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Texas Republicans are fighting about whether it’s OK to associate with white supremacists Tesnim Zekeria

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White supremacist Nick Fuentes in 2017 (Photo by Christopher Evans via Getty Images)

Last week, Jonathan Stickland — president of the far-right Defend Texas Liberty PAC and a former state representative — met with notorious white supremacist Nick Fuentes and other right-wing extremists. The meeting, first reported by the Texas Tribune, lasted “for several hours” at the headquarters of Pale Horse Strategies, a political consulting group owned by Stickland. 

Fuentes’ views have been long documented. The provocateur describes himself as “just like Hitler.” An outspoken holocaust denier, Fuentes has claimed that the number of Jewish victims killed by Nazi Germany “doesn’t add up” and compared the killings to baking cookies. He has also called for “the military to be sent into Black neighborhoods,” defended Jim Crow segregation, and said that he’s seeking a “total Aryan victory.” He believes women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, and regularly espouses anti-LGBTQ and sexist views.

But in the aftermath of the meeting, “extraordinary criticism and infighting” has erupted among the Texas GOP over the meeting with Fuentes. The turmoil was triggered after Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan criticized Strickland for hosting a “Hitler Apologist” while Israel is at war. 

“This [is] not just a casual misstep,” Phelan said in a statement on October 9. “It’s indicative of the moral, political rot that has been festering in a certain segment of our party for far too long. Anti-Semitism, bigotry and Hitler apologists should find no sanctuary in the Republican Party. Period. We cannot – and must not – tolerate the tacit endorsement of such vile ideologies.”

Phelan also called on elected officials who received money from Defend Texas Liberty “to immediately redirect every single cent of those contributions to a charitable organization” and “to state unequivocally that they will not accept further contributions” from the PAC. In his statement, the House Speaker specifically highlighted Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick who has received $3 million from Defend Texas Liberty. “I expect him to lead the way in redirecting these funds,” Phelan wrote. Sixty members of the House Republican Caucus – roughly two-thirds of the chamber – also published a letter criticizing the meeting as “profoundly disturbing” and “echo[ing] Speaker Phelan’s call” to redirect funds. 

Patrick, in response, issued a statement condemning Fuentes and “his antisemitic rhetoric.” But, in the same statement, he also accuses Phelan of invoking the situation in Israel for his “own political purposes.”

“For anyone to try to use these invectives for their own political gain is below contempt,” Patrick said. “I am calling on Dade Phelan to resign his position before the House gavels in this afternoon.” Other hard-right Republicans have since called for Phelan’s resignation, including Attorney General Ken Paxton. Phelan recently pushed the Texas House to impeach Paxton for corruption. 

Notably, Patrick does not mention Defend Texas Liberty in his statement. Created in 2020, Defend Texas Liberty is primarily funded by conservative Texas billionaires, brothers Dan and Farris Wilks, and Tim Dunn. The PAC is part of a robust network of conservative organizations that have received “nearly $100 million” from Dunn and the Wilks brothers over the last two decades. The Wilks brothers, for example, are among the biggest benefactors of PragerU and provided the initial funding for The Daily Wire. 

The PAC, which is run by Stickland, says that it stands “with grassroots conservatives.” For the 2022 election cycle, Defend Texas Liberty spent $5.2 million on far-right candidates to unseat incumbent Republican House members and Texas Governor Greg Abbott because they were “insufficiently conservative.” These efforts, however, were unsuccessful — all 19 of the house candidates it backed lost, and Abbott easily won reelection. Meanwhile, State Representative Bryan Slaton (R), one of the largest recipients of the PAC’s money, was expelled earlier this year “for plying a 19-year-old staffer with alcohol and having sex with her.”

The PAC is also “one of Paxton’s largest campaign financiers.” During Paxton’s impeachment trial, the group “paid for campaign mailers, television ads, and text messages to try to sway senators.” It also “threatened to target pro-impeachment Republicans in next year’s primary elections.” Defend Texas Liberty’s large contributions to Patrick came just before he presided over Paxton’s Senate impeachment trial.

The Texas GOP has also received donations from Defend Texas Liberty. According to the Texas Tribune, Matt Rinaldi, the chair of the party, was seen entering the Pale Horse Strategies building while Fuentes was there. Rinaldi told the news outlet that he “completely condemn[s] that guy” and “would never in a million years meet with that guy.” But Rinaldi is an associate of Stickland – the two sat on the board of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, an advocacy founded by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a high-profile “conservative activist,” the Houston Chronicle reports. Rinaldi has also “used his authority to throw the Republican Party of Texas behind Paxton and against the 60 out of 85 Republican representatives who held Paxton accountable,” 

In a short statement, the PAC told the Tribune that it opposes Fuentes’ “incendiary views” and “reject[s] Speaker Phelan’s effort to combine Defend Texas Liberty PAC with Nick Fuentes.” But it did not explain why the group spent hours meeting with Fuentes. 

