That conspiracy theory — and corresponding violence — has been bolstered by frequent depictions of immigrants as “invaders” by major figures such as Tucker Carlson and Gov. Greg Abbott. Before he set fire to an Austin synagogue on Halloween 2020, Franklin Barret Sechriest wrote in his diary that “no invader is innocent.” And, after a gunman, hoping to fight the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” killed 22 people at an El Paso WalMart in 2019, Abbott vowed to stop using such language to describe immigrants. He has since resumed his use of "invasion" rhetoric.

The ADL also noted that Texas has hosted numerous conferences on QAnon. Pillars of the conspiracy theory — including the belief in a secret globalist cabal that sacrifices and rapes children — borrow heavily from centuries-old antisemitic tropes that have historically led to bloodshed, including by the Nazis.

Despite the myriad warnings about the conspiracy theory’s dangers, prominent Republicans — including Sen. Ted Cruz, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and former Texas GOP chairman Allen West — have appeared with major QAnon figures. In 2020, the Texas GOP also adopted a well-known QAnon slogan — “we are the storm” — that the party later tried to claim had nothing to do with the conspiracy theory.

The ADL also suggested a handful of “nonpartisan” policies that they said would help stem the growing extremism and violence. Among the recommendations: creating a commission to study domestic violent extremism, create annual assessments; and provide clear statistics on hate crimes; mandate that law enforcement agencies report hate crimes to the FBI; and “hold social media platforms accountable” by creating a task force to study and address online extremism.

“Elected officials in Texas have an opportunity to confront this issue to significantly curtail the negative impact that extremism has on the people they represent,” Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said in a statement. “It is imperative they prioritize the views and experiences of our most vulnerable communities so that targets of extremism have the resources they need to collaborate with law enforcement to solve this issue.”