Anthony “Tony” Culler is starving himself in hopes the FBI will start an investigation. It's been four weeks since he started his 50-day hunger strike, and he looks to be shrinking into his clothing in videos posted online. He's got the ease of a Baptist preacher and shares his family's story of what he calls injustice as if he were preaching the gospel.
“I mean it's shameful when an American citizen ... is required to go on a hunger strike just to get an investigation into crimes committed against his family,” Culler says in a Dec. 5 video he posted to his website called 50 Day Hunger Strike.
A candidate for Texas' 1st U.S. Congressional District, Culler claims an East Texas bank stole his family's mineral rights and an East Texas sheriff — then president of the Sheriffs' Association of Texas — used civil forfeiture to steal Culler's property and auction off his daughters' toys, his wedding album and other household items in 2009. His detractors point out that what Culler calls theft was actually a foreclosure, which is what happens when someone doesn't pay his mortgage.
“Do you know the only thing worse than a career politician?” Culler asked on his Culler for Congress website. “A corrupt career politician. Louie Gohmert is a corrupt career politician who looked the other way on felonies committed against my family.
“The first thing I will do for East Texans is ensure that Louie Gohmert is removed from office,” he added, somewhat redundantly. After all, Culler is running against Gohmert in the March GOP primaries. Culler is targeting the incumbent congressman because he claims Gohmert “helped to cover up felonies that were committed by a corrupt sheriff in his district,” Culler wrote on Crowdpac, a website similar to GoFundMe where he's soliciting funds for his 2018 campaign.
Gohmert didn't respond to a request for comment.
This isn't the first time Culler has run for office or challenged Gohmert, who's been representing East Texas since 2005. Culler lost his 2016 bid against Gohmert, receiving 4.2 percent of the primary vote versus Gohmert's 81.9 percent. He also ran for the U.S. House in 2014 to represent South Carolina, defeating Leo Winn in the Republican primary but losing to the Democrat incumbent James Clyburn.
Culler gained some national media attention then when he called gay couples “gremlins” who were out to “destroy ... our way of life,” according to a Oct. 21, 2014, Time article.
“I made a comment that same-sex couples that want to destroy traditional marriage and our way of life, they're gremlins,” Culler told Time. “They're these creatures that are so destructive.” He went on to claim that the 6th District where he challenged Clyburn was a “black district” that shared his views because it was also a “Christian district.”
Culler and his wife agreed and then declined to be interviewed by the Observer, but their claim of injustice was chronicled by local newspapers in East Texas. The Cullers say their mineral rights on their family property in East Texas were worth more than $200,000. They needed Commercial Bank to give them a letter that stated it didn't have any liens on the mineral rights so they could obtain a $100,000 loan from a secondary lender, they say. They wanted to use the second loan “to start a small business [a waste disposal company] and support other financial obligations, including paying down their mortgage,” according to a Sept. 24, 2009, report in the Nacogdoches newspaper The Daily Sentinel.
They never received the letter or the loan, according to the Sentinel article, and they stopped paying their mortgage. The bank sold their land and home to their neighbor Larry Choate for $325,000. He had to take them to court to evict them.
Culler tried to represent himself in court during his eviction hearing, but it didn't go well. The Sentinel reported that the jury deliberated for about 15 minutes and upheld the eviction order, awarding Choate $3,000 in attorney fees.
In early January 2010, the Nacogdoches County Sheriff's Office evicted Culler's family. An auction at the Nacogdoches County Exposition Center followed. It included personal belongings, including firearms, baby books and a child's coin collection.
After the eviction, Culler says, his family was homeless, but they found their way to South Carolina, where he and his wife both ran losing races for Congress.
The Cullers then moved to the Dallas area, where Culler made his first bid against Gohmert in 2016. He listed his address as Tyler for his campaign donations but lives in a suburban brick home in Coppell.
Culler was fairly vocal about his family's plight and sent his home-schooled daughters into the streets to protest in front of the East Texas bank. He created a website called The Worst Bank in Town, where he outlined his complaints. His East Texas neighbors saw things differently.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
In a Topix forum called Culler for President, several people posted about Culler. Some asked why he didn't get a job and pay his mortgage. “This whole running for Congress thing is only so they can get some sort of power to try and get their revenge on Nacogdoches because they were evicted from their home for not paying their bills,” one commenter wrote.
Renee Culler announced that she planned to run for Gohmert's seat after her husband lost the election in 2016, but she never put her name on the ballot. Instead, her husband created a website called Impeach Gohmert, which noted that it was just one of many ways his family is working to have their constitutional rights restored, and filed to put his name on the March 2018 ballot in early December. He made the announcement in a cellphone video he recorded at an Austin restaurant, an odd choice for a man on a hunger strike.
Nacogdoches County Sheriff Jason Bridges was the constable in 2010. The Cullers camped out in front of the bank, he says. He says they were given an opportunity to remove their personal belongings from the house and had a chance to get some stuff on eviction day. He says the sheriff executed a lawful order, but the family simply refused.
“When you don't pay your mortgage, what do you think is going to happen?” Bridges asks.