Popular Information contacted recipients of Defend Texas Liberty’s campaign contributions since 2022. 

Most Texas Republicans are keeping the money

Popular Information contacted 45 campaigns that received donations from Defend Texas Liberty PAC since 2022 and asked if they would be returning the money or donating it to other causes.

Texas State Representative Stan Kitzman (R) sent Popular Information a statement promising to “redirect the $5,000 contribution from Defend Texas Liberty to support causes that resonate with my personal values as a Christian and as a representative of House District 85.” These donations include “$1,000 each to AIPAC, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Christians Engaged, Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center of Texas A&M, and the Texas DPS Officers Association.” 

The statement condemned Defend Texas Liberty’s association with Fuentes, saying that, “Fuentes’ views stand in stark contrast to conservative values, and it is imperative that any serious conservative disavow such associations… While I have no intention of labeling the members of Defend Texas Liberty as antisemites or racists, their decision to engage with someone like Nick Fuentes is a step too far.” Kitzman was the only House Republican who signed the letter denouncing Defend Texas Liberty who also had previously received money from the organization.

David Lowe (R), who is running for Texas State Representative District 91 after losing the Republican primary runoff for the same seat in 2022, sent Popular Information a statement from his campaign manager James Scott Trimm and his wife Ingrid Kitty Trimm, who are both Jewish, defending Stickland. “I am proud to say that Jonathan Stickland is a friend of many years… Anyone who suggests that Jonathan Stickland is antisemitic, clearly does not know the man.  I am personally offended at Speaker Dade Phelan’s disingenuous efforts to exploit the recent horrific attack on Israel by Hamas,” the statement reads. “We absolutely denounce Nick Fuentes without reservation.”

According to the letter from Ingrid Kitty Trimm, Stickland told her he “did not know much about Fuentes” and “met with Fuentes for about 15 minutes out of courtesy.” Lowe’s statement did not indicate that he planned to return any money from Defend Texas Liberty.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Lowe was among the candidates to receive the most funding from Defend Texas Liberty PAC during one reporting period in 2022. According to the report, Lowe received “nearly $171,000” from the PAC.  

The other campaigns that received money from Defend Texas Liberty did not respond to Popular Information’s request for comment. The sitting Texas House members that received the most money from Defend Texas Liberty since 2022 include Tony Tinderholt (R) ($119,000), Nate Schatzline (R) ($26,000), and Brian Harrison (R) ($22,500). 

Prominent Republicans can’t stay away from Nick Fuentes

Despite his repugnant views, several prominent Republicans outside of Texas have chosen to associate themselves with Fuentes. In February 2022, two members of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), addressed Fuentes’ white nationalist convention, the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC). Gosar addressed the conference by video while Greene appeared in person and was introduced by Fuentes. (Gosar addressed AFPAC in person in 2021.)

Greene initially claimed that she does “not know Nick Fuentes,” had “never heard him speak,” and was unfamiliar with “his views.” But AFPAC was created because Fuentes was banned from the larger Conservative Political Action Conference. Greene appeared familiar with the group’s origins, addressing the AFPAC crowd as “canceled Americans.” Later, Greene reversed course, saying that she decided that she was not going “turn down the opportunity to speak to 1,200 young America First patriots because of a few off-color remarks.” (She also described the group as “1,200 people gathered to declare that Christ is King.”) She criticized the “establishment” for deciding to “cancel” AFPAC. 

In November 2022, Fuentes dined with former President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Trump claimed he knew “nothing about” Fuentes prior to the dinner. Fuentes is active on Trump’s social network, Truth Social. After the dinner, however, Trump “repeatedly refused to disavow the outspoken antisemite and white supremacist… over fears he might alienate a section of his base,” the Guardian reported

 

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Your Constitutional Right To Zyn Kiran Sampath

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Photo illustration by The Free Press

According to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, they are a “sinister new threat to the health of young Americans.” Vox says they explain “the new ethos of conservative young men.” Business Insider frets that its users belong to “a subculture on the right that doesn’t just tolerate nicotine use, but venerates it.” 

A new front has opened up in the culture war, and the fight is over inch-long nicotine pouches called Zyns. The product was developed as a cleaner, healthier alternative to “Snus”—moist tobacco pouches tucked inside the gums. Zyn pouches offer all the nicotine without the sticky mess. In other words, Zyns are to Snus what Juuls are to cigarettes—and the latest wave in the push for ever more refined, automatic, and hassle-free nicotine delivery.

