David W. Smith, the leader of the Orange County, Texas-based Golden Triangle Militia, wants people to know he is no white supremacist or conspiracy theorist.
“If you say you’re part of a militia, people start cowering with fear,” he told TPM in a phone interview last week. “They start calling you a white supremacist or part of the KKK [Ku Klux Klan] when it’s open for every single resident that lives in the county.”
Smith has been on a quest to persuade the Orange County Commissioners Court to recognize his group as the county reserve militia for over a year and a half. Last week, commissioners were about to vote on a resolution recognizing the Golden Triangle Militia—which would have been a first in the Lone Star State—when one commissioner expressed reservations about the group’s vetting process and requested more information, according to local TV station KBMT. The vote was tabled.
Smith expressed frustration, saying he believes his group already is the county’s reserve militia by default.
“The Golden Triangle Militia is a reserve militia according to that government code,” Smith told TPM. “That’s what I’m trying to do there, because the law says that the reserve militia is supposed to already exist but it’s never been officially organized according to the law in the state of Texas since it’s been on the statutes since 1987. Nobody’s ever done it.”
TPM spoke with Smith, who said he’s a U.S. Air Force and Texas Army National Guard veteran, at length about his effort to get his group recognized as the reserve militia for Orange County. Smith is a former phlebotomist who now runs a business building monolithic domes. He tried to run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) last year as an independent and casually name-drops Texas politicians, including former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), whom he says he’s spoken to about his militia movement. He also offered his take on those “Jade Helm 15” conspiracy theories that have been catching fire in the state and elsewhere.
Below is a transcript of the conversation which has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
TPM: Why is recognition from the county so important to the Golden Triangle Militia?
David W. Smith: Well, that’s what I’m trying to get [the Commissioners Court] to understand. The attempt is to organize the militias in the state of Texas according to lawful means. The reserve militia, according to code 431, is actually part of the Texas military forces, the state military forces. You have the Texas Army National Guard, you have the State Guard, and, by law, you have the unorganized militia part that is actually the reserve militia. That is all part of the forces, the Texas military forces. Being that it has not been done, the Texas reserve militia has not been recognized and actually implemented and put together formally assembled. The big question is, why not? Since it’s part of our statute, how come it hasn’t been fully implemented when it is an asset that helps every county? It helps the whole state, why hasn’t it been done?
So it is my goal, along with many other people that recognize the asset, to actually get this established and get it going and have it become recognized as part of our statutes and part of the things that we should do. It’s not just an individual thing saying ‘Hey, we’re the Golden Triangle Militia, and we want to be recognized.’ It goes a lot bigger than that.
So if Orange County recognized the militia, what service could you provide to the county that, for example, law enforcement doesn’t already provide?
Well, I’ll start off with the judge authority. The judge could activate the reserve militia in the aspect of “We need volunteers to do this or that,” whatever that may be. [Inaudible] There’s an emergency board, which you’ll find in subchapter E of that code 431. The emergency board is made up of the judge, the sheriff and the county tax collector-assessor. So those three individuals pretty much have oversight of the reserve militia in the county. If the symbiotic relationship existed according to government code 431 and the other five statutes that I gave you, if that was actually something that was there—the sheriff could actually, and still can, even if we don’t get the recognition, even if we don’t get the resolution passed, the sheriff still has the lawful ability to call the group and get the group together to do whatever he needs it to. Say, for instance, to control a riot. To protect property. That’s laid out in the reserve militia statute under subchapter E in that government code 431. It’s not something I’m making up. If you read that government code 431 you’ll see exactly how it can be utilized. It tells you specifically. It’s in black and white. It’s not something I’m making up. So it’s very clear that it is an asset that’s available and it’s lawful to be able to do it.
My concern is—their concern, I should say, is what about liability if we do call up the reserve militia? And I’m like “OK, if you don’t pass the resolution recognizing the reserve militia, the Golden Triangle Militia as the reserve militia lawfully organized here in our county, and we don’t have the symbiotic relationship and you say you still do have the authority to call us into action to provide security, to repel people coming in and rioting or destroying property, you go ahead and do that.” But we have never actually trained together. That symbiotic relationship isn’t there. It doesn’t exist. The police officers don’t know the people that the reserve militia, the members of the county reserve militia—if something does happen, what liability then is the county going to face? Saying that you’re concerned about liabilities is kind of a catch-22. It just doesn’t make any sense. If you have a training process, if you have a legal process, everybody’s under that legal process and knows that this how you follow orders, this is how the standard operating procedures would operate in this situation. That all has to be in place. That is why we want to make sure that this law is recognized and that the Golden Triangle Militia is the reserve militia. If we fall into that aspect of liability protection—if you do something wrong, everybody’s going to be held accountable regardless. There’s no getting around on that.
