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Nueces County Extremist Group Is Imminent Threat To Democracy
District Attorney Mark Gonzalez made headlines for believing in fairness, now one GOP group is attacking him for it.
Mark Gonzalez made national news after being elected District Attorney in Nueces County in 2017 for his unique ideals. Gonzalez is a self-proclaimed “Mexican Biker lawyer with tattoos” who ran on restoring fairness in the legal system. He recognized the inequities in the justice system when he was arrested for a DUI at 19. Gonzalez didn’t have a lawyer and was sentenced fairly, but the white guy next to him in court, who could afford a private lawyer, got the same charge dismissed by the same judge. He vowed to become an attorney after that.
After becoming the District Attorney, he didn’t go after low-level theft or drug charges. Before Roe v. Wade was overturned, he proclaimed he wouldn’t go after abortion cases. And he made news again when he tried to withdraw a death warrant after he announced that the death penalty was unethical. Gonzalez is a man of principle. When I spoke with him this morning, he talked of fairness.
“Not everyone starts from the same point in life,” he told me. “Prosecuting low-level thefts and low-level drug cases isn’t fair and equitable. Sometimes one night in jail is enough to change a person’s life.”
The people in Nueces County loved him. So in 2020, when the county voted +3 points for Trump, they also voted to re-elect their Democratic DA.
But long after the national media has moved on and the novelty of the Mexican biker-lawyer has worn off, Mark Gonzalez faces an entirely new challenge. One that threatens the very fiber of our democracy.
County Citizens Defending Freedom—a dark money group and Christian Nationalist organization from Florida with deep ties to Michael Flynn has set up shop in Nueces County, and District Attorney Mark Gonzalez is their number one target.
On a Friday night in January, Gonzalez was headed home from work when he got a call from the local news station. A petition was filed to remove him from office. His first thoughts were, “Who did he wrong? Or was this related to a case of someone he sent to jail?”
It was none of those things. Instead, Colby Wiltse, a Nueces County resident and Texas state director for County Citizens Defending Freedom, filed the suit. Up until Wiltse filed the lawsuit, Gonzalez had never interacted with him, nor had he ever met him.
Among the complaints in the filing (which you can read here) include the number of cases Gonzalez’s office dismissed compared to the previous DA and his unwillingness to prosecute abortion cases or go after parents seeking gender-affirming care for minors.
Who are County Citizens Defending Freedom?
Their website claims to be an “organization that empowers and equips American citizens to defend their freedoms and liberties at the local level.” However, their activism work shows they have much more sinister intentions.
County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF) was an organization in Florida in 2021. Jimmy Nelson or Sean and Hannah Petersen are frequent guests on far-right media outlets, NewsMax and OAN. Our friends at Public Enemy Number One, a Florida right-wing watchdog, have been exposing their ties to extremists since they began.
According to Texas dark-money and Christian Nationalist watchdog Chris Tackett: CCDF USA lists a number of “partner” organizations on its website. They are all part of the web of white Christian nationalist ideology, funded by billionaires, pushing this across the nation.
Turning Point USA
This group is full of white Christian nationalist ideology, coming after public schools and any duly elected Democrats. They are even running “training courses” to teach people how to target elected officials and run for office.
The state director, Colby Wiltse, is an engineer from Corpus Christi who has spent the last year touring local churches and giving speeches about “reinstating a Christian government, as the forefathers intended.”
The attorney for CCDF, who filed this case, is Jonathan Hullihan, an East Texas attorney who has spent the last few years trying to use the good ol’ boy system to push his way into the limelight. Hullihan ran for office in Texas’ 8th Congressional District last year but lost in the primary. He’s written op-eds about stopping Abbott’s imaginary invasion and jumped straight on Newsmax the second he filed this case against District Attorney Gonzalez.
When Gonzalez first got the call about this lawsuit, he thought it was a joke.
“I thought the allegations were all BS, and it wasn’t going to go anywhere,” he told me. But, little did he know that he would be used as a political pawn for another attorney’s ambitions.
In February, recently elected Republican County Attorney Jenny Dorsey signed on to the lawsuit, allowing it to go forward. When I asked Gonzalez if Dorsey had a personal vendetta against him, he responded that it wasn’t personal at all, and Dorsey even used to work for him. She signed on to the lawsuit because her husband, Chris Dorsey, was planning on running for District Attorney. KRIS 6 News confirmed this.
Jenny Dorsey also has ties on her publicly-facing Facebook with State Representative Todd Hunter and Nueces County Chair Barbie Baker.
The attempt to undermine democracy by removing a duly elected official is all being done at the hands of Republican extremists and GOP operatives with personal agendas.
After two other judges recused themselves from the case, the case was taken by retired Bexar County Senior Judge David Peeples. Peeples was once a Rick Perry appointee and built a reputation of non-political and fair.
While Peeples has already denied one motion to dismiss, the trial is slated for September 25, and Gonzalez says he “expects justices.”
This comes when we’re seeing Republicans take undemocratic actions all around the state.
Only yesterday, the Texas Education Agency completed its takeover of Houston ISD. The legislature passed several bills to disable Harris County’s government. And just today, Greg Abbott signed HB17 into law.
HB17 is the bill the GOP passed last month to “remove rogue DAs.” As we heard this bill go through both the House and the Senate, it was clear that Republicans’ intent was to remove District Attorneys who refused to prosecute women who had abortions or parents who obtained gender-affirming care for their children. Ironically, both of those things are in the complaint against Gonzalez.
Even though Gonzalez publicly stated that he would not prosecute either, no case involving either issue has ever been presented to the Nueces County District Attorney’s office.
“This new bill shouldn’t impact my case,” Gonzalez told me. After reading through the bill again, I agree with him. The bill states that it has to be a policy not to prosecute certain crimes. Although Gonzalez had said he was about fairness regarding low-level offenses, he has never made any official policy regarding that and handles each case individually.
Prosecutorial discretion has a long-standing precedent.
Due to gerrymandering, two House Reps and two Senators represent Nueces County. Three of them are Democrats, and one is Republican. However, for HB17, one of the Democrats crossed the aisle to vote for this undemocratic bill.
Rep Abel Herrero (D) voted against it.
Rep Todd Hunter (R) voted for it.
Senator Morgan LaMantis (D) voted against it.
Senator Chuy Hinojosa (D) voted for it.
Remember that in the primary season.
Mark Gonzelez's case won’t be in court until September 25, but in the meantime, he is determined to shed light on the situation unfolding in Nueces County. It is crucial to understand the gravity of the matter. The undemocratic effort to remove District Attorney Mark Gonzalez from office in Nueces County, orchestrated by County Citizens Defending Freedom, aims to undermine the people's will and manipulate the justice system for political gain.
What these GOP activists in Nueces County are doing erodes public trust in the justice system and sets a dangerous precedent for the future of fair and impartial governance.
It should also be noted that all of the bad actors, Wiltsy, Hullihan, the Dorseys, and the various other Republican-affiliated people involved with this undemocratic effort are all Anglo in a county that where they only represent 28%.
While they surely would deny that these efforts are racially motivated, the optics speak for themselves.
What can you do to help Mark Gonzales?
These attacks on our democracy shouldn’t become a normal part of modern America; we should all be outraged at the right’s attempts to force us into a Christofascist nation. Stand up to them at your school board and city hall meetings. And always make sure you vote in every single election because what Republicans do on a local level will impact you 1,000 times more than what the president does.