And they are popular. Nicotine pouches debuted in the U.S. in 2016 and sales grew by over 540 percent between August 2019 to March 2022. Brands like On! and Velo have played their part, but Zyn, the brand born in Sweden in 2014 and acquired by the tobacco behemoth Philip Morris in 2022, commands 75 percent of the market share as of 2023.

“Part of the appeal is the name.” says Wilson Nesbit, an economics student at Yale University. “It’s short. It’s sweet. And you can put it in a lot of words.” 

In other words, it’s memeable. “Monica Lezynsky,” Nesbit offers. “Zyn-Manuel Miranda. Qui-Gon Zyn.”

Nesbit lives on Lynwood Place, a small street just off Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut. Lynwood is home to two churches, three fraternities, two secret societies, one Chabad house, and a boatload of nicotine. Hence the block’s new nickname, Zynwood. 

“It’s been known as Zynwood for two years,” says Nesbit, who lives with six boys in a house on the street. “The guys who lived here before us had a tent with the Zyn brand stamped across it.” More recently, he underwent an artistic project to solidify the community’s identity, collecting the empty Zyn tins from throughout the neighborhood—277 of them—and spelling out ZYNWOOD on the wall of their living room. 

The Zynwood sign. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Nesbit)

But Zyns aren’t just for college kids. Twentysomethings in corporate jobs now see them as a sophisticated way to get a nicotine hit.

“Vapes are unprofessional,” Andrew Schuler, a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, former vaper, and Zyn user, tells me. “We need nicotine to cope with our jobs because they are extremely stressful,” says Schuler, who goes through three to four pouches a day. “But you’re not going to rip a clunky-looking, purple-colored vape at your desk.”

It’s also about optimization, he said. “Smoking a cigarette requires a break.”

“The guy who used to work at the desk next to me used to take meetings with a Zyn in his cheek,” says one friend, a former Goldman Sachs banker. 

For some, nicotine delivered via Zyns isn’t a nasty addiction, but something of a macho life hack. Arch-techbro Peter Thiel claims nicotine raises your IQ 10 points, while Tucker Carlson (Carlzyn?) proclaimed on Theo Von’s podcast, “Zyn is a powerful work enhancer” as well as “a man enhancer.” (Last December, the Nelk Boys podcasters gifted Carlson the world’s largest Zyn, delivered via helicopter.) But it isn’t neccessarily just right-wingers who use Zyn: a recent picture of Squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed a Zyn pack-shaped bulge in her white jeans. 

Tucker Carl-zyn with the world’s largest Zyn, and a regular-sized packet for scale. (Image via X)

In January, Chuck Schumer called for a crackdown on Zyns. “Amid federal action against e-cigs and their grip on young people, a quiet and dangerous alternative has emerged and it is called Zyn,” Schumer said, warning that Zyns “lock their sights on teens and use social media to hook them.”

As part of his crackdown, Schumer wants to investigate how Phillip Morris has marketed Zyn, and whether the firm has targeted minors. In 2023, Juul agreed to pay $462 million to settle lawsuits into the marketing of vaping products to children. But, rather than investing in social media influencers or extensive advertising campaigns, Zyn has relied on organic viral traction in the U.S. 

A spokesman for Zyn says the company’s marketing practices “are focused on preventing underage access and set the benchmark for the industry.” 

But even Nesbit says Schumer is right to worry about young people getting hooked on the pouch. “It’s an easy introduction for youths that haven’t used nicotine,” he told me over the phone from Zynwood. “Mitigating youth usage should be a top priority, but finding the right approach is another story.” 

Others see ingesting Zyns as a constitutional right, and Schumer as an enemy of freedom. As Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene recently exclaimed on X about his crackdown : “This calls for a Zynsurrection!”

Kiran Sampath is a researcher and reporter. Read her last piece about the temple in New Jersey that took 12 years and $96 million to build.

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South Korea Is Running Out of Kids. Is This America’s Future? Anna Louie Sussman

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In January, more than 150 schools in South Korea had no new first graders. (Photo by Busà Photography via Getty Images)

If you’ve been on TikTok in the last few weeks, you might have seen that American women are talking about 4B. The South Korean feminist movement gets its name from the “Four Nos” its adherents commit to: no dating, no sex, no marriage, no childbirth. In short, 4B, which began around 2019, encourages women to actively avoid men as much as possible. That it’s now trending in the U.S. raises an uncomfortable question: Are our gender politics starting to look like Korea’s? And if so, will the demographic consequences be as extreme?

