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Federal laws ban politicians from campaigning at churches, especially during services, but that hasn’t stopped the Fraud Squad from pandering to Christian Nationalist zealots who aim to install a Christian caliphate in good ol’ Fort Worth. Courtesy Facebook

Speaking at last week’s commissioners court meeting, top county leaders made the case for the newly formed Elections Integrity Task Force. County Judge Tim O’Hare, who made voter fraud a top priority in his recent campaign, told his fellow commissioners that four cases are pending at the district attorney’s office.

“There has been a conviction as recently as, I think, 2018,” O’Hare added, likely referring to a plea deal accepted by Charles Jackson, a homeless felon with an extensive rap sheet who may have been put up to spreading bullshit about O’Hare’s Democratic opponent in the most recent election (“ Harvesting Misinformation?” Oct. 22).

O’Hare, Sheriff Bill Waybourn, and DA Phil Sorrells — all Republicans — announced the formation of the elections task force in early February. Consisting of undisclosed numbers of investigators and prosecutors, the unit will look into allegations of voter fraud and refer those findings to Sorrells’ office for potential prosecution.

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Commissioner Roy Brooks said he worries that the unit could be misused to question legitimate election results.

“I am concerned that we are enshrining in our Tarrant County infrastructure the ability to deny the results of any election that the three of you take exception to,” he said. “That’s a problem for me.”

O’Hare, Sorrells, and Waybourn are diverting county resources to a crime more commonly found in the wet dreams of indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton than in reality. Based on state data, the AG’s office has prosecuted 154 individuals for mail ballot fraud, assistance fraud, or illegal voting since 2004, all of which account for 0.0006% of the 90 million votes cast during that time period.

The Fraud Squad may be pandering to Tarrant County voters who are unaware or willfully ignorant of the Republican leaders’ recent history of using deception, malicious prosecutions, and backdoor endorsement deals to meddle in elections to further one side’s political ideology.

 

Buying Endorsement?

Political endorsements are typically given based on the merits of the endorsee. The idea is to signal to prospective voters that a candidate is worthy of elected office due to their work ethic and integrity.

Donald Trump’s February 2022 endorsement of Sorrells was oddly out of step with the former president’s formal backing of high-profile candidates with a history of pandering to the disgraced Florida man’s narcissistic machinations. Sorrells had a long but unremarkable career as a misdemeanor judge and no clear connections to the twice-impeached one-term former occupant of the White House.

Federal campaign disclosures show Sorrells’ father-in-law, Kent Hance, donated $100,000 to a prominent Trump-supporting PAC (political action committee) two days before Donald formally endorsed Phil. The timing caught the attention of one state watchdog but not the local press, us included.

That August, Texas Tribune political correspondent Patrick Svitek tweeted, “Another Texan donation to the main pro-Trump super PAC that is bad optics, at a minimum. Kent Hance gave $100K to the group two days before Trump endorsed Hance’s son-in-law for Tarrant County DA.”

Svitek went on to say that Hance had been a fundraiser for and donor to Trump previously. Speaking to one of our reporters last spring, Sorrells denied that any member of his family bought Trump’s endorsement.

For Sorrells to feign concern about the integrity of our election system after using his family’s largesse to allegedly buy the endorsement of a former president whose disgust toward free and fair elections is well-known shows how ethically bankrupt our county’s top law enforcement official was and remains. It is no surprise that a 2021 poll of Tarrant County defense attorneys voted Sorrells the least likely of 10 county criminal judges to follow the law. And yet now he’s our top prosecutor. We have only an aggrieved citizenry being fed lies by Fox “News” to thank.

Though local media outlets failed to notice our DA’s use of his family’s largesse to buy an endorsement from the disgraced, twice-impeached former president, Phil Sorrells’ statements that Trump’s thumbs-up was honest appear to be just more lies.
Courtesy Twitter

 

Courting Christian Nationalists

Separation of church and state is under attack in Tarrant County, thanks to mobs like the elections “integrity” unit. Social media posts by Mercy Culture Church show Fraud Squad soliciting support and votes from the thousands of members of the Christian Nationalist house of worship on the North Side.

Federal laws expressly prohibit churches from endorsing political candidates. The IRS emphasizes the 1954 legislation that bans churches from engaging in campaign activity.

“To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years, it has in fact strengthened the ban,” the IRS says on its website. “The most recent change came in 1987, when Congress amended the language to clarify that the prohibition also applies to statements opposing candidates.”

