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By day, Steve Hotze is a physician who got rich by hawking “alternative treatments” for postpartum depression, aging, thyroid problems, and even COVID-19 at his chain of Texas wellness centers. By night, he’s a Lone Star State culture warrior, Texas GOP power broker, and QAnon conspiracy theorist fighting for whatever the right-wing cause du jour is.
These days, that means baseless claims of election fraud. In September, Hotze founded the Liberty Center for God & Country “to promote and protect our God-given, unalienable Constitutional rights and liberties,” and he says he raised tens of thousands of dollars to hire people to investigate voter fraud in the run-up to the 2020 election.
One of the people Hotze hired, through the Liberty Center, to do his bidding was arrested this week and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Harris County prosecutors say that former Houston Police Captain Mark Anthony Aguirre, 63, spent days conducting “surveillance” on an “innocent and ordinary air-conditioner repairman” whom he falsely suspected of masterminding a vast election fraud scheme and trafficking 750,000 fraudulent ballots in his work truck. In late October, Aguirre followed the repairman, ran his truck off the road with his SUV, and then held him at gunpoint. The truck turned out to be full of tools and spare parts.
Aguirre told authorities that he was part of a group of private citizens called “Liberty Center,” who were conducting a civilian investigation into the alleged ballot scheme. Prosecutors later discovered that the Liberty Center had paid him $266,400—and had deposited the majority of that sum into his account on the day the incident occurred in October.
The Facebook page for Liberty Center for God & County is awash with violent and conspiratorial content, which Media Matters for America documented.
In a Facebook post on November 18, Hotze wrote that he had raised “over $600,000 between October 8 and November 1 to hire private investigators and attorneys to discover, expose, and disrupt the Democrats’ massive election fraud scheme in Harris County.” Despite the fact that Harris County voted overwhelmingly in favor of Joe Biden, Hotze credits the work of the Liberty Center for Texas ultimately remaining red. Additionally, there is no evidence to show that Harris County, or Texas (or the U.S., for that matter) were plagued by voter fraud.
In 2020, Texas received 23 voter fraud complaints, only six of which came from the Houston area. The Texas attorney general’s office prosecuted 55 people for election fraud from 2015 to 2020 (37 other cases are pending), according to KHOU.
Hotze didn’t respond to VICE News’ request for an interview.
Hotze and The Liberty Center are part of an entire online ecosystem that’s dedicated to undermining public trust in the democratic system, and shoring up the false narrative that Trump was the true winner of the election. For example, the Liberty Center is named as a financial backer of a slickly designed site called EveryLegalVote, which features an interactive map that allows users to view the outcome of the election state-by-state “with voter fraud,” “current status,” and “without voter fraud.”
Hotze started out as a right-wing activist in the 1980s. He held a key position in a Christian Reconstructionist group, “Coalition on Revival” which held, among many beliefs, that malpractice lawsuits were un-Biblical. At that time, he was also fighting gay rights and successfully helped overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance in Houston. And he enthusiastically backed a mayoral candidate who said the best way to fight AIDS was to “shoot the queers,” Mother Jones reported.
Hotze studied at the University of Texas Medical School and graduated in 1976, according to public records. He built his career and wealth on “natural medicine” and bizarre claims, like women become less attractive if they take birth control or men struggle to read maps if their testicles are removed, according to a 2005 investigation into him by the Houston Press.
As his wealth grew, so did his political clout. By the 1990s he was pouring funding into down ballot races. Houston Press described him as a “bona fide kingmaker.”
His background in science and anti-LGBTQ activism positioned him to champion GOP opposition to Obamacare in 2014. He filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration, which he promoted alongside Republicans Texas lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick and Sen. John Cornyn. He became a right-wing media darling and a stand-in for conservative doctor’s opinions on Obamacare. Years later, he threw himself into the fight over transgender access to public bathrooms. This year, he was trotted out as a right-wing media expert on COVID-19, shrugging off the deadly pandemic as “much ado about nothing.”
In March, he went on a conspiracy theory podcast “I Protest with Don Jeffries” and claimed that the “deep state” concocted COVID-19 to sabotage Trump’s presidency, before spouting off a series of QAnon slogans, Media Matters reported.
He also used the pandemic as an opportunity to advertise his vitamins, which he claimed could protect people from coronavirus, and sued Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over his stay-at-home order issued in April. He also sued over the state’s contact tracing program.
This summer, when civil rights protests swept the U.S. after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, Hotze left a voicemail for Abbott later obtained by the Houston Chronicle.
“I want to make sure that he has National Guard down here and they have the order to shoot to kill if any of these son-of-a-bitch people start rioting,” Hotze said on the voicemail, according to the Chronicle.