While we’re on the subject of Rick Perry and race, you might want to know where the governor started hunting the very same year he stopped visiting the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, otherwise known as “N----rhead.” He went just down the river to the Vinson Ranch, as he did again in 2008 and 2009, and though the ranch has no infamous nickname, the trip still managed to raise those familiar “good ol’ boy” racial questions.
In April 2006, Perry brought his father, Ray, who planted the family flag at Clear Fork decades earlier, to the Vinson Ranch to celebrate Ray’s 81st birthday, so you would think the foray would have been a well-planned and select event. The best account of the three-day trip comes from Michael Waddell, who now writes something called The Bone Collector blog. He has a TV show of the same name on the Outdoor Channel, and an album. Waddell introduces himself on his site by declaring: “I’m a redneck by the grace of God.” In a post under the title “The Complete Texas Road Trip,” Waddell writes that Perry took down a turkey with a bow, won at horseshoes, and was just a “down-to-earth good ol country boy.”
The real life of the hunting party, though, wasn’t the governor, writes Waddell. It was Ted Nugent, an outrageously hard-right rock guitarist who “had a great time shooting five hogs” with his 8mm pistol, played "The Star-Spangled Banner," and supplied the “tons of fresh pork” everyone enjoyed eating. Waddell writes that Nugent was “quite a character” throughout the festivities.
Nugent has always been one. His 2003 concert in Michigan was canceled because he used the N word on a radio show shortly before the scheduled appearance. Way back in 1990, the Detroit Free Press said, “Nugent’s conversations are peppered with the word ‘n-----,’” and Nugent explained that it was a natural result of his “hanging out with a lot of n-----s.” Last year, at a concert in Dubuque, Iowa, he said; “There’s a lot of white people in this crowd. I like that.” When he’s not calling Perry a “dear friend,” Nugent, who’s already endorsed the governor for president and branded him “the great white buffalo,” is calling Obama “a piece of s--t” and declaring: “He can suck on my machine gun.” This week he wrote a blog post on FoxNation under the headline “America Ripe for Riots Under Obama.” When Nugent’s not talking about African-Americans, he’s announcing that Hillary Clinton, while first lady, was a “toxic c--t” and “a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.”
Nugent, who’s already endorsed the governor for president and branded him “the great white buffalo,” calls Obama “a piece of s--t” and declares: “He can suck on my machine gun.”
Perry was reelected a few months after this 2006 bonding expedition, and when he was inaugurated again in 2007, Nugent was a featured performer at a black-tie gala. He appeared as the final act using machine guns as props, wearing a cut-off T-shirt emblazoned with the Confederate flag, and shouting what the Associated Press called “offensive remarks about non-English speakers.” When the performance stirred a momentary controversy, Perry’s spokesman explained: “Ted Nugent is a good friend of the governor’s. He asked him if he would play at the inaugural. He didn’t put any stipulation of what he would play.” Nugent said recently that he would carry his support of Perry with him on his concert tour next year, suggesting he was deliberately focusing on swing states. “We are booking next year’s tour to be the most effective in its geographical impact and statement,” he said. “That bully pulpit can also have a serious tone to it.”
The Vinson ranch controversy doesn’t end there. It’s run by Lanny Vinson, a college buddy and still close friend of Perry’s. Though Waddell’s blog post suggests that Vinson helped cover the costs of the hunting trip and says that another country singer who joined them, Clay Walker, brought both his tour buses “so we’d have someplace to stay,” Perry did not report any of this on his state financial-disclosure form as “gifts.” When Vinson entertained him for more hunting trips in 2008 and 2009, both “gifts” appeared on the forms, which are sworn documents. Without a Waddell blog post to rely on, it’s impossible to tell if Nugent accompanied Perry on these trips or any others. Vinson runs an annual “Legends Dove Hunt” on the farm to raise money for the nearby Hendrick Children’s Hospital, which was launched by the same folks who started the Hendrick Home for Children, the owners of the Perry hunting property The Washington Post has made famous. Though ballyhooed in local papers for running a cattle farm at “the cutting edge of advances in the beef industry,” Vinson is one of the top individual recipients of federal livestock and crop subsidies, collecting $230,810 up to 2010, including $39,711 in new drought funding for grazing losses.
Also included in the 2006 trip was well-known hunter Jack Brittingham, who had his own show on the Outdoor Channel at the time. Brittingham appears on the 2009 gift forms filed by Perry for supplying “transportation” to the governor, presumably connected to the Vinson hunting trip. Unlike Nugent, who’s been fined in California for illegally baiting and killing a young deer, Brittingham is a widely respected hunter who doesn’t fire away with his mouth either. His fame is largely due to conquests in what he calls “The Dark Continent” of Africa, where he’s compiled a list of “The First Ten African Animals a Hunter Needs to Take”—one of his more famous essays. He’s financed his legendary hunting career in part from the family ceramic-tile business, which led to his father’s 1993 conviction for illegally dumping lead wastes, which resulted in one of the largest federal environmental fines ever levied against an individual, more than $4 million.
Nugent, who’s also banned from hunting in Kansas, is such a madman (that’s his nickname for himself) on the hunt that one hunting guide called him “unethical” and refused to hunt with him again, saying, “He shoots at anything.” Earlier this year, Perry signed a bill to permit landowners to sell the gunner seat on helicopters to hunters who want to shoot feral hogs and coyotes from the air, a piece of legislation introduced in the state Senate by Perry’s closest friend in the legislature. Nugent, who claims to have killed 150 hogs on one chopper cruise, was a champion of the helicopter hog-hunting law, boasting that he will shoot “hundreds and hundreds” of them now that it’s fully legalized.
It looks like when Rick Perry goes hunting, all the contradictions of his Texas country-boy life come loudly home to roost.
Research assistance was provided by Emily Atkin, Matthew DeLuca, Kelly Knaub, Fausto Giovanny Pinto, and Andy Ross.