Right now, South Korea is running out of kids. Last week, it was reported that the Education Ministry plans to reduce the number of teacher training places, citing the precipitous decline in students, which is so extreme that in January of this year more than 150 schools across the nation had no new first graders. Six years ago, the average number of children a South Korean woman had in her lifetime was 0.92, a figure rarely seen outside wartime; since then, it’s fallen all the way to 0.78, with a projection of 0.65 in 2025. In Seoul, the capital, it’s already at 0.59

When I visited Seoul in 2022 to report on why Koreans aren’t having babies, I often found myself wondering: Could this happen in America? Our nation’s fertility, though significantly below the replacement rate of 2.1, is currently higher, at 1.8. But, in the course of dozens of conversations with Koreans of reproductive age, I heard more extreme versions of sentiments I’d started to observe at home. 

Today, Americans who want a good old-fashioned heterosexual relationship struggle to find someone who shares their values. Analysis has shown a gigantic mismatch in the nation’s dating pool: for each single liberal woman, there exist 0.6 single liberal young men. Conservative young men have it even worse, with just 0.5 single conservative young women available to choose from. At the end of last year, the pollster Dan Cox found that this divide is particularly intense among American members of Gen Z, whose oldest members are now 27, the average age of a first-time mother in 2022. 

In Gen Z, Cox showed, women and men are much further apart on fundamental questions of gender equality than the generation before them: whereas 52 percent of millennial men say they’re feminists, compared to 54 percent of women, the equivalent figures for Gen Z are 43 percent and 61 percent. In 2019, a third of adult men under 30 said they face discrimination based on their sex; only five years later, that number has increased to almost half.

Recent data suggest this gender divide is global—and growing. In January, a Financial Times report showed the wide, and widening, divergence in political values between young women and men. This is true in South Korea and the U.S. but also in China, Germany, and the UK.

Americans haven’t given up on having a family to the extent that South Koreans have. In 2023, about 35 percent of Koreans said they don’t think having children after marriage is necessary, a figure that rose to more than 57 percent among 19- to 24-year-olds. By contrast, a recent Gallup poll found that the vast majority of Americans under 30 “either already have children (21 percent) or hope to someday (63 percent).” 

But young American women haven’t just been making TikToks about 4B out of curiosity—an increasing number are genuinely swearing off male partners, with the hashtag #celibacyjourney racking up tens of millions of views. A New York Times op-ed published in February described going “boysober” as “this year’s hottest mental health craze.” Meanwhile, men who identify as “involuntarily celibate” are retreating to online echo chambers that, one 2022 study suggested, now harbor eight times as many instances of degrading language toward women than they did in 2016. In the twelve months after December 2022, self-described misogynist Andrew Tate’s following on X increased from 3 million to 8.5 million.

Conservative politicians across the globe are capitalizing on these divides. Not long before I arrived in Korea, the president Yoon Suk-yeol had coasted into office in May 2022 on a wave of anti-feminist campaign promises, in what multiple observers described as an “incel election.” For the first time, young men describing themselves as anti-feminist were seen as an influential voting bloc, with Yoon promising to abolish the nation’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. (He has not yet succeeded.)

In the U.S., the Republicans also appear to be aggressively courting the male vote. Since the fall of Roe, the Republican Party has become actively hostile to women’s reproductive rights, pushing female voters left. And some of the party’s most influential members are now stoking a war between men and women.

In a breathtakingly offensive comment last January, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz called for the Republican Party to all but forget about female voters, saying that “For every Karen we lose, there’s a Julio and a Jamal ready to sign up for the MAGA movement.” Fox News host Jesse Watters has been even more explicit in singling out liberal single women as the GOP’s nemesis, alighting, somehow, on matrimony as an electoral strategy. 

“Single women are breaking for Democrats by 30 points,” he said after the 2022 midterms. “We need these ladies to get married,” he warned, following up with an order: “Guys, go put a ring on it.” 

And yet a recent poll found that 40 percent of Republicans said they don’t believe marital rape should definitely or probably be prosecuted, suggesting the party’s not overflowing with eligible bachelors. 

All signs point to an ever-widening rift between the sexes. And if women and men become sworn enemies, America is going to start running out of kids, too.

Anna Louie Sussman is a journalist covering gender, economics, and reproduction. She is a 2024 Alicia Patterson Fellow

For more on America’s gender divide, read Rikki Schlott’s piece, “When It Comes to Sex, My Generation Is Screwed,” and become a Free Press subscriber today:

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April 15, 2024 Garamond

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