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Lone Star Crazy: How Right-Wing Extremists Took Over Texas

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Immigration would ultimately help sink the campaign of Jerry Patterson, who also ran against Patrick in the primary. More than any single Texan, Patterson is responsible for the state's concealed-handgun laws, back in 1994 authoring a gun bill vetoed by Richards and ultimately signed by W. The veto became a major campaign issue. All these years later, Patterson notes with pride, "I'm the reason she didn't get her second term." But in this year's race for lieutenant governor, voters found him too liberal when it came to the "illegal invasion" – Patterson supports, for example, granting legal status to certain undocumented immigrants willing to serve in the military – and he came in dead last in the primary. "I was considered something just a little bit short of a right-wing nut job when I first ran for state Senate in '92," Patterson says dryly. "And now I find out that I'm a squish. I've moved so far to the left that I can't win a primary."

A 67-year-old retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, Patterson flew F-4 Phantom jets after serving in Vietnam, was elected to the Texas Legislature in 1993, and currently serves as state land commissioner. When I visit him in his office in downtown Austin, he's armed; he never leaves home without his .22 Magnum, which he keeps hidden in one of his boots. He's also surrounded by taxidermy, including the massive 12-point rack of an elk, which he shot – a cowboy hat hangs casually from one of the horns – and a coiled rattlesnake, which he received in the mail as an anonymous gift (or threat, he's not really sure).

By any reasonable reckoning, Patterson is extraordinarily conservative. He's the sort of politically incorrect person who takes a special, cussed relish in pissing people off. "It's a constitutional right to be offended, and I'm happy to facilitate that," he tells me. But he's also funny, well-read and sneakily thoughtful. In 2011, he defied Gov. Perry by supporting a request from the Sons of Confederate Veterans to create rebel-flag license plates – but when asked about Confederate memorials by the Houston Chronicle, Patterson pointed out that he also celebrates "the U.S. flag under which atrocities like My Lai occurred or under which a genocidal war against a whole race of people, the American Indians, occurred." He describes himself as "solidly pro-life" and "probably the most Second Amendment guy there is in Texas." Leaning back in his desk chair, he continues in a mild tone that belies his obvious rage, "Although you wouldn't know that from Dan Patrick. He said that I voted to ban guns on Texas campuses, when in fact that ban has been in place for 50 years. Patrick also says I quote-unquote 'support open borders.' That's just horseshit. He's being treated like a new messiah, the second coming of Elvis. 'Oh, Dan Patrick is a Christian.' Well, what am I, a devil worshipper?"

An Austin political insider had warned me that Patterson had "gone all Captain Ahab" on Patrick since his primary loss. And sure enough, Patterson describes the radio host as dangerous for Texas and a "pathological liar." A few days earlier, he'd steered the press toward public-domain hospital records detailing Patrick's battles with severe depression in the 1980s. (Patrick was hospitalized on multiple occasions and once attempted suicide, overdosing on pills and superficially slitting his wrists.) The revelations backfired, though, and actually managed the impossible: turning a political opportunist as brazen as Patrick into a figure of sympathy.

Patterson has no regrets. "You have a bunch of angry folks who are, frankly, angry for good reason, but they are also very, very gullible," he says glumly. "All you got to do is say certain phrases and words – fill-in-the-blank cliché – and they go 'rah-rah' and applaud and you're the man. 'Secure our borders.' 'No amnesty.' 'Build a fence.' We have a history in this state, you know? My opponent for land commissioner last time was a guy named Hector Uribe. His family had been here for, I think, seven or eight generations. He was a Tejano. He had more Texas roots than I did. Notwithstanding that, somebody made some kind of pop-off comment about, you know, 'that Mexican,' or something like that. And I jumped on their shit. We have Tejanos who died at the Alamo! The vice president of the Republic of Texas was Lorenzo de Zavala. Juan Seguín was a hero at the Battle of San Jacinto. Those folks are just as Texan as we are.

"I'm not worried about Battleground Texas," Patterson continues. "I'm worried about the Republican Party. We should lose to them" – he means the Democrats – "as opposed to surrender. Some of the stuff we're doing now is going to result in . . . well, actually, not a surrender, but a fight to the death, where all of us lose on the Republican side. We just got dumber than a rock. And immigration is one of those issues."

Guns are another one of those issues, though Patterson would likely challenge me to a duel for suggesting as much. But even he isn't wild about certain actions of groups like Open Carry Texas, whose members have been making headlines by provocatively turning up in public places – the Alamo, outside the state Capitol, fast-food franchises – toting semiautomatic rifles. It's all perfectly legal in Texas, but far from winning hearts and minds, the demonstrations have only managed to prompt chains like Chipotle and Applebee's to officially ban firearms altogether.

Open Carry Texas received even worse press after two dozen heavily armed members, some carrying AK-47s, crashed a meeting of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun-control group formed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The Moms had gathered at a Mexican restaurant in suburban Dallas. Even though the Open Carry members never left the parking lot, the damage was done: As any PR novice would have warned, you simply don't bring guns to a mom fight. Even the NRA weighed in – against the Texans, noting in a newsletter that "to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest is downright weird." (A few days later, the NRA came to its senses and retracted the statement.)

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