SAN ANTONIO – During the first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 29, Trump sparked controversy when he failed to disavow white supremacy and groups that espouse it, reigniting a national discourse on the racial violence in the U.S. Just days after the widely watched debate, an interview with Texas Congressional District 23 Republican candidate Tony Gonzales struck a similar tone. The Republican candidate, who was endorsed by Trump, would not commit to labeling the Ku Klux Klan as a terrorist organization when put on the spot.
Ahead of his tightly contested race against Gina Ortiz Jones, Gonzales sat down last week with former San Antonio city council candidate Roy Aguillon on his social media talk show, The Carpenter’s Apprentice. The Republican spoke at length about his personal life, growing up without a father and talking to President Trump about reopening ports of entry at the border between Texas and Mexico, where the communities are often intertwined.
Watch Oct. 8: Debate between Tony Gonzales, Gina Ortiz Jones in CD-23 race
But Gonzales became visibly uncomfortable when Aguillon asked him about his views on MS-13 and the KKK.
In June, ahead of Gonzales’ heated Republican primary runoff in Texas Congressional District 23, a super PAC aired an ad for Gonzales, stating he would push for MS-13 — an international criminal gang that operates in the U.S. — to be labeled a terrorist organization. The super PAC, Future Leaders Fund, was launched in 2019 by outgoing Congressman Will Hurd, who has endorsed Gonzales for the race.
“Do you intend to push for the KKK to also be labeled as such,” Aguillon asked Gonzales in the second half of the interview, which contains expletives.
Instead of answering the question, Gonzales distanced himself from the ad.
“(Future Leaders Fund) is an outside group,” Gonzales said. “There’s all these outside groups that do all this stuff.”
“Did you not say that," Aguillon responded. “Do you not think that MS-13 should be a terrorist organization?”
“I think MS-13 terrorizes people,” Gonzales said.
When asked if the KKK also terrorizes people, Gonzales said “absolutely.”
“So then I’m asking you, on the same level, would you push for both of them to be labeled as a terrorist organization,” Aguillon pressed.
“I would push for this, for us to talk about racism,” Gonzales responded.
Gonzales eventually conceded that he does think “organizations like MS-13 are terrorist organizations," but would not use the same language on the KKK.
“Look, I don’t support the KKK,” Gonzales said. “I think they’re a terrible organization.”
“Why isn’t that like a simple yes or no?” Aguillon asked.
“We’re living in COVID. There’s a million things going on,” Gonzales said. “You have this much oxygen in the room and it’s not to talk about the KKK. I’m not running to talk about (the KKK).”
In February, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that racist violence has become a problem as urgent as combatting foreign terrorism. But labeling a domestic group as a terrorist organization is complicated, federal officials have previously said, and could lead to a conflict with the First Amendment. No U.S.-based extremist group has ever been formally designated as a terrorist organization.
After requests from KSAT seeking comment from Gonzales' campaign last week and this week, his spokesperson, Matt Mackowiak, issued this statement:
“Tony believes any organization that uses violence to terrorize our communities should be designated a terrorist organization — including MS-13, the KKK and Antifa," Mackowiak wrote. "Trying to imply that a Hispanic veteran is somehow sympathetic to the KKK demonstrates just how desperate the Jones campaign has become.”
KSAT independently discovered the interview last week and has not discussed the video with Jones until Wednesday evening after the publication of this story.
Jones' Communications Director Sharon Yang issued the following statement:
“As an Air Force and Iraq War veteran who spent nearly 15 years working to protect our national security, Gina Ortiz Jones supports designating the KKK and MS-13 as terrorist organizations and unlike Tony Gonzales she doesn’t have to be backed into a corner before saying so.”
Gonzales will face off against Jones in a debate hosted by KSAT on Oct. 8 in Uvalde. The two are expected to give their views on the most important issues facing the district.
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