AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Three promoted a Facebook post suggesting George Floyd’s death was staged. Another shared a Martin Luther King Jr. quote over a picture of a banana. A fifth nudged followers to consider that liberal billionaire George Soros pays black people to riot to keep “race wars” flaring.
All of them are local GOP leaders in Texas, where Floyd will be buried next week.
Just days before Floyd’s funeral, a series of racist and conspiracy theory posts circulated by top Republican organizers at the county level — including in Houston, where Floyd will be laid to rest — became a crisis for the Texas GOP on Friday even as Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and his party are pledging to confront racial injustice in the nation’s biggest red state.
Despite pressure to resign, none of the GOP county chairpersons indicated they would do so. Democrats called it the result of fringe voices and views becoming emboldened under President Donald Trump and finding little in the way of pushback.
Abbott, who denounced the posts and called for resignations, offered no wider takeaway Friday about what it might say about his party in Texas.
“The narrow point is this, and that is the death of George Floyd is a travesty and is a result of a criminal act,” Abbott said at a briefing Friday about hurricane preparedness. “It should not be the subject of any of these conspiracy theories. And it’s irresponsible for anyone to promote some conspiracy theory of what is otherwise a brutal act of police violence.”
Floyd, who was black, spent most of his life in Texas. He died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes. His body on Friday was being taken to North Carolina, where he was born 46 years ago, for a public viewing and private service for family before his funeral in Houston.
Keith Nielsen, who is set to become chairman of the Texas GOP’s largest local party in Houston later this month, posted the King quote next to a picture of a banana, a racist trope about black people. But on Friday, Nielsen characterized the backlash to the post as a misreading, saying in a statement that he “simply wanted to say that it’s bananas and that peaceful protesters have shown us a better way forward.”
In San Antonio, Bexar County GOP Chairwoman Cynthia Brehm also said she would not step down despite widespread condemnation for sharing a post suggesting that Floyd’s death was staged to inflame racial tensions. The same post was also promoted by two other GOP county chairpersons.
The posts — which came to light in quick succession Thursday — are the latest episode of fringe and racist rhetoric at the local level in Texas causing embarrassment and discomfort for GOP leaders. Last year, a Republican state representative was denounced for suggesting that “Asian” challengers on the ballot were motivated by race. Another Republican county chairwoman near Houston also used a racial slur in a text message about a black party organizer.
But on Friday, the most recent posts in Texas eclipsed condemnation of Floyd’s killing expressed by Abbott and other GOP leaders, as well as their efforts to assure protesters and black leaders of their commitment to confronting racial injustice.
Texas state Sen. Royce West, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate who is facing a July primary runoff, praised Republicans for swiftly denouncing the posts. But West, who is black, said the GOP been too timid when it comes to calling out fringe or racist rhetoric.
“It comes from Donald Trump,” West said. “You have failed leadership in the White House, and also when you look at leaders in the state and Republican leaders. They haven’t really taken strong stances.”
West said he would attend Floyd’s funeral. Abbott did not respond Friday when asked whether he would attend.
Tweeted Republican Sen. Ted Cruz: “Stop saying stupid, racist things. Our country is grieving.”