Lege Lines: “A Liar and Hateful Man”

Matt Rinaldi calls ICE, threatens to shoot a colleague

The 85th legislative session went out not with a whimper but rather a thunderous bang heard 'round the country, when Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, a member of the abrasive right-wing Freedom Caucus, called U.S. Immi­gra­tions and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on immigrant protesters (part of a larger Capitol rally) who'd entered the chamber to oppose Senate Bill 4, the state's anti-"sanctuary cities" law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.

"I called ICE ... fuck them," Rinaldi told a group of Democrat representatives who had been cheering on the activists, according to Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso. When Dems, including Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, confronted Rinaldi, a scuffle broke into near fistfight, and the conservative rep threatened to shoot his colleague. At one point Blanco tried to convince Rinaldi that Italian immigrants are "just like us," but Rinaldi (the son of Italian immigrants) shot back: "Yeah, but we love our country."

Later, in a Facebook post, Rinaldi didn't deny the allegations, but claimed the threat of violence came in "self-defense" after Dems vowed to "get" him in the parking lot. Nevárez responded via Twitter: "He's a liar and hateful man. Got no use for him. God bless him." The Mexican-American Legis­lat­ive Caucus held a press conference shortly after the outburst. Dems requested a full investigation and, at the least, a sincere apology from Rinaldi. There've been no signs of either happening as of yet.

Beyond the dramatic fracas on what should have been a relatively calm day, the Republican lawmaker's call to ICE presented an important example of how the dangerous law leads to racial profiling and false assumptions – a point hundreds have sought to impart on legislators supportive of SB 4 this session. In a statement, Blanco noted how Rinaldi's behavior underscores a deeper and more disturbing pattern: It "highlights the institutional racism [the Lege] embraced this session."

Outside the Capitol on Monday, live cumbia music and dancing interspersed passionate messages by immigrants-rights activists. Speakers addressed more than a thousand activists who flooded the dome to oppose SB 4 in a massive rally organized by several groups including Workers Defense Project, Education Austin, and the Texas Organizing Project. Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Greg Casar offered their message of solidarity to the crowd, saying they are far from intimidated by the threats and lawsuit against the city from top Texas officials over SB 4. "It's you who gave us courage to turn back at [Attorney General Ken] Paxton and fight the Texas suit," said Casar, alluding to the state's pre-emptive strike against the city of Austin's legal action. U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, issued similar calls of support, and took the opportunity to censure Rinaldi – and by extension, the racism of the Texas Legislature. "That's wrong and we have to call it out," he said.

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Matt Rinaldi, 85th Lege, Poncho Nevárez, Greg Abbott, Steve Adler, Greg Casar

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