Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced his plans Wednesday to address the Aug. 3 mass murder in El Paso. It sounds an awful lot like his response to the school shooting in Santa Fe last year. This time around, the governor will be holding roundtable discussions and convening a task force. Last time it was roundtables and a Texas Senate Select Committee.
Abbott's task force, made up of federal, state and local officials, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen, "will analyze and provide advice on strategies to maximize law enforcement’s ability to protect against acts of domestic terrorism," according to materials provided by the governor's office.
In a statement Wednesday, Abbott singled out domestic terrorism.
“Our top priority is to keep Texans safe in their communities,” Abbott said. “Part of that mission is to combat domestic terrorism and root out the extremist ideologies that fuel hatred and violence in our state. This task force brings together leaders with the expertise Texas needs to develop effective strategies and combat domestic terrorism.
“Texas is stronger when we come together in pursuit of a shared goal, and today’s actions are vital steps in our ongoing fight against extremism and violence. We stand united against those who wish to bring harm to our state, and together we will build a safer future for every Texan.”
The governor's office did announce that Abbott has directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to "take immediate action to combat any form of domestic terrorism in Texas including ... (i)ncreasing the number of DPS Special Agents and Analysts in the Texas Anti-Gang Centers conducting investigations on criminal gangs affiliated with Neo Nazi and White Nationalist groups and networks espousing terrorist attacks."
Beginning Aug. 30, the task force will meet four times per year to look at "emerging threats in Texas" and work on ways Texas government agencies can address those threats, including potential new legislation.
After the school shooting in Santa Fe, the 2019 Legislature passed bills giving school districts cash to make their campuses more secure and providing better mental health services to vulnerable teachers. Lawmakers also got rid of the cap on the number of employees per school who can carry guns on campus as part of Texas' school marshal program.
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Democrats congratulated Abbott on taking a first step but criticized the makeup of the task force.
“The first step in solving a problem is admitting we have one. In that respect, a Domestic Terrorism task force is a step in the right direction. However, let's be clear, this was white nationalist terrorism and Governor Abbott needs to diversify the people whom he listens to," Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Manny Garcia said. "The task force completely lacks any real form of diversity; as it stands, it is comprised of only law enforcement individuals and Republicans. The same Republicans who have been fanning the flames of white supremacy and criminalizing immigration for political profit for years."
After the violence that's marred the state in recent years, Garcia said, it's time for Texas to act.
"It’s time for Abbott and Republicans to join Texas Democrats and create real and meaningful solutions that fight back against white supremacy and gun violence, because half-measures will not cut it," he said.