Greg Abbott Declares Open Season on Protesters in Texas

The pardon of Daniel Perry sends a chilling message.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott flanked by law officials and politicians.

Bob Daemmrich/ZUMA Press

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On Thursday, purportedly on the advice of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott formally pardoned Daniel Perry for his 2020 murder of Garrett Foster at a Black Lives Matter protest in Austin. I say “purportedly” because Abbott never waited for the board before passing judgment in the case; he announced a little over a year ago that he was “working as swiftly as the law allows” to get Perry out of prison.

“Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive District Attorney,” Abbott explained on X at the time. He used that same line verbatim in his statement declaring Perry a free man. This is the twisted nature of what law-and-order means in Texas: It is soft-on-crime to convict someone of murder now.

Perry was driving his vehicle near the state Capitol when he encountered the BLM protesters that night in Austin. He drove into a crowd of demonstrators after honking at them first. He then shot Foster five times through his car window.

Perry claimed self-defense as his justification for killing Foster, who was also armed, and his attorneys argued that Foster had pointed a rifle at him. Witnesses stated that Foster had not raised his gun, however. And the prosecution produced disturbing messages from Perry in which he talked repeatedly about shooting and killing protesters. “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters,” he wrote in one text.  In another message, per the Texas Tribune, he mentioned seeing “blacks … gathering up in a group.” and wrote that “I wonder if they will let my cut the ears off of people who’s decided to commit suicide by me.” He told a friend that “I might have to kill a few people on my way to work, they are rioting outside my apartment complex.”

After being charged, Perry became a right-wing cause célèbre. Abbott made his initial promise to look into a pardon almost immediately after then-Fox News host Tucker Carlson ran a segment criticizing him for inaction in April of 2023. Members of Perry’s defense team did make hay of the fact that one member of the jury had apparently improperly consulted information that was not introduced in court. But conservatives were attracted to the trial for bigger reasons. Like Kyle Rittenhouse, Perry was exalted as a persecuted martyr standing up to progressive “anarcho-tyranny.” In his own statement on the pardon, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton placed the shooting in the context of the “BLM riots [that] terrorized the nation in 2020.”

It’s worth reckoning with the ramifications of the self-defense argument here: The right to bear arms is so inviolable that you can carry a gun almost anywhere—but, also, if you see someone carrying a gun at a protest, you can shoot them justifiably. It’s hard to have a First Amendment when the Second Amendment looks like that. It doesn’t make for much of a Second Amendment either.

But this is not just about Daniel Perry. Abbott’s pardon and its accompanying rhetoric fits into a pattern of sanctioned violence or threatened violence against undesirables. In this case, it was an Air Force veteran protesting police brutality—there is not even a cursory mention in Abbott’s statement of Foster, the victim. In January, it was migrants. “The only thing that we are not doing is we’re not shooting people who come across the border,” Abbott told former NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, “because, of course, the Biden administration would charge us with murder.”

The question of how to deal with people—and particularly people who are inside cars—who inflict harm on protesters is very much a live issue. Drivers deliberately hitting groups of people with their vehicles is an extremely common thing in the United States; a Boston Globe analysis found that “Between Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021, vehicles drove into protests at least 139 times.” There were charges in just 65 of those incidents. At least 16 states have recently considered laws to grant immunity to drivers in such circumstances. Last month, ater critics of Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza shut down streets in New York City, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) implored drivers to “take matters into your own hands to get them out of the way.” In another text message ahead of an earlier trip to Dallas, Perry wrote to a friend, “no protestors go near me or my car.” The message from Abbott and people like him is ominous. Daniel Perry was not the first. Do you really think he’ll be the last?

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Our team has been on fire lately—publishing sweeping, one-of-a-kind investigations, ambitious, groundbreaking projects, and even releasing “the holy shit documentary of the year.” And that’s on top of protecting free and fair elections and standing up to bullies and BS when others in the media don’t.

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