The sheriff department’s Human Trafficking Unit says it wants to conduct “investigations that lead to the prosecution of human traffickers.” Missing from this website description is the religious right’s obsession with human trafficking. Christian Nationalists seek to tie that heinous crime to President Joe Biden, 2016 popular vote winner Hillary Clinton, and Hollywood elites even as Southern evangelicalism remains a hotbed of sexual abuse and pedophilia. The New York Times has found that nearly 400 Southern Baptist leaders have pleaded guilty to or have been convicted of sex crimes since 1998.
Locally, Mercy Culture Church, which seems to be the best/worst at mixing up church and state, cries “human trafficking!” constantly. Pastor Landon Schott regularly invites right-wing nuts like county commissioner candidate Tim O’Hare and Sheriff Bill Waybourn to attend Mercy Culture services, and Waybourn’s frequent appearances at Mercy Culture events and his recent declaration that human trafficking is the “demonic battle of our lifetime” caught our attention, given our understanding of right-wing paranoia over the crime, so we filed open records requests seeking data on how many human traffickers Waybourn has caught since the unit was formed in 2018.
The answer? Next to none.
Despite the resources of various federal grants, three investigators, and one supervisor, the unit has obtained only five human trafficking prosecutions from the district attorney’s office out of 546 investigations. The DA’s office has accepted 220 criminal cases out of 414 from the human trafficking unit since 2019. Among them are a handful of serious charges like aggravated promotion of prostitution and compelling prostitution by force. The vast majority of charges, though, are for prostitution offenses that may have resulted from entrapment.
Waybourn appears to have padded his numbers by honeypotting horny dudes via professional decoys. In October 2021, the sheriff led a “human trafficking sting” that resulted in 115 men being charged with felonies, which has allowed him to mislead the public by confusing related but distinctly different acts. Women who engage in sex work likely have their own heartwrenching stories, but that doesn’t mean they were trafficked across the U.S.-Mexico border and kept in decrepit makeshift prisons.
Entrapping random dudes doesn’t make Tarrant County any safer either. It defies belief that Waybourn set up his human trafficking, er, prostitution sting in Tanglewood or Westover Hills, two places where he might have had the misfortune of arresting a powerful attorney or business leader who could publicly call him out for running a scam with taxpayer dollars. Based on news reports from the time, Waybourn refused to disclose details about the tactics employed during the October operations or where the stings were held. (Note: They were not in Tanglewood or Westover Hills. Bank on it.)
The same Republicans who maintain mass delusions about the “stolen election” (ha!) are now focused on tying anyone on the left to sexual deviancy and pedophilia in some perverse act of projection. We saw the same crap with the Critical Race Theory nonsense that led racist white parents in Southlake and other upscale suburbs across the country to go on tirades at public meetings and in the press, daring to quote Martin Luther King Jr. and saying that liberals are the real racists.
For now, the religious right remains fixated on human trafficking, a serious crime that requires serious detective work and support from qualified nonprofits and shelters. Any effort to address human trafficking by Christian Nationalists like Waybourn and Schott should be scrutinized. For now, the Weekly is the only media outlet in Tarrant County willing to question the motives of right-wing grifters and liars.
Waybourn’s team should consider renaming the human trafficking unit if their investigations and arrests are not going to result in human trafficking-related prosecutions. Doing otherwise misleads a public that is too-frequently misled by right-wing conspiracy nuts looking to score political points off the religious right’s newest obsession.
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Submissions will be edited for factuality and clarity.