Harrison County GOP Chair Lee Lester found himself in the nationwide spotlight Friday after sharing a controversial post regarding the death of George Floyd on Facebook.
The post, which originally went live May 31 according to its time and date stamp in the Harrison County GOP Facebook group, shares a conspiracy theory regarding Floyd’s death being a “staged event,” apparently to gin up opposition to President Donald Trump. Floyd, a black Minnesota man, died last week after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“These comments are disgusting and have no place in the Republican Party or in public discourse,” Governor Greg Abbott’s spokesman John Wittman said in a statement.
“Food for thought: Copied from a post by a retired TX Ranger and ex-Sheriff: This article was sent to me by a state police investigator. I thought I would share it with you for your consideration,” the header states, posted by Lester.
Lester clarified that the post was not his words but rather that he just shared it to get people to think for themselves.
The top of the Facebook post was edited on Friday to state that Lester did not believe all of “this.”
“What my intentions are is to say that I wasn’t there to witness any of this to be able to say what happened. I do believe we need to discuss the protocol of our police, but I know that they can now make movies to show anything. The officers have been charged. We have a Judicial system to get the facts. Let’s see what that system comes up with before we decide what we believe,” the post now states.
Republican leaders in multiple counties have recently shared controversial Facebook posts, including the chairs in Bexar (San Antonio) and Nueces (Corpus Christi) counties who shared the same conspiracy theory text as Lester. Both the Bexar and Nueces county chairs have been asked to resign by Abbott.
Lester stated that he has not received any calls from Gov. Abbott, however, he had spoke to State GOP Chair James Dickey. Lester declined to discuss the details of that conversation. He stated he had no plans to resign at this time.
“People are not to be tried in the media in the United States,” he said. “Why don’t we try to unify people? We should all be simply classified as Americans.”
Another post called into question was from GOP chairman-elect in Harris County, Keith Nielsen, who posted an image on Facebook earlier this week that showed a Martin Luther King Jr. quote — “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” — on a background with a banana. The juxtaposition of the quote and the banana can be read as an allusion to equating black people with monkeys, a well-worn racist trope. Nielsen appears to have deleted the post and apparently addressed it on his Facebook page Thursday evening.
“It is unfortunate that the sentiment of the quote and my admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been overshadowed by people’s misinterpretation of an image,” Nielsen wrote, calling for “racial reconciliation” in America. “My hope is I will continue to be part of the solution and never part of the problem.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Houston Republican, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune that “Nielsen has no place in our party. Not now. Not ever” — and called his post “a sad reminder that such blatant ignorance and bigotry still exists.”
Another post from Sue Piner, chair of the Comal County GOP, was shared and included an image of liberal billionaire George Soros and text that said, “I pay white cops to murder black people. And then I pay black people to riot because race wars keep the sheep in line.” The unfounded Soros conspiracy theory is among many that have spread online as Americans have protested policy brutality.
The Texas Tribune contributed to this story.