Jared Woodfill is waging war against his own party — Texas Republicans who he says aren't conservative enough — and he's bouncing across Harris County to rally the troops, setting up his mobile staging area in mostly empty chapels.
Last Thursday night, anti-HERO hero Woodfill was at Greater Harvest Church in Pasadena for the second event in his "Take Back The Party!" rally series. As he sets his sights on Texas Republican Party chairman, Woodfill is staking his claim to the state's far-right conservative throne by stretching the success of his fear-mongering campaign that killed Houston's proposed nondiscrimination ordinance in November. He appears to be trying to gather a larger following by doubling down on conservatism, and he's calling out current Republican legislators by painting them as "frauds" and "posers" in an attempt to replace them with his far-right conservative allies running for office.
But the Pasadena church's three sections of pews were sparsely filled (predictably, the entire crowd of about 25 matriculated to the far right of the room), so it appears Woodfill has a long way to go before his call to "take back the party" becomes anything more than a hopeful prayer — and right now, "prayer" seems to be Woodfill's only concrete campaign strategy.
"It’s important that the church rise up," Woodfill told the group. "Too many people sit in pews, then don’t get involved in government. We want to change that and change our country. Tonight we’re going to talk about how to fix this problem, and the first way is prayer." Although the event lasted more than two hours, Woodfill never really got around to explaining other ways to "fix the problem."
With his slicked-back hair and wearing a sharp navy blue suit, Woodfill acted as the event's deejay, giving flattering introductions for each speaker while also managing to fit in some thinly veiled self-praise for his leadership in the anti-HERO fight, and attempting to rev up the mostly elderly white crowd like so: "Let's give a biiiiiiggggg round of applause for... "
The first speaker was a representative from Texas Right To Life.
“I want to issue a challenge!" she said, swaying side to side and varying her cadence like a tent preacher. "Are you ready? The challenge is to be courageous! After you’re prayed-up, bold-up! Waging war on open advocates of death is easy because we know what we’re up against. The real battle comes against people who profess to be on our side but their actions don’t align. These posers. These frauds. These liars. On that reckoning day, the blood of innocents will be on their hands!”
Among these alleged posers, she explains, are some popular Woodfill punching bags: Republican state reps Debbie Riddle, Byron Cook and House Speaker Joe Straus — three legislators who also happen to be sitting on the hottest of seats this election season. Clearly, these Woodfillians don't mind blood on their own hands, so long as it's spilled by members of their own party.
"You must continue to fight for your values," Right to Life lady said. "We’re talking about taking our party back, our state back. Taking the right to life back.” She paused, got a little teary-eyed, then her voice softened and quivered. “We're talking about tiny Texans. Denial of treatment. It could be your mother, your father. It could be you." With that mike-drop, she steps off the stage and sits back in the audience, then executes a quiet and unnoticeable exit well before the event is over.
Next up was Woodfill's anti-HERO brother-in-arms, Steve Hotze.
“I think what we’re missing in the Christian church today is a militant, warrior mentality," Hotze said. "I know Jesus said not to take up arms, but I take the Old Testament literally. How many of you know what happened in HERO ordinance?” Everyone, obviously, raised their hand, and Hotze recounted the glory days (and mentioned Woodfill extensively, of course).
Then it got really weird.
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“They want to force us to celebrate homosexuality and other perverted acts — that’s all they think about," Hotze said. "What has our society come to when Bruce Jenner puts on a dress and goes on the ESPN and gets an award for courage?” Hotze deepened his voice an octave or two and gave a brief impression of Jenner: “uh, I’m Caitlyn Jenner, uh, yeah."
"Thirty years ago, they would have locked Jenner up," Hotze continued. "These people are crazy as a bedbug. This is a wicked, evil, satanic movement. They want to recruit, brainwash our children, right when the hormones start kicking in. I know, I’m a doctor. We’ve got sick, sexually perverted presidents. Then we’ve got the Muslim problem, which is one thing I like about Dan, uh, Dan, uh, Dan, uh, Donald Trump. If you know about that religion, then you know they want you to do what they want you to do or they’ll cut your head off! We need people to stand up against this absurd, ungodly tomfoolery. We’re putting on a full-court press. We’re challenging 35 seats to say enough is enough. We’re going to do everything we can to take them down.”
Hotze paused and looked around at the empty seats, the wind whistling outside the room's wide windows. He appeared genuinely bewildered.
“I don’t know why this church isn’t filled," he said quietly. "I sent out mail and thousands of robocalls…we gotta get more soldiers."
This is what "taking back the party!" looks like: the same sad faces spewing hate in half-empty rooms.