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

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Wolf ("the Redneck Jew") is also a Libertarian. He likes Ted Cruz but generally avoids voting for Republicans or Democrats. His wife is black, he says, and he's sick of Obama "always playing the race card." Wolf says, "I have five black- Jewish children. We're Podunk rednecks. Everyone around here goes hunting and fishing all together. There's no prejudice! Now, you go to New York, Austin, Boston, that's where everyone lives separate. Down here? We're a melting pot." When Wolf hears I'm from New York, he asks if I like Brooklyn Lager. "It's good, huh?" he says. "And kosher, too!"

Don't get me wrong: there's also no shortage of crazy talk. One of the speakers at the rally, a tall, stout man in a cowboy shirt named Doc Greene, is a talk-radio host in Houston. Onstage, he railed, "If you like the plutocracy – that's a good 'P' word, I'll let you look it up – vote for Greg Abbott." Greene knows Dan Patrick personally, and he isn't a fan. "Dan Patrick is for Dan Patrick," Greene says, though he adds that Jerry Patterson "turned out to be a lot more liberal than we thought." Greene says he has nine grandchildren and he wants them to grow up with liberty. "I truly believe there are people who would take away our freedoms and rule us by fiat," he tells me. "We're fighting a war with words. But if we fail, we will be fighting it with real guns, and my children's blood."

James Franklin, a lanky 31-year-old in a cowboy hat who has been taking puffs from a flute-size vaporizer – earlier, he'd told me he was a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin and that Lyndon Johnson was his grandmother's cousin, though he doesn't normally advertise the LBJ bit –nods in agreement. "I tell everyone, 'I want to raise awareness so this ends peacefully. I don't want my children to have to bury me under a hail of bullets. But they're trained to do it.'"

Greene plays in a couple of bands (one blues, one country) and has a residential audio-video installation business. He's also handling sound for the rally. After the band wraps up, he cues Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road," about a pot-growing Vietnam vet in the hills of Tennessee. One of the verses, about the protagonist's moonshine-running granddaddy, mentions a "revenue man" from the government who came snooping around the holler, never to be seen again.

The next afternoon, in Dallas, I visit Dealey Plaza. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. It's a humid, slightly drizzly day, but there are still tourists out, some snapping pictures of the grassy knoll (marked, helpfully, by a big yellow banner reading GRASSY KNOLL), others pointing cameras at Elm Street from the angle made famous by Abraham Zapruder. A couple of guys have tables set up, where they're selling pamphlets detailing elaborate second- and third-gunman theories. Three young men in baseball caps discuss the impressive difficulty of Lee Harvey Oswald's shots. Glancing up at the old Texas School Book Depository, I look for the window where Oswald stood. Oh, there it is – the one with all the tourists creepily gazing down.

In the years after JFK's murder, Dallas was known as the City of Hate. Local business leaders strove mightily to erase the stigma, building art museums and other cultural institutions, until finally, by the 1980s, Dallas had developed a certain cool, the city of J.R. Ewing and inordinately famous cheerleaders.

Nowadays, the City of Hate era has grown so distant that hate has been allowed to return as a winning campaign slogan in Texas. The portrait of right-wing Texas painted by authors Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis in the recent book Dallas 1963 will sound unsettlingly familiar to anyone who has read the preceding pages. Fliers were passed out before JFK's trip to Dallas with a picture of his face and the words WANTED FOR TREASON; LBJ was spat upon by protesters during an earlier appearance. Then as now, the pot was stirred by reactionary preachers, wealthy string-pullers (in 1963, it was the oil magnate H.L. Hunt, the richest man in the United States), political opportunists (Gen. Edwin Walker ran for Texas governor in 1962 on an anti-civil rights, anti-Communist platform) and organized interest groups (the John Birch Society then, the Tea Party now).

Come November, Patrick will be a difficult man to beat. When I ask Harold Cook, the Democratic strategist, if he thinks Patrick really believes the stuff he says or treats the whole exercise as an extended performance, Cook says, "Look, he knows how to put on a show – he knows how to make an ultraconservative Tea Party Republican get a little stiffy. Is he for real? Honestly, at some point, what's the difference? If you're a pro wrestler for long enough, you forget the deal is rigged and you start to believe you have superhuman strength. I don't think there is a Dan Patrick, except that which exists to get Dan Patrick elected."

The state, meanwhile, faces significant issues not involving border fences and the right to bring your gun to the Dairy Queen. Global warming has brought drought conditions to a critical juncture, to the point where Wichita Falls, where I met Grisham, might become one of the first cities in the United States to recycle wastewater as drinking water. Last November, Texas voters approved Proposition 6, which allowed $2 billion from the state's rainy-day fund to be used for such drought-easing projects. Yet, Patterson tells me, "The Republican primary voters – the Tea Party – were unanimously, vehemently opposed to it."

"Because it involved tax money?" I ask.

"Because they don't understand what the hell they were talking about," Patterson shoots back. "They were gullible. I think the Tea Party was a great thing. But it's at a crossroads now. The problem with the Tea Party right now is, they can be had very easily."

Then there's Perry's "Texas miracle" – 37 percent of all new jobs created since 2009 in the United States have been in Texas, and the state's population has soared – which has been driven in large part by cheap housing (Texas has lots of space), low gas prices and the lack of a state income tax. Unfortunately, Texas has one of the highest percentages of minimum-wage jobs in the nation, along with one of the highest poverty rates. It'll be interesting to see if all of the new Texans moving to the Lone Star State wind up disappointed with the miracle they'd been promised, and if so, who they end up supporting: the party of Dan Patrick, or the party of Wendy Davis?

At least one person remains optimistic about Texas' political future: C.J. Grisham, who has been pushing for expanded open-carry laws. "For the first time, we've got all the gubernatorial candidates coming out in favor of open carry, so I think in 2015, we're practically guaranteed to get the expansion," he says with the confidence of a military man, adding with a smile, "as long as we don't screw it up. But right now? We've got the momentum."

This story is from the July 3rd-17th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.

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