Mercy Culture co-founder and pastor Landon Schott is an outspoken homophobe and conspiracy nut who, based on his public statements, cares little for our country’s separation of church and state.

“Elections matter!” Schott wrote on his Instagram page last year. “Our tyrannical leaders have stolen our freedom and indoctrinated our children in schools.”

Late last year, Mercy Culture again showed its complete disdain for federal laws prohibiting churches from engaging in political activities when the right-wing church’s members opened their Candidate University course, in which Mercy leaders train public office seekers who “will stand for righteousness” — but not the Constitution.

 

Upending Democracy

We were the first publication to expose Sheriff Waybourn’s connections to anti-government militias who have threatened and continue to threaten this nation’s elections by engaging in violent insurrections and training and mobilizing armed combatants to overturn perceived illegitimate electoral races.

Here’s how we got here.

In 2021, Waybourn participated in the Claremont Institute’s Sheriffs Fellowship that teaches the evolution of “militant progressivism and multiculturalism with particular emphasis on the role of law enforcement in maintaining liberty.”

The Claremont Institute maintains strong connections with one alleged mastermind of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Last year, the January 6 Committee referred John Eastman, a former Trump advisor, for prosecution by the justice department for his role in the riot. Eastman is the founder of a Claremont Institute department called the Claremont Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, which seeks to restore the American government to the values of the Founding Fathers, who were largely OK with owning slaves and barring women from voting.

Waybourn is also affiliated with the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), a far-right organization that the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have labeled an anti-government extremist group. Richard Mack, a founding board member of the Oath Keepers, another terrorist organization, started CSPOA in 2011.

Recent reporting by the Los Angeles Times found that Oath Keepers and similar right-wing extremist groups remain a threat to our Democratic government, institutions, and elections.

“Prosecutions haven’t put a perceptible dent in the larger phenomenon of right-wing extremism,” the Times says. This “ecosystem” includes “white supremacists, antigovernment militants, and many (but far from all) supporters of former President Trump.”

It is not without irony that the Fraud Squad’s sheriff has direct links to armed groups who tried to violently overthrow the duly elected U.S. government on Jan. 6.
Courtesy Instagram

 

Southlake School Board Interference

The past DA administration showed a semblance of integrity by rebuking the AG’s pleas to take over local voter fraud cases, including the one tied to O’Hare’s Democratic opponent, Deborah Peoples, but those safeguards against tyranny are now gone.

Perhaps the most horrifying revelation of our investigation into the Jackson/Peoples video was a leaked DA email that revealed two AG attorneys begging for DA Wilson to deputize Paxton’s minions to prosecute the case, which county prosecutors did not find credible. When O’Hare’s cabal failed to secure criminal charges against Peoples, O’Hare’s supporters, no doubt pouting and kicking cans, released the video directly to the public.

With the Fraud Squad in full effect and without any independent oversight, Tarrant County leaders have weaponized voter-fraud paranoia to suit the political aims of three of the most despicable public leaders our county has ever elected.

Arguably the most dangerous member of the three is our new county judge. O’Hare’s affiliations with elections meddling date back at least two years to the 2021 indictment of two Carrol school board members. Todd Carlton and Michelle Moore remain under bogus Class B misdemeanor charges for allegedly violating a law never prosecuted in Tarrant County until O’Hare took an interest in stirring up wild nonsense about Critical Race Theory to further his political ambitions. Citing text messages sent outside board meetings as the criminal offense, DA Sharen Wilson, a tireless supporter of O’Hare, charged Carlton and Moore with violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.

O’Hare capitalized on the Southlake indictments in his successful bid to defeat his Republican primary challenger, former Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price. O’Hare hired right-wing propagandists Axiom Strategies to falsely portray Price as an Antifa-loving Marxist abortionist. O’Hare’s lies won him the Republican nomination, but he isn’t done spreading misinformation as a means of serving his personal and political ends. Just wait.

Anyone who wishes to report election meddling by the Fraud Squad or other right-wing asshats can call the Elections Integrity Task Force at 817-884-1213.

 

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. He will gently edit it for concision and clarity.

 

This story is part of City in Crisis, an ongoing series of reports on unethical behavior and worse by local public leaders, featuring original reporting.

1 COMMENT

  1. Isn’t this a slap in the fact to those election officials, and specifically those election workers?
    Election workers work their tails off, without adequate compensation, to assure the elections are fair and square. Hats off to the election workers. Shame on those who insult their work.

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