As the Year Draws to a Close, Let’s Look at 11 Awful People From Dallas And The Surrounding Areas Who Wrecked 2016 For The Rest Of Us.
Well, here we are in the final month of a year marked by celebrity deaths, constant outrage and political chaos.
As the nation seems to be descending into anomie, it’s prudent, we’d say, to take a moment and remember that widespread calamities tend to have a cause. Sure, some tragedies are the result of natural disasters and the cruel design of fate more generally. But other times, bad things happen because some asshats are up to no good.
We here at Central Track take a dim view of asshats, and we’ve come to realize that, unfortunately, there’s no shortage of them here in DFW.
Sure, there’s a lot to love about our city. You can glimpse our creative and diverse spirit in our day-to-day coverage here or by, say, watching the video “A City is a Poem” if you need a reminder that Dallas is full of talented artists. It also bears repeating that we’ve got no shortage of terrific beer or killer barbecue. And there’s no denying that the Dallas Cowboys are currently living up to even the loftiest of our expectations.
But we also can’t ignore that some of what made 2016 suck happened thanks to some slimy asshats with ties to the area. And, here in this space, we’d like to publicly shame some of these turds by including them in a list of Dallas’ biggest asshats of the year.
Candidates for this distinction were judged against a pretty simple criteria: Are they awful? Did they do something – or several things – that can bring shame to our area? Are they (or their actions) likely to continue making things worse for us? That final point is important, because any year-end reflection worth its salt should implicitly gaze into the future at least somewhat, and if one of these jerks we’re calling out here drops another fetid dollop of misery on us in 2017, you can remember this list and how we tried to warn you.
For the record, the people below are presented in no particular order, because none of these asshats deserve to think of themselves as the “best” of anything.
Attorney General Ken Paxton
Austin residents Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant were desperate to be wed after Goodfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and the prospect of waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality was too much to bear. Their marriage was granted thanks to a decision by state District Judge David Wahlberg to offer a special exception to the standing law.
But then our state Attorney General — the McKinney-based Ken Paxton — stepped in with a legal challenge to the union a day after they received their marriage license.
In April of this year, the Texas Supreme Court finally squashed Paxton’s efforts to nullify the very first same-sex marriage to take place in Texas. But that doesn’t absolve this nimrod’s actions. Remember: He also tried to interfere with the state’s recognition of gay marriage after these unions were legalized nationwide.
There’s something truly monstrous about his willingness to target a specific couple, and his indifference to Goodfriend’s dire medical situation is all the more galling.
Was Paxton’s fervid attack on a couple’s union — he kept the case going long after marriage equality was secured on a national level — an expression of his absolute devotion to the rule of law? Well, the guy’s facing a fraud trial soon, so that seems unlikely.
Speaking of that fraud trial, which concerns his dealings with McKinney-based Severgy, Inc.: He received a $100,000 donation from the head of a company being investigated by his office to help him fund his legal battles.
How can Paxton be so comfortable bending (and allegedly breaking) rules to line his pockets, and yet so dogmatic about an exceptional request that was made so a couple facing an existential medical crisis — and that had been together for 30 years! — could receive a marriage license? Here’s my theory: He’s just an awful, awful motherfucker.
SMU’s Racist Pamphleteer(s)
At some point during the weekend after the presidential election, someone at SMU (or, at the least, someone who had access to SMU’s campus) put up copies of a virulently racist flier that used bogus statistics and fear-mongering to warn white women against dating black men. The fliers bore the watermark of the Alt-Right, a somewhat loose gathering of extremists who rally behind ideas like white nationalism, which… huh, it looks like “white nationalism” is pretty much just racism, guys! How racist? Racist enough to have your group put its watermark on a racist flier that tries to scare white women out of interracial dating. (By the way, one of the leaders of the Alt-Right movement, Richard Spencer, also has ties to Dallas. Spoiler alert: You’ll definitely see him later on in this list.)
No individuals have come forward to admit to placing fliers — because of course they haven’t. Is there anything more quintessentially 2016 than toxic hate speech from someone who’s too scared to do own up to their sad little worldview?
Beth Van Duyne
Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne had some of her most visible moments in 2015, a year when her city became a focal point for the worrying spread of Islamophobia through the nation. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it might be Ahmed Mohamed’s clock saga that sticks out in your memory. But that ugly farce didn’t happen in isolation.
