Texas governor meets with tech officials about quelling hate

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday met in Austin with officials from some of the world’s biggest tech giants to discuss ways of combatting extremism in the wake of a mass shooting in El Paso that left 22 people dead.

The officials from Google, Facebook and Twitter sat down with state lawmakers and the FBI after Abbott called for a crackdown on internet sites used by violent extremists in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Authorities believe the gunman posted a racist screed online shortly before carrying out the Aug. 3 attack.

The Republican governor acknowledged that while officials thought they took big steps to address the challenges of gun violence after a 2018 shooting at a local high school left 10 people dead, “obviously … there are unique issues about what happened in El Paso that need to be addressed in addition to the type of violence we saw in the aftermath of Santa Fe.”

Abbott said the series of roundtable discussions would include looking at “keeping guns of the hands of deranged individuals while at the very same time making sure that we can do so in a way that safeguards Second Amendment rights.”

He hasn’t proposed any new major gun control measures. Thursday’s meeting was also attended by several El Paso Democrats who have pushed for tighter gun restrictions in Texas.

Authorities have said Patrick Crusius, the man charged with capital murder in the shooting this month at an El Paso Walmart, confessed that he targeted Mexicans in the attack. They also believe the 21-year-old railed against immigrants and an influx of Hispanics in the U.S. in a rambling document that appeared on the 8chan message board.

It’s unclear what the invited tech platforms will offer or say in the aftermath of the tragedy. None of the companies addressed questions about their role after Abbott announced earlier this week they would come to Austin to discuss the shooting and how to prevent future attacks.

Michael Pachter, a research analyst with Wedbush Securities, said the Texas roundtable was the first time he has heard of a state attempting to regulate internet activity.

“The problem I think all of the tech companies have is they want to respect the free speech rights of their users and yet there is a line,” Pachter said.

Abbott said in advance that the meeting would focus on ways to battle “hateful ideologies,” domestic terrorism, and cybersecurity threats came as ardent gun-rights supporters and gun-control advocates made contrasting calls for action.

Gun Owners of America’s Texas chapter held a small rally outside the Capitol before Abbott’s meeting to protest the possibility of “red flag” laws that would allow guns to be removed from a person determined to be a danger to themselves or others. The group also spoke against any “social media monitoring” that might result from the discussions.

Stephen Willeford, who shot back at the gunman who attacked a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017, said gun owners don’t want more restrictions and that “red flag” laws do away with due process.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence released a new report Thursday on firearm laws and gun violence in Texas, and geared up for its own town hall in El Paso.

Ari Freilich, an attorney for the organization, said that among the report’s proposals is disarming hate crime offenders and others convicted of violent crimes.

According to the report, under Texas law, those convicted of violent hate crime assaults and hate crimes involving “terroristic threats” of violence are generally able to legally buy and keep guns immediately after conviction.

“We’ve also seen this before, so we want to make sure the folks having these conversations know that it’s time for a really serious conversation that’s responsive to ways in which Texans are being harmed every day by guns,” Freilich said.

Clarice Silber, The Associated Press