Just to make sure I understand the sum of your argument—you think it’s better for everybody involved if the county was to recognize the militia so that you guys could work with law enforcement and everybody else should there be an event in the future in which you were needed?
Well that ability is already there. It already exists, like I said, and they already recognize that. So they say, ‘Why are we going to pass a resolution? Why do you want the resolution to pass?’ and I say that’s exactly the reason why. Now you have officially recognized that this is a law that is in place. You’ve told everybody you can do this, but you still don’t want to recognize the militia?
It’s my sense looking at it like this. Do you have military people joining the Texas Army National Guard or State Guard? Everybody looks at that and says, ‘That’s an honorable thing.’ The stigma is on the militias. There is a stigma that people don’t understand the militia because the education process has failed at letting people understand that this is an actual part of our state military. If you say you’re part of a militia, people start cowering with fear. They start calling you a white supremacist or part of the KKK, when it’s open for every single resident that lives in the county. It doesn’t matter what you look like. It doesn’t matter what your appearance is. Every member, every person is actually the reserve militia. There is no distinguishing between the two. You could not even be a citizen, but you’re going through the process of applying to be a citizen, you could even have the ability to join the reserve militia. 18 years old or 60 is what they have on the books right now … I can’t understand why it hasn’t happened. And I want to find the actual people that authored the bill that got it passed in 1987 in the 70th legislation [sic]. I want to find the author and the co-author.
I have the lieutenant governor on the other line calling me and I’m gonna have to cut you off.
OK, would I be able to ask you a couple more questions when you’re finished with your conversation with him?
Uhh—That’s my wife so go ahead.
That’s my wife calling me and I can call her back, so I can continue with you. But I’ll let you know I’m expecting a call from the former lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst. I’m trying to work out something where I explain to him—because this has been a discussion that’s come up before about a year ago—about how we would actually organize the militia in the state of Texas and get everybody in the pipe. Well this government code 431 does exactly that, and it does things lawfully. It already has a structure there, there’s a pattern and structure to it that we can follow since 1987 and get everything organized. There should be no ‘Why? Why should we do this? We’re not gonna do that.’ All that kind of stuff like that should be thrown out the door, all the naysayers, that should be set aside and just go ahead and comply with the statute.
So how do you vet who joins the militia?
We have a three-month probationary period of time for anybody that is a veteran and has ever served. We have a six-month probationary time for non-veterans. They have to produce a background check. They either have to pay for it themselves or they have a CHL [concealed handgun license], which is a background check that has been done on them. Before they can become an official, patched-in member they have to complete all their probationary period of time, their background checks and they have to also complete training. Basic training, they have to be able to pass that. It’s not really difficult to pass. It’s not as stringent as the actual military, but we have that process. That process could take—they could get that done in three months, they could get that done in six months, but that process could take years for them if they’re not somebody who’s really actively involved.
What does that training consist of?
Weapon safety. How to manipulate your rifle and properly use it. We don’t even shoot the weapons. We don’t even shoot our rifles right now. We don’t shoot the pistols right now. It’s all about handling and safety, making sure that you’re not actually going to shoot anybody that’s in your unit or anybody that you’re not supposed to be shooting. Making sure that innocent bystanders aren’t hit. It’s the same type of military training that you would take if you were joining the Army, Marines, Navy, whatever it may be.
Most of us are veterans. We’ve served in the military. For a civilian that has never served in the military, they are gonna get some of that same training. Law enforcement, if law enforcement would have that symbiotic relationship as it should be, then also we’re gonna get civilian law enforcement training. Because the emergency management coordinator, according to government code 418, is responsible for assuring that there is that kind of training available and letting us know when those kinds of things are available and setting that up so we can get that kind of training. The sheriff’s department should be actively involved in training the reserve militia as well. By law he has the official capacity to deputize or to use the reserve militia as he sees fit. So it seems to me that he should be more actively involved in that training.
The Anti-Defamation League picked up on the fact that you’re making this effort to get the Golden Triangle Militia recognized. They cited some Facebook posts from the militia group that said, “we must never let ourselves…be complacent to the schemes of the world elitists” and that Americans must “rid ourselves of tyrannical government.” They argued those quotes show something of a conspiratorial side to the group. How do you respond to that?