In February of 2015, Van Duyne offered a stern response on Facebook to reports of an Irving mosque establishing a “court” that used Sharia law to settle disputes. The baseless stories that garnered her attention were trying to spark outrage about an informal tribunal held at the mosque — something other communities of faith also tend to provide. Those reports of Sharia law “courts” wound up being so bogus that the Houston Chronicle later named them the Texas hoax of the year. It was competing against the Jade Helm rumors, so that’s a pretty impressive win!
You might assume an elected official who took a hard stance against a fake news story would wind up being a laughingstock, but Van Duyne’s managed to ride a wave of support from other people who let anti-Muslim biases cloud their basic judgment. She asked the Irving city council to endorse a bill that blocked family law cases from using “foreign laws” that would violate our own rules, a bill that observers saw as having an anti-Muslim bent. In turn, Irving residents were beginning to antagonize Muslims within the community. Once Mohamed’s arrest happened in September 2015, the national public took a longer look at Irving, and saw a town that seemed to be overrun by bias.
Wait, so why would all this stuff from 2015 qualify Van Duyne for our list in 2016? Because she’s still using her “tough on Muslims” schtick to build political support. Check out these area Tea Party meeting minutes, which show Van Duyne giving a speech September of this year about local mosques, “controlling the rise” of sharia courts in Irving, and her dealings with Mohamed, who they simply referred to as “the clock boy.” (See the video here!)
Getting sucked into the orbit of a roundly debunked story has been a big boon to her political career. That’s probably fortunate for her, considering how turbulent her time in office had been before this took place. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was so critical of her efforts during Irving’s messy attempt to build an entertainment center in the city that it may have influenced his decision to move the team’s headquarters from Irving to Frisco. I get wanting to have anything on your record to distract from something that embarrassing, but it doesn’t justify stoking the fires of Islamophobia. Unfortunately, those meeting minutes suggest she’s continuing to follow that gnarly path, and will do so as long as it benefits her political ambitions.
The July 7 protest march in Dallas, one of several held in American cities that day, was organized in response to the widely condemned killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philandro Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, by police officers. Specifically, the protests were focused on a decrease in police brutality nationwide.
And, to its credit, the Dallas Police Department had already made deescalation a priority in its interactions with citizens years earlier. In 2009, there were 149 recorded complaints of excessive force by officers; in 2015, the total was 13. In spite of the politically charged topic being addressed by the gathering, social media accounts during the day’s rally quickly filled up with images of DPD members and protesters treating each other with respect, even warmth.
Micah Johnson changed all that in an instant.
In his deranged assault that evening, Johnson killed five officers in the deadliest attack on American law enforcement since September 11.
Johnson’s fury had roots in real injustices, but there is no defense for his crimes. During his assault on police, he killed officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens and Michael Smith. And, based on the array of deadly weapons found when they searched his home, he had planned to unleash even greater havoc on the community, specifically on police officers.
On that fateful night, Johnson did irreparable damage to the community. July 7 will forever be remembered as one of the bloodiest and ugliest days in Dallas’ history.
In the wake of that date, Dallasites came together to express unity rather beautifully, and peaceful protests of other injustices have continued. But future efforts at such community gatherings will seemingly forever be burdened with the fear Johnson instilled in us with his rampage.
Ray Hunt isn’t the outsized figure that his father HL Hunt was. The elder Hunt was a furious McCarthyite, and his opposition to John F. Kennedy, civil rights, Catholicism and Judaism influenced perceptions of our city, and helped us earn the unfortunate “City of Hate” nickname.
HL Hunt found a way to leave philandering off the list of grievous sins, though. He seemed to be comfortable with his own dalliances, at least, and ultimately sired 15 children with three different women. Which makes it amusing that Ray Hunt got on our radar this year because he took a stand against the Exxxotica convention, which was set to return to Dallas earlier this year. Hunt sent a letter to City Hall denouncing the convention, and urging them to block it from using the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Center. In the face of potential First Amendment lawsuits Dallas looked poised to lose, the city decided to share Hunt’s position and revoked Exxxotica’s planned return.
Hunt’s use of his influence to bar the Exxxotica Expo has had an unfortunate ripple effect. The city won an early favorable ruling, but there will be a court date over the blockade against the trade show — one that we’re paying for even in the midst of a looming pension crisis. Because our own city attorneys advised against taking on the case, we’ve spent considerable extra money to hire lawyers Tom Brandt and Scott Bergthold just to handle it.
Even putting aside the costs and the embarrassment that our fight with Exxxotica has brought about, it’s hard to feel at ease when you see a billionaire impose his views on city officials. Hunt’s largely avoided being his father’s son, and he’s made beneficial contributions to Dallas — among them Reunion Tower, an indelible part of our skyline. But this willingness to tamper with city businesses is suspiciously in line with how his old man liked to operate.
