Council on Cargill: Not Today

Dais rejects Houston nominee for Bond Election Advisory Task Force

On Thursday, in a rare rejection of a colleague’s nominee for an appointed commission seat, City Council nixed District 1 Council Member Ora Houston’s nomination of Michael Cargill to the Bond Election Advisory Task Force. D3 CM Pio Renteria spoke against the nomination: “I believe his appointment would be an obstruction to the work …”

Michael Cargill at Central Texas Gun Works (Photo by John Anderson)

On his personal Twitter account (@michaeldcargill), Cargill responded: “This nomination has nothing to do about guns, and all they can say is ‘no, because he likes guns.’"

Cargill certainly likes guns – he owns the gun shop Central Texas Gun Works and is a prominent teacher of gun training courses – but the Council members who opposed him insisted their votes were not about guns nor about Cargill’s political opinions. (Cargill is also executive director of the libertarian Texans for Accountable Government.)

In a statement he read from the dais, Renteria said, “I disagree with Mr. Cargill’s extreme-right political views. I believe they are insidious and lower our quality of life. But this is not the reason I will be voting against his appointment.”

Council Member Pio Renteria (Photo by John Anderson)

Renteria went on to say that commission work requires “respectful discourse and collaboration,” and that Cargill – who has called himself a “troll” – “has proven he is not capable of that.” He said task force members “need to feel safe and supported as they do their work,” and that Cargill would not contribute to that atmosphere.

Renteria also cited a Cargill interview by “Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones” of InfoWars, during which Cargill responded to Jones’ relentless foreboding of government gun seizures by saying, “My motto is, ‘When they come for your guns, give them your bullets.’”

The dais discussion was brief, with other Council members primarily citing their agreement with Renteria’s statement. Only D8 CM Ellen Troxclair defended the nomination, arguing that her colleagues were once again rejecting “diversity of opinion." She dismissed the stated reasons: “Not approving someone because he doesn’t agree with you on one specific issue is incredibly intolerant.”

Houston defended her nominee, reading in part a statement she also released shortly after the vote: “I stand by my decision to recommend Mr. Cargill because I believe that he has the skill sets and the willingness to do this work for District 1 and the City of Austin. This is about acknowledging that there has been a lack of diversity, different views and perspectives that each appointee brings to the conversation. It’s important that I continue the mission I set out to do when I ran for election, to provide opportunities to different voices.”

Council Member Ora Houston (Photo by John Anderson)

Houston met Cargill on the campaign trail (he was one of eight candidates who opposed her in 2014), and she insisted from the dais, “I trust him with or without a gun.” During that campaign, Cargill noted that he was an unusual political combination – “a gay, African-American conservative” – but focused his attention primarily on Austin’s traffic congestion. (Houston and Cargill might well agree on infrastructure matters: Both strongly support more road construction and have been skeptical of any multi-modal responses. In response to Mayor Steve Adler’s statement, “Austin will not stop fighting climate change,” Cargill tweeted: “Are you high right now? How about you fight the damn traffic?”)

Reached by phone later on Thursday, Cargill rejected Council members’ claims that the negative vote was based on anything other than his support for gun rights. “It was about guns – all the little nit-picky things they were talking about had nothing to do with it. This is all about the Second Amendment, and my stand on the Second Amendment.”

Houston clearly anticipated the rejection – her statement was released almost immediately following the vote, and in advance of it she had posted similar statements to social media. She concluded: “We don’t always agree on everything in the community or on the dais; however, the reaction only proves to me that I still have work left to do to bring civility and true inclusion to our community and this council.”

Prior to the Council meeting, a campaign against Cargill had indeed erupted on social media, and constituents were contacting Council members to oppose him. The gun issue was prominent, but others objected to Cargill’s reputation for what Renteria described as his “aggressive behavior.” Specifically, people who had interactions with Cargill during last year’s “campus carry” controversy said he had behaved irresponsibly during a UT-Austin Town Hall on the subject, and afterward had engaged in online bullying and harassment. (On the dais, D7 CM Leslie Pool briefly cited the episode.)

Asked about the dispute, Cargill said it had to do with the “Haruka Weiser incident.” Weiser was murdered on the UT campus in April of last year, and the family had asked that her death not be politicized by campus activists. Recalled Cargill: “My response [during an August Town Hall] was that if she had been able to take her own personal safety in her own hands (and I know that she was too young to carry a handgun), then things might have been different.”

If the matter had ended there, opposition to Cargill’s appointment might not have flared so strongly. But following the Town Hall, Cargill got into a social media flame war with some students who objected to his refusal to keep Weiser out of the discussion. Jessica Jin, organizer of the “Cocks Not Glocks” protest in opposition to campus carry, cited (to Cargill) Weiser’s parents, who had written, “The last thing [Haruka] would want is to be the poster child in any cause.”

Cargill responded “1st Amendment,” to which Jin responded: “It’s not illegal but it’s shitty. Please let her rest.”

It got nastier from there – another poster (not Jin) called Cargill a “sadistic fuck” – and Cargill said he would be discussing Weiser on his radio talk show and told Jin "there ain’t shit you can do about it bitch.”

Prior to the Council meeting, Jin copied Houston with some of these posts, and told her that “Cargill spent the rest of the night taunting the UT community about Haruka despite multiple pleas to leave her out of the [conversation].” Specifically to Jin, he had posted: “I give zero fucks about your feelings.” (Parts of the exchanges survive, but Jin told the Chronicle that Cargill has been deleting many of them.)

Asked Thursday about these exchanges, Cargill became defensive and combative, and angrily refused to discuss the posts at all. Indeed, although all these posts are under his name, he said that through his business he has “four or five” social media accounts, and that it might not have been him but an employee who posted these remarks.

Cargill continued, “This [appointment] is about traffic and not about the Second Amendment. I’ve lived in Travis County and District 1 for 20 years, the same house for the majority of this time. This is about ‘traffic, traffic, traffic’ [one of his refrains while campaigning], and the only thing they’re grasping at is the Second Amendment. This is about traffic and not about the Second Amendment. This is about an African-American, an American of African descent, who cannot get appointed to a position in this town.”

At that point, Cargill refused to answer any more questions, saying, “I can tell where you’re going with this,” while dismissing earlier, straightforward Chronicle reporting on his campaigns and his positions. “That’s fine," he concluded. "You’re just going to help me sell more guns.”

Jin described Cargill’s posts as “really disrespectful,” “bombarding” her on Twitter, and attempting to frame Weiser’s death “in the context of the campus-carry protest.” He said, “I don’t care about your feelings … [and] you’re the reason she’s dead.”

“If anything comes out of this,” said Jin, “I just really hope that news agencies … would stop interviewing that guy.” He will say, “I care about young women” [i.e., and their gun rights], “but if you cross him, he will abuse you online.”

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City Council 2017, Michael Cargill, Ora Houston, Pio Renteria, Jessica Jin, Cocks Not Glocks

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