Courtesy Photo / Gina Ortiz Jones (left) and Twitter / Tony Gonzales (right)
Republican congressional candidate Tony Gonzales has been eager to align himself with Donald Trump during his campaign, even picking up an endorsement
from the president during his primary runoff.
Now, Gonzales appears to have echoed one of the president's most controversial recent statements.
During an interview last week, Gonzales repeatedly refused to identify the Ku Klux Klan as a terrorist group. The incident, first reported by KSAT News
, appears eerily similar to Trump's headline-grabbing refusal to denounce white supremacists during his first debate with Joe Biden.
Facing Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones to represent South Texas' 23rd Congressional District, a key swing district, Gonzales met with former San Antonio city council candidate Roy Aguillon to appear on his social media talk show The Carpenter's Apprentice
During the chat, filmed inside a dimly lit bar, Aguillon asked Gonzales about a super PAC-funded TV spot
that says the candidate will designate international criminal gang MS-13 a terrorist organization.
“Do you intend to push for the KKK to also be labeled as such?” the host asks.
At first, Gonzales tried to deflect, arguing that he doesn't control outside groups that buy ads. Aguillon continued pushing, however, repeatedly asking Gonzales to answer directly.
After several more attempts to duck the question, Gonzales finally replied, “Look, I don’t support the KKK. I think they’re a terrible organization.”
“Why isn’t that like a simple 'yes' or 'no'?” Aguillon asked.
“Look, 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.”
The Jones campaign seized on the clip.
"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," said Sharon Yang, a spokeswoman for Jones, who will meet Gonzales in a televised debate on Thursday
In a statement issued to KSAT, Gonzales spokesman Matt Mackowiak said the Navy veteran believes any organization that uses violence to terrorize people should be called a terrorist organization.
"Trying to imply that a Hispanic veteran is somehow sympathetic to the KKK demonstrates just how desperate the Jones campaign has become,” Mackowiak added.
The incident comes as Gonzales faces criticism for making the false claim in a TV ad and on Twitter that Jones lives in Washington D.C. instead of South Texas.
The allegation was debunked this week by Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia
, who pointed out that while Jones owns property in D.C., she relocated to San Antonio in 2017, prior to an earlier run to represent the district. Jones resides in a home owned by her mother.
When Garcia asked Gonzales to back up the claim in an interview, the Republican continued to retreat to talking points about Jones being too liberal for Texas. Gonzales also declined to answer whether he himself owns property outside the state, even though property records show he has a house in Florida.
Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.