I unfolded my copy of The Washington Post on Saturday morning and saw a familiar face glaring up at me from page 1: Dr. Steven F. Hotze.
A Republican Party mega-donor, medical doctor and unabashed theocrat in Texas, Hotze first came to Americans United’s attention in the early 1990s after Hotze and a band of fundamentalist allies seized control of the GOP in Harris County, ousting relative moderates who had been running the party unit.
Church & State reported in February 1993 that Hotze argued in a Houston Chronicle op-ed that the United States was founded on “faith in the God of the Bible and his son, Jesus Christ.” Hotze added, “To solve our nation’s social and moral problem, our government must enforce biblical law.”
Hotze was active in a group called the Coalition on Revival (COR), which sought to impose said “biblical law” on America. COR was heavily influenced by Christian Reconstructionism, an overtly theocratic movement that calls for scrapping democracy and basing American law on the legalistic books of the Bible. Under the Reconstructionists, “crimes” such as same-sex relationships, having sex before marriage, practicing witchcraft and blasphemy would merit the death penalty.
Hotze has long been fond of conspiracy theories, and during the lead-up to the 2020 election, he went completely off the rails. Hotze became convinced that a white van was traveling all over Houston delivering fake ballots to polling places. Supposedly, the ballots had been filled out by undocumented Latino children and were part of an elaborate plot to throw the election to the Democrats. (I know – I don’t get it either.) Hotze was so worked up over this nonsense that he hired a private detective to tail the van. This galloping gumshoe, Mark Aguirre, a former police officer with a checkered past, ran the van off the road on Oct. 19, 2020, and held its driver, David Lopez-Zuniga, a technician who repairs air-conditioners, at gunpoint. The van contained – surprise! – parts for repairing air conditioners.
When police arrived, Aguirre spun a wild tale about Lopez-Zuniga supposedly having 750,000 fake mail-in ballots at his house. Police went to the house where they found, in the words of one Houston detective, “a family conducting ordinary business.” Police also searched the family’s shed. It contained – another surprise! – parts for repairing air conditioners. (How did Lopez-Zuniga get fingered in the first place? Apparently, his vehicle was once spotted inside an apartment complex where a prominent Houston Democratic political operative lives. What more evidence do you need?)
Unfazed by the failure, Hotze wired Aguirre $211,000 the next day. He used his nonprofit, the Liberty Center for God and Country, to fund this scheme.
Hotze and Aguirre are facing felony criminal charges. As Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement to The Post, “The defendants were charged as part of a bizarre scheme that crossed the line from dirty politics to violent crime, and we are lucky no one was killed. The entire plan was backward from the start, alleging massive voter fraud occurred and then trying to prove it happened.” (Hotze is also facing a civil lawsuit filed by Lopez-Zuniga.)
Hotze’s willingness to swallow the white van tale isn’t surprising, given some of his other beliefs. He pushes QAnon nonsense and has asserted that the COVID-19 pandemic is actually a government-engineered “global ritual” to “inject experimental nano bots and chemi-kills into our bodies to alter our DNA using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to turn us into zombie-like, controlled masses and weapons of war.”
This is the man who’s certain that his superior religious beliefs grant him the right to run your life. This is the man who feels comfortable interpreting “biblical law” and forcing it on everyone. This is the man who smugly believes that if you disagree with him on issues such as reproductive freedom, LGBTQ rights and the need for separation of church and state, you’re not just misguided, you’re a threat to our nation.
If we continue to erode separation of church and state, this man and those who think like him will have more power to make decisions that affect all our lives. If that thought makes you uncomfortable, link up with Americans United and stand for separation.
Photo: Dr. Steven Hotze. Screenshot from KHOU-TV