Shouts punctuated an otherwise quiet Friday morning in downtown Fort Worth, as protesters from Tarrant 4 Change decried campaign contributions they said perpetuated antisemitism in the county. 

The protesters held signs and chanted in unison across the street from the main target of their chants — County Judge Tim O’Hare’s — office. 

“You know what they call people that take Nazi money?” Alex Montalvo, an organizer with Tarrant 4 Change, asked those gathered.

“Nazis!” came the resounding response. 

O’Hare is one of 12 Tarrant County officials or candidates who have accepted campaign contributions from the Defend Texas Liberty PAC since its inception in 2020. Those contributions have become contentious after reporting by the Texas Tribune revealed the PAC’s leader hosted white supremacist Nick Fuentes for several hours at an office in the county. 

Fuentes began to gain public notoriety in the wake of the “Unite the Right” rally, where various hate groups and neo-Nazis met in Charlottesville, Virginia. A counterprotester was murdered at the rally on Aug. 12, 2017, and many others were injured. 

He has called for a “holy war” against Jewish people, publicly questioned whether the Holocaust happened and pushed conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election being stolen — at one point asking, “What can you and I do to state legislators besides kill them?”

Of those who received money from Defend Texas Liberty to run in Tarrant County races, O’Hare received the most, at $87,500. 

When reached by the Fort Worth Report about the PAC’s donations to his 2022 campaign, O’Hare sent a written statement, where he said that before last week, he had never heard of Fuentes. No one from the county judge’s office would ever meet with him, he said, nor is he sure why anyone else would.

“There is no place for antisemitism anywhere in America, and certainly not within the Republican Party,” he said. “I fully support Israel and its right to defend itself and its citizens after the most recent heinous attacks. The images we see coming from Israel are beyond appalling.”

He did not answer specific questions about whether he would return the donations, or whether he would accept future support from the PAC.

Andy Nguyen, a former Precinct 2 commissioner candidate who is now O’Hare’s chief of staff, received $51,000 from the PAC. Matt Krause, a former criminal district attorney candidate who is now running for Precinct 3 commissioner, received $27,500. 

Neither Nguyen or Krause responded to requests for comment. 

Defend Texas Liberty also reported giving $5,000 to Sheriff Bill Waybourn’s campaign in 2020. That donation is not listed on Waybourn’s campaign finance filings. 

In a text message, Waybourn said he had no idea who Fuentes was before the PAC’s meeting. 

“In my entire career I stood against all racism in any form,” he said. “I also firmly stand with Israel. I would never meet knowingly with any racist.”

He did not answer specific questions about whether he would give up the donations, or whether he would accept future support from the PAC.

Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Wendy Burgess received $1,000 in campaign contributions from Defend Texas Liberty and reported additional unsolicited support from the PAC. She did not respond to a request for comment. Former constable candidate David Woodruff received $1,000 from the PAC in 2020.

Five current Tarrant County judges received money from Defend Texas Liberty: Eric Starnes, Brooke Allen, Brad Clark and Mary Tom Curnutt received $500 each, and Randi Hartin received $1,000. Matt Hayes, a former justice of the peace candidate who lost in 2022, also received $500. 

Montalvo, the Tarrant 4 Change organizer, said he’s disappointed that there haven’t been any public statements from local elected officials disavowing Defend Texas Liberty. 

“And then the fact that there’s been multiple Nazi sightings here in Fort Worth,” he said, referencing a group of neo-Nazis who dined at a local Torchy’s Tacos. “I think there’s a very easy, clear line we’re trying to establish for everyone: Nazis not welcome.”

It’s hard to say how the fallout from Defend Texas Liberty’s meeting with Fuentes will impact Tarrant County Republican politics long term, political strategist Jeremy Bradford said. Bradford is the former executive director of the Tarrant County Republican Party and consulted on Clark’s 2022 campaign.

“Looking forward, I think people will be reluctant to accept funds from the organization, but as far as giving it back [from last cycle] … I don’t know that that’s going to happen or should happen, frankly,” he said.

Local candidates accepted money from Defend Texas Liberty before the meeting with Fuentes, he said, and they had no way of knowing what was coming. 

“Candidates are not sitting there scrutinizing every penny that comes into their campaign saying, ‘Oh, we can’t take that. It’s going to be tainted in two years,” he said. 

Whether to give up PAC funds has already split the North Texas Republican delegation and state leaders. 

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has called on Republicans to donate money from Defend Texas Liberty to other causes and disavow the PAC, while Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the meeting was a mistake but will not give back any of the money he’s received from the PAC. 

For its part, Defend Texas Liberty released a two sentence statement: “We reject Speaker Phelan’s effort to combine Defend Texas Liberty PAC with Nick Fuentes. We oppose Mr. Fuentes’ incendiary views.”

The PAC is funded almost entirely by Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, West Texas billionaires who have given millions of dollars to far-right Republican candidates and groups in the past decade. 

Voters often aren’t in the know about PACs and candidate funding, Bradford said. As a result, the issue may end up having little effect on the local 2024 races. 

“I think a lot of it is inside baseball,” he said. 

But that doesn’t preclude candidates from making their opponents’ prior acceptance of Defend Texas Liberty funds into a campaign issue. The success of such a strategy is up in the air, he said. 

“If somebody accepts funds from them going forward, I think it’s much more tainted than if they took funds from them a few years ago,” he said.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Round Rock, Texas, she spent several years at the University of Missouri-Columbia majoring in investigative...