In the days after George Floyd's killing in police custody in Minneapolis last month, as massive protests against police brutality spread across Texas and other states, conservative power broker Steve Hotze of Houston called Gov. Greg Abbott's chief of staff to pass along a message.
"I want you to give a message to the governor," Hotze told Abbott's chief of staff, Luis Saenz, in a voicemail. "I want to make sure that he has National Guard down here and they have the order to shoot to kill if any of these son-of-a-bitch people start rioting like they have in Dallas, start tearing down businesses — shoot to kill the son of a bitches. That’s the only way you restore order. Kill 'em. Thank you."
The voicemail, which The Texas Tribune obtained Friday via a public information request, came on the weekend of June 6, several days after Abbott activated the Texas National Guard as some of the protests became violent. It is unclear whether Saenz responded, and Abbott's office declined to comment on the voicemail.
A Hotze spokesperson said he was not immediately available for comment. However, several hours after the publication of this story, Hotze shared it on his personal Facebook page and another Facebook page affiliated with him.
"It’s not about race but has everything to do with the future of America — the freest and most progressive country in the world," Hotze wrote on the second Facebook page. "It’s about those who burn homes and businesses, including those owned by African-Americans, and attack law enforcement. Enough is enough."
Hotze's voicemail brought a sharp rebuke Saturday from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who called it "absolutely disgusting and reprehensible" via Twitter.
The voicemail brings into sharp relief the incendiary views of Hotze, a staunch critic of Abbott's response to the coronavirus pandemic who has repeatedly challenged the governor's emergency orders in court. The latest lawsuit came Friday, taking aim at Abbott's statewide mask mandate announced a day earlier.
“This draconian order is contrary to the Texas spirit and invades the liberties the people of Texas protected in the constitution," the lawsuit says.
In a Facebook post early Saturday morning, Hotze continued to take aim at Abbott, saying the governor's "mask is starving his brain of oxygen."
Hotze is one of most prolific culture warriors on the right in Texas. He is a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage and was a key figure in the 2015 defeat of Houston's nondiscrimination ordinance — and then in the unsuccessful push for the 2017 "bathroom bill" in the Texas Legislature.
More recently, Hotze and his allies have been in the headlines for the lawsuits he has been filing during the pandemic. Hotze sued Abbott over his stay-at-home order in April. In late May, Hotze asked the Texas Supreme Court to strike down the law that gives Abbott broad executive power to respond to disasters. And earlier this month, Hotze sued over the state's contact tracing program.
The lawsuit over Abbott's mask order was filed Friday in Travis County District Court.
In his home county, Hotze also sued Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in late April over her mask order for county residents. Abbott later gutted that order by prohibiting local officials from fining people who do not wear masks.
Hotze also is an active GOP donor, both in Texas and across the country. He has given $12,600 to Cornyn's campaign and leadership political action committee over the years, which one of Cornyn's Democratic challengers, MJ Hegar, pointed out Saturday on Twitter after Cornyn denounced Hotze's voicemail. Hegar also shared an undated video in which Cornyn appears alongside Hotze, who thanks the senator for his help in fighting Obamacare.