Lara Trump, who recently made headlines for speculating on Fox News that Clippy the Microsoft Word assistant is spying on her documents, made a pit stop in north Texas Wednesday ahead of her father-in-law’s rally in Houston this Saturday to speak at an event organized by the Collin County Conservative Republicans and the Dallas Jewish Conservatives.
About three hundred people turned out to hear her speak alongside Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is currently embroiled in a controversy regarding his refusal to hand over electronic communications related to his appearance at a Washington D.C. rally on Jan. 6, 2021, and Texas State Senator Dawn Buckingham, a Donald Trump-endorsed candidate for Texas Land Commissioner.
The rhetoric of the event was more subdued than that of the former president’s recent Arizona rally, and there was a notable lack of open conspiracy theorists in attendance — but it nevertheless served the same cocktail of misinformation that’s become the dominant narrative in some conservative circles: the 2020 election was fraudulent, Republicans are fighting a war against evil, and the country must be “taken back.”
The event took place at a Marriott hotel and convention center in Allen, Texas, one of a constellation of rapidly growing suburbs just north of Dallas that continue to spring up as highway expansion and cheap land fuel their sprawl. In recent years, the area has become a hotbed for conservative extremism. Collin and other nearby counties are home to a sizable number of Jan. 6 defendants — including Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers — and around a dozen others. In a month’s time, Glenn Beck will speak at the Collin County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner.
Just before I arrived at the convention center for the event, the judge presiding over the Rhodes case announced her decision to detain him until his trial, a decision he plans to appeal. Just days before, I had watched and listened through a crack in the doors of the at-capacity federal courtroom in the neighboring suburb of Plano as Rhodes’ lawyers made their case for his release. One of the proposed third party custodians that took the stand that day, Brian Bodine, happened to be in attendance at the Lara Trump event in Allen.
When I entered the building, the first thing I saw was a massive FJB (Fuck Joe Biden) banner hanging behind one of several merch tables spread throughout the lobby. Each table had something unique to offer but they all seemed to adhere to a relatively uniform aesthetic: where kitsch meets incitement. Gun imagery and appeals to violence were prevalent. “MEN HAVE FEELINGS TOO – I MOSTLY FEEL RECOIL,” read one shirt with an image of two long rifles that ran for $17 a pop. I forgot to ask how much for the bedazzled purse in the shape of a pistol.
The event was sponsored by a number of current and hopeful state level office holders. Aside from Lara Trump and Paxton, the biggest names backing the event were Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Don Huffines, a Republican primary challenger for Governor who recently refused to fire a staffer with connections to white nationalist group Patriot Front — the leader of which just so happens to be based an hour away in Haslet, Texas. Notably, there was not a single sign of support for Governor Greg Abbott, making clear where allegiances lay in Collin County. Other sponsors included a local gun supplier and James Langlais, a man who falsely accused this reporter of fabricating a quote after he compared Covid-19 precautions to Nazi concentration camps at a “reopening” and mask burning event organized by the Dallas Jewish Conservatives last March.
When I found a seat inside the convention hall, I took in the scene. Ken Paxton was mingling with his wife, Angela, who is the sitting State Senator in the district that includes Allen. They stood in front of a sign for a right-wing media outlet that claimed to be “the Texas newspaper of record,” despite having fewer than 800 followers on Twitter. Three older women with noticeable dye jobs drinking glasses of white wine sat to my left. The five seats to my right remained empty. During the Pledge of Allegiance, the woman sitting behind me heavily emphasized the words “under God.”
Zach Barrett, the president of the Collin County Conservative Republicans, opened the evening by noting that The Dallas Morning News had published an article with a “liberal spin” ahead of the event. “They said we’re going to talk about the Big Lie,” Barrett said. The crowd began to murmur. “The election was stolen,” Barrett said with absolute certainty. The crowd cheered and clapped.
The first featured speaker was State Senator Dawn Buckingham. She was introduced with a campaign video touting her NRA endorsement. When it ended with her cocking a shotgun the crowd went wild. Buckingham spoke in solemn tones about “Angel Families” that had relatives “brutality murdered by illegals” and falsely claimed that homeownership reached record levels for every demographic under Trump. She described the current political climate as a “spiritual battle,” cast critics of Trump as “evil,” and said “Trump stood in the way of the Devil and protected our country.” The crowd roared. The white wine woman sitting next to me verbally agreed.
Buckingham wasn’t alone in casting her political campaign as a crusade against evil incarnate. Paxton, the state’s attorney general, described his lawsuits against major tech companies in similar terms.
“You know what Google’s motto used to be?” he asked the crowd rhetorically. “It was ‘don’t be evil.’ Well, they’re evil.” Paxton promised to file more lawsuits against big tech, an issue that has become red meat for a base who view the active moderation of extremist content as draconian censorship.
Lara Trump, too, spoke of spiritual warfare. “There is a true war in America right now…and it is good versus evil,” she warned the crowd. Her speech was wide ranging and, at times, rambling. When she said Donald Trump “exposed and peeled back the layers of the onion of the swamp” the mixed metaphor triggered an onslaught of intrusive thoughts about Shrek. When she described Donald Trump as “the epitome, the personification of the American dream” I thought about the hundreds of millions he received from his father’s business empire. I thought about the first four lines of the song “Old Man Trump” by the late folk legend Woody Guthrie: “I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate / He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts / When he drawed that color line / Here at his Beach Haven family project.”
As Lara came to a close, she thanked the crowd for being “purveyors of truth” without the slightest hint of irony and made clear the importance of places like Collin County in the extended Trump universe. “We need to take this country back,” Lara said. “And it starts right here in Texas.”