As I’m writing this, news is breaking that the Army Corps of Engineers has blocked the easement that would have allowed the Dakota Access Pipeline to pass through the area being defended by the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. It’s good news to the tribe, to the protesters on site, and the impressive number of supporters who encouraged the efforts to block the pipeline’s planned construction.
Your friends might be celebrating right now, but Kelcy Warren — yes, that Warren — probably isn’t so happy. That’s because Warren is the CEO of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access and the builders of the pipeline that would have put the Standing Rock Sioux reservation’s water supply in potential jeopardy while threatening recently discovered sacred sites and burial places.
This conflict struck several nerves with the public. It was a stinging reminder that, over the course of our national history, our treatment of Native Americans has been appalling; it showed state, local and private forces harming citizens – sometimes grievously – to support the interests of a business; and it served as yet another reminder that we can be dangerously cavalier about our environmental integrity.
The blocked easement might not be the end of this still-tense confrontation. President-elect Donald Trump has indicated he supports the pipeline, and he could take steps to have its construction approved again once he takes office. Warren has expressed confidence that this will happen, since Trump, turns out, is an investor in his company.
If the pipeline is forced back into being by the Trump administration, you can do what many people have done, and travel to Standing Rock to challenge it at the construction site. You could even try checking into Standing Rock on Facebook again. But you can also stay here, because we’re already in the backyard of the pipeline’s owners.
The People Behind the Police and Fire Pension Debacle
Perhaps you’ve read the recent news about a major metropolis – an important hub in a prosperous state – that’s facing bankruptcy? That city is, uh, us! Dallas is staring down the barrel of some financial nastiness, thanks to some long-gestating problems with our pension funds for the police and fire departments.
Our pension problems have been traced all the way back to the 1992 (although other sources place the date as 1993), when the trustees of the pension at that time approved the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), which encouraged people to stay in police and fire fighting jobs for longer by allowing them to collect a pension while they worked if they continued past retirement age. That pension would go into a special account that promised an 8 to 10 percent return on yields. This is where the trouble starts.
So, we had a sweet incentive for seasoned police officers and fire fighters to stay at their jobs for longer. That was good! But the return on yields was… well, “ambitious” is the polite way of putting it. The calculations used to support the returns were also, uh, ambitious. The “ambition” of the plan wound up being so significant that the plan’s actuarial firm, Buck Consultants, was compelled to speak out against it.
Part of what needed to happen to make DROP viable was the pension fund making a 9 percent return on its yearly investments. The pension trustees made investments in properties and land and across the globe, angling for big returns. Then it was discovered that they were spending considerable time and money traveling to those properties. They also took over development of Museum Tower, which has famously bedeviled the Arts District, and particularly the Nasher Sculpture Center, with the glare from its windows
Questions eventually arose over the real worth of the investments made by the board. An audit revealed that the investments were overvalued, and that the pension was in trouble. That spurred retirees to start withdrawing considerable money from the accounts, which has now led to Mayor Mike Rawlings filing a lawsuit against the Police and Fire Pension Board to stop those withdrawals from continuing.
So we’re going to fit the pension board who approved the DROP plan — and the pension trustees who made shaky investments (and went globetrotting to “check” on those investments) — into this spot on the list, but we’re leaving room to cram in more people, because this doesn’t look to be anywhere near resolved.
Our preconceptions about faith and politics took some serious bruising over the course of this election cycle. Under normal circumstances, the alignment of a prominent Christian leader and a Republican candidate would be unremarkable, to be frank. But that candidate being Donald Trump? That made Robert Jeffress’s enthusiastic support actually pretty remarkable!
Jeffress is the leader of prominent Dallas mega-church First Baptist Church. He was quick to lend his religious authority to the Trump campaign, which needed all the help it could get at times. He was stumping for Trump as early as last year, and worked doggedly to coerce other religious-minded people into joining the cause, despite the candidate’s apparent gross lack of religious credibility or conviction. Jeffress was also a steadfast ally for Trump when the Access Hollywood tape leaked (you might remember this as the “grab ’em by the pussy” moment of the election). He’s been so linked to Trump throughout the election that some of Dallas’ anti-Trump protestors found their way to First Baptist Church.
It’s hard not to feel a smack of hypocrisy when it comes to mega-churches generally – the idea that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven probably sounds hollow in the expansive glass structure that is First Baptist Church — but watching Jeffress shed his values like a coat on a warm day to encourage voters to support Trump doesn’t exactly help sell him as a man of conviction.