That’s not conspiracy. That’s the same words that our Founding Fathers used. That’s the same language that they used. We always have to remain vigilant to keep that from happening in our nation. Tyranny is not something that we want to happen. We want to have a government where it’s a government of the people, by the people, for the people. That’s how our nation was supposed to be founded. Am I wrong? I mean to make a quote like that and be told that’s a negative type of a thought pattern, I disagree…It is my goal for us to have every citizen in the county to actually have a symbiotic relationship with our county-elected government. Any views of conspiracy or anything else like that, I tell my group that this is not something we partake in and to stay away from those types of arguments.
[Ed. note: Smith called back later, after reading that the ADL post said he shared links to conspiracy theory shock jock Alex Jones and various Three Percenter groups, to add:
The reason why I pay attention to—I’m part of those groups, I add myself to those groups, is so I can see what they’re saying. Not that I buy into what they’re saying. I just want to see what’s going around. It keeps a pulse on things about what’s going on so I know how to deal with it when people start talking to me and asking me. How else do you know what people are talking about? So just because I may have a link to that group or join that group it’s just because I’m monitoring them, watching what they’re saying. Not that I buy into their theories or beliefs.]
It’s just the same way with all this Jade Helm stuff that’s going around. I’m like, don’t get involved in it. Don’t participate in the hype in it. Leave it alone. It has nothing to do with why we’re doing what we’re doing. Conspiracy theorists destroy any organization because they lose credibility. So my goal is to make sure that we don’t get involved in conspiracy theorists’ ideas and things that are going around that have not been confirmed. If it’s not something we have factual evidence of, and things that are actually happening on ground haven’t been visibly sighted—in the military you don’t always believe the first thing that you hear. It’s always verify. You just don’t take everything you hear as the truth. You have to make sure that it’s verifiably true. Conspiracy ideas and the conspiracy rabbit holes, I encourage the whole group to stay totally away from those ideas.
TPM’s been following Jade Helm very closely. A lot of stuff is being thrown out there.
I was speaking with—I was over in Congressman [Brian] Babin’s [R-TX] office the other day with his staff and they brought that up and they asked me about this and I’m like, have a little faith in our military personnel, in our citizens who are actually joining the military. Are you really gonna sit down and say that they’re gonna do this to our own citizens? Like I asked a gentleman yesterday, he was over at Lowe’s—I was doing some work yesterday and went into Lowe’s and he was there and we were in a conversation and another person kinda overheard me talking about it and I thought, let me give you an example. If your commanding officer here on U.S. soil said “Go round up all those people and throw ‘em in a—and lock ‘em up.” What would you do? He said “I guess I would have to obey my commanding officer.” I said, do you understand Posse Comitatus? It says that using U.S. military on American soil and against American people is not allowed…if the governor were to call in federal forces, then we might wind up putting ourselves in a situation where we really shouldn’t have put ourselves in because we didn’t go through procedures that we had in place. Say for instance calling on all law enforcement first, then calling upon the reserve militia to step in, then calling on our Texas State Guard to step in, and then if that can even escalate to even more, calling in our Texas Army National Guard. This is the procedure that should be taken that has not been taken. They call in the National Guard very quickly, where they don’t call in your local people that live in your area that have a vested interest in protecting property, life. So I’m trying to explain to them there’s a better way to actually do this. There’s a better pattern, there’s an established pattern that would work better than the pattern we’re following now. We’ve gone off-track. We’ve gone way off track in how we should actually be doing things.
Is there anything else that’s essential to know about the Golden Triangle Militia and the effort to get it recognized?
The biggest thing is the stigma. The big stigma. You’re a bunch of conspiracy theorists because you take one little comment like [the ADL] may have done— like I said, I’d like to see the whole comment in context—they may take one little comment in context and misapply it to say “This is the deep-rooted, really true feeling of the organization.” No. This is a Texan law statute. It is legitimate according to Texas law standard and everything that’s there. It has nothing to do with my ideology, religious stance, anything like that. We will apply and abide by the standard in place. Removing that stigma is the biggest goal. Stop having people being naysayers and calling people “Wannabe this,” “Wannabe that,” “Go join the Army if you wanna play Army,” things like that. Most of us are veterans. We’ve already served and we wish to continue to serve in a capacity to help our community. That’s the biggest thing and the biggest goal that I feel like we should be able to accomplish, that and then securing our county and our state for any situation that may occur.