POSTED: Monday, March 18, 2013 - 3:29pm
UPDATED: Monday, March 18, 2013 - 11:52pm
AUSTIN — As recently as 2003, the president of the Greater Fort Bend County Tea Party had a very different title: director of propaganda for the American Fascist Party.
James Ives, a prominent Tea Party activist who has hosted statewide rallies and political debates and has been a regular contributor on conservative radio, was the AFP's fourth in command, commenting about the party’s principles on a fascist message board. An image of Ives in what appears to be a black uniform with yellow shoulder patches can be seen in a 2006 promotional video for the party.
Ives tells a more nuanced story; the Richmond, Texas, resident says he stumbled across the fascist party — which supports extreme right-wing authoritarian regimes — online in the early 2000s as an “amateur political science student and frustrated novelist” and was merely curious.
“From my point of view, it was all pro-Constitution, pro-America,” Ives said of the group, which appears to be defunct.
“I never did anything,” he added. “There really weren’t enough people involved to be a gathering, let alone a rally. It was basically a scattering of people across the continent just complaining.”
He said he believed he’d uncovered an underground cabal — and decided to stick around to do research for a “political novel of intrigue.”
“I thought, ‘I can blow the lid off of this. … I can go inside and find out what’s going on,’” Ives said.
Ives never wrote a novel. He did write a range of posts on the party’s Yahoo message board, communicating with his fellow “blackshirts” and the party’s chief organizer, a man who identified himself as the “Glorious Leader.”
In one post, he channeled Benito Mussolini, the World War II-era Italian dictator and founder of that country’s National Fascist Party, saying building up the fascist movement in America was “our spirit, our calling.”
“It will be our greatest challenge, and our sweetest victory, to finally surpass this dark menace, this numbing threat from the shadows, and replace it with the pure sunbeam that is our Fascist Faith, our Fascist Truth,” he wrote.
In another post, he blasts a fellow commenter’s racist remarks, saying such members of the party make “the return of Fascist Faith to the pantheon of accepted beliefs that much more difficult.”
“Tell me what I can do in Texas for you and I will try my utmost to comply,” Ives added, signing off, “your honor-bound comrade.”
Though Ives calls his past involvement with the party “a funny story,” conservative lawmakers who have had dealings with the Tea Party activist found it alarming.
State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, whose radio station has regularly hosted Ives’ political commentaries in recent years, said that if his past connections to the American Fascist Party were legitimate, the station would no longer put him on air. Patrick said Ives had “never been on our payroll, never been an employee.” He called the promotional video and online postings “very disturbing, no matter how far in the past it is.”
Ives said he had never seen the 2006 promotional video and did not participate in its production; while a photograph of him appears at the 36-second mark, and is the screencap for the online clip, he said the uniform was Photoshopped onto him.
But he said he did agree to be the group’s “director of propaganda.” One website updated as recently as last year still had him listed with that title.
“I think I was the only one” who volunteered for the position, Ives said, calling the fascist group “a chat room with a fancy title.”
Ives and his wife have been active Tea Partiers since the political movement began in 2009. Ives spoke about “American exceptionalism” at a 2010 “Back to Basics” rally at the state Capitol, shared billing on a live 2011 radio broadcast with prominent conservative activists Michael Quinn Sullivan and Jonathan Saenz, and in 2012 hosted a U.S. Senate forum for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and the man who would later defeat him, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. As recently as July, he was listed on the web site of Houston radio station KSEV — Patrick’s station — as a regular contributor.
State Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, who spoke at an event for the Greater Fort Bend County Tea Party last week, said he first heard about Ives’ possible connections to fascism on Friday, in a meeting of concerned conservatives. “It does sound like something worth following up on,” he said.
Debra Medina, a well-known Tea Party activist who ran against Gov. Rick Perry in the 2010 Republican primary, said she isn’t familiar with Ives and isn’t in a position to judge his dealings with the fascist group. But she said part of the challenge of working with the grassroots is that it’s “so hard to know who you’re working with sometimes.”
“Even with the best intentions — and I can speak from my own experience — you can be judged by those who work around you and are supportive of you,” she said. “It tends to tarnish the work that others are doing, and cause people to go, ‘Here we go again.’”