There is one curious upside to this: Jeffress, the preacher who once claimed that acceptance of gays would help welcome the Antichrist had to defend Trump’s disinterest in trying to reverse the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage. Watching Jeffress’s face as he processed the reality he had to support letting that law stand would have been fun.
Oak Lawn Attackers
It started in fall of 2015, but it carried over into this year as people have continued to be assaulted in Oak Lawn in a string of hate crimes against the LGBTQ community in the area. There were around 20 cases of assaults reported as of June, although that number could be higher, as some incidents may have gone unreported.
There were a couple of arrests made towards the end of last year, but the incidents unfortunately picked up again through the start of this year. The police presence was increased in Oak Lawn — in part thanks to a donation from Mark Cuban — and hopefully people there will start feeling safe again. We also hope that all attackers still at large will meet their legal, or at least their karmic, comeuppance in the nearest of near futures.
It’s worth noting, though, that this incident highlights Dallas’ sometimes-uneven relationship with the LGBTQ community. In 2007, the city was picked by TIME magazine as one of the country’s most gay-friendly cities, and even received a perfect score last year in regards to LGBTQ issues in an index created by the Human Rights Campaign and the Equality Federation. On the other hand, four Dallas-area colleges were flagged by Campus Pride as among the worst for LGBTQ students.
We can’t rest on our laurels when it comes to our commitment for real equality. The people preying on Oak Lawn residents are reprehensible. The lack of recent reported incidents is encouraging, but the fact that it happened at all is alarming.
Tomi Lahren’s profile has skyrocketed since she joined Glenn Beck’s Las Colinas-based The Blaze cable network. With her hire, the otherwise struggling brand gave the country its newest conservative mouthpiece, with her show’s Final Thoughts videos routinely generating staggering views in their online postings.
Unfortunately, the Dallas-dwelling Lahren is mostly just hurting our city’s reputation with her rabid ranting. She makes inflammatory and inane comments that grossly misrepresent the Black Lives Matter movement, not to mention pretty much anyone else who dares to acknowledge that America has an ugly tendency to treat blacks and other minorities unfairly. She also stumbles into accidental comedy gold, like when she used the Civil War as an example of how white people have helped black people (she seriously did this), or when she said “I’m a Millennial, I don’t like labels” during her interview on The Daily Show.
We haven’t been shy about referring to Lahren as “the worst.” She’s the avatar of white privilege, or possibly a pile of fake Facebook news stories that took human form.
And, yes, if you’re reading this, Tomi: We’re still down to do that interview with you that we requested.
Richard Spencer led a group of people in cries of “Hail Trump!” and performed the goddamn Nazi salute. That video stands as one of the most chilling moments of the year for America — and this year hasn’t lacked for chilling moments at all.
Hey, wanna guess where Richard Spencer was raised?
We’re sorry to say that the Alt-Right founder/trash person Spencer grew up in Dallas. But we’re happy to say that he left, and now resides in Montana. While he was here, he attended St. Mark’s School of Texas, and that association motivated the current headmaster, David Dini, to rebuke Spencer (although he didn’t call him out by name) in a letter to alumni. The members of his graduating class have been even more direct in their response, having set up a crowdfunding effort that directly attacks Spencer’s disgusting views.
There are few things in our political climate as odious and frightening as the racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic beliefs espoused by Spencer and other Alt-Right associates. He seems to happily crib from Nazi rhetoric and terminology, and appears to revel in the press and controversy his antics are generating.
There’s no way to overstate the grotesque effect that he, his views and his followers have had on our country. And yet, news coverage can still take a soft stance on these issues, letting Spencer and his allies evade the most damning and direct comparisons to Nazis and other hate groups, seemingly treating their insane positions as at least deserving of a cursory glance. That’s how we’ve found ourselves staring at seemingly unthinkable chryons, like the one used by CNN during a discussing of Spencer’s anti-Semitism, that pondered if Jews are people.
Online criticism has welled up recently over the way Spencer and others are given coverage that can read as sympathetic, or at least inexplicably gentle. More than a few articles have weirdly taken time to compliment the sartorial savvy and articulateness of these Alt-Right chumps, so let’s make one thing clear: We wouldn’t warm to Spencer and his ilk even if they ran around in perfectly tailored suits, possessed working jet packs and could speak six languages simultaneously. This effort at a Nazi revival is reprehensible, and the people behind it — like Spencer — are some irredeemably pathetic, vile asshats of the lowest form.