In this day and age, it’s not surprising to hear a politician disparage Islam, offer paeans to Jesus at town meetings, and, for good measure, espouse the anti-vaxxer myth.
It is surprising when that politician is a Democrat.
Meet Nico LaHood, district attorney for Bexar County, Texas, home of the mostly Democratic enclave of San Antonio. LaHood is now locked in a street brawl of a primary battle against a former friend, Joe Gonzales.
But LaHood’s positions are more typical of a Steve Bannon/Alex Jones conspiracy nut than a Democratic district attorney.
“I’m a conservative guy,” LaHood told a right-wing radio host last year, as reported by the San Antonio Express-News.
The context was LaHood complaining that while he was opposed to “sanctuary cities,” he also didn’t want the state government to tell municipalities what to do. “With all due respect to the governor, how many times have you flipped off the federal government by saying, ‘Hey, screw you, don’t tell us how to run Texas’?... I think it’s a little bit hypocritical now he’s playing big government and telling us how to run our municipalities.”
On another radio talk show, LaHood said that Islam is “basically a political system wrapped in a religion,” parroting far-right talking points that have been disproven by all reputable scholars of Islam. Moreover, LaHood said moderate Muslims are not real Muslims: “I have some very, very—and I want to emphasize this—very good friends that wear the label of a Muslim,” LaHood said. “But they don’t follow the tenets or the principle of Islam, more importantly Sharia Law, because they’ve been Americanized.”
“Terrorists,” on the other hand, “are truly, militantly following what the text tells them to do.”
In reality, Sharia is primarily focused on personal religious observance such as prayer and fasting. (Not coincidentally, the term sharia means “the path,” the same as the word for Jewish law, halacha.)
LaHood also went on record opposing “Jenny’s Law,” which was unanimously passed by the Texas Senate, and provides victims and witnesses of crimes access to an attorney free of charge. It is named for a mentally ill rape victim who was imprisoned for 27 days to ensure she could testify against her rapist. While incarcerated, she was severely beaten.
LaHood publicly opposed the law, saying it was “not practical.” The head of his office’s criminal trial division was the only person to testify against it in the legislature. And, for good measure, he hired one of the prosecutors involved in the original “Jenny” case. When these facts were reported, LaHood wrote a letter attacking the newspaper that reported them.
LaHood’s campaign did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
LaHood’s conservatism is apparently grounded in his religion. At a town meeting with constituents, he said, “I love Jesus and he loves me, and that’s why I love you and your family.” A former drug dealer turned born-again Christian, LaHood has described himself as a “man who is passionately in love with the Lord.”
Not all of his comments have been quite so Christian, however. At an earlier meeting, he yelled at a constituent who had challenged whether he had held police officers accountable. “When I was a district attorney, you can ask any prosecutor I went up against. Ask if I had the huevos to go against anybody and hold them accountable,” placing his hands in a gesture of said huevos for emphasis.
“Anger motivated me to accomplish things,” LaHood said in an interview with the Rivard Report, “and I believe God used my anger.”
And then there’s the anti-vaxxer stuff. LaHood, whose son has autism, has appeared at anti-vaxxer conferences, using his district attorney title as proof of credibility. And in a promotional video for the anti-vaxxer movie Vaxxed, LaHood says: “I’m Nico LaHood. I’m the criminal district attorney in San Antonio, Texas. I’m here to tell you that vaccines can and do cause autism.”
Asked about his views at the Feb. 8 debate, LaHood said they were based on “a personal belief” based on “what my wife and I go through medically.” After his son developed autism, “we have an opinion of how that happened.”
In reality, there is absolutely no evidence that vaccines cause autism, and all major medical associations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have affirmed the safety and necessity of vaccines. The one study that spawned the anti-vaxxer conspiracy has been debunked and retracted. Since it was published, 17 studies performed in seven countries on three continents involving hundreds of thousands of children have found that its hypothesis had been wrong. Meanwhile, parents refusing to vaccinate their children have led to outbreaks of measles across the U.S.
Now, as a district attorney, LaHood’s views on vaccines don’t come into play very often. Then again, some would say that science is not a matter of “personal belief,” and that subscribing to an anti-scientific conspiracy theory, even as a result of personal trauma, is relevant to how a prosecutor evaluates evidence.
But he may not be DA again thanks to his primary challenger, who was once a good friend.
Gonzales and LaHood were pals until March 2017, when they opposed one another in court, according to the San Antonio Current. It came to light that one of LaHood’s staff members had had a sexual relationship with a witness in the case. Gonzales’ team called for a mistrial, adding that LaHood’s office had withheld exculpatory evidence in violation of the law.
What happened next is disputed. The lawyers went to meet privately with the judge in the case, Lori Valenzuela. According to Gonzales, LaHood threatened to “destroy” and “shut down” Gonzales’ firm. LaHood said that never happened.
But according to Judge Valenzuela, it did.
In any case, the bromance has now gone sour, with a dirty campaign being fought on both sides, particularly by LaHood. In one campaign video, LaHood holds a poster that reads “[Harvey] Weinstein + [Larry] Nassar + [George] Soros = Gonzales.”
The poster is meant to highlight Gonzales’ having worked as a defense attorney for sexual offenders. Left out is that LaHood did the same thing when he was a defense attorney. (As for Soros, a state group partly funded by billionaire George Soros has contributed $6,000 to the Gonzales campaign.)
Now, you might ask: Why is a self-described conservative who spreads lies about Islam, opposes a bipartisan measure to protect victims of crime, maligns defense attorneys (even though he was one), and promotes anti-vaxxer mythology running (and serving) as a Democrat?
One can only guess—again, LaHood’s campaign did not respond to our request for a comment. Probably it has something to do with the 2014 election, in which LaHood defeated a 16-year Republican incumbent, Susan Reed. There’s no way LaHood could’ve grabbed the GOP nomination from the popular Reed, so he ran on the Democratic side instead.
LaHood also has some progressive positions: favoring citation, rather than incarceration, for low level marijuana offenses, for example. Then again, many libertarian-leaning Republicans have similar views.
Gonzales, by contrast, has run on a mostly progressive platform, pushing for bail reform and greater accountability among prosecutors. Prosecutorial misconduct is a widespread problem, with wide discretion and almost total immunity granted to district attorneys and their teams.
Whatever the reason, the Bexar County Democratic primary is turning into a cross between an ideological showdown and a mudwrestling contest. With only one actual Democrat in the ring.