On the second day of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial, defense attorney Tony Buzbee cited what he described as a venerable bit of wisdom about the state capital. Buzbee introduced the phrase while cross-examining former Paxton lieutenant Jeff Mateer about his decision to share with the FBI evidence of corrupt actions by the attorney general. Speaking with a suspicious tone, Buzbee noted that Mateer blew the whistle on his boss on the same day that vanquished Paxton primary challenger George P. Bush applied to reactivate his law license. Buzbee seemed to suggest that Mateer was involved in some sort of conspiracy to replace Paxton with Bush (though the law license bit is hard to follow, given that the Texas attorney general doesn’t have to be a lawyer). “You ever hear that old saying, ‘There are no coincidences in Austin’?” Buzbee asked. Mateer slowly shook his head and replied that he had not.
Soon Buzbee’s statement became a verbal meme, one invoked by the defense and the prosecution alike. Prosecutors would outline the allegations that tied Paxton to embattled real estate developer Nate Paul, then invoke the phrase in an apparent attempt to remind the jury that the coincidences in this case certainly appeared to go both ways. Paxton, prosecutors argued, used his office in ways that benefited Paul, who had just—for example—given a job to Paxton’s mistress. Was that a coincidence or evidence of a conspiracy? But, of course: there are no coincidences in Austin!
Conspiracy theorists have long touted “no coincidences” as shorthand for the idea that nefarious plots abound. If there was a conspiracy afoot, however, it likely involved Buzbee’s attempt to portray the phrase as an age-old axiom referring to Austin, despite there being no evidence that those words had ever been spoken in that order before the trial began. (A Google search for the phrase prior to the trial yields no results.) It’s not a bad turn of phrase—the line is both pithy and vaguely ominous—but it ultimately leads us to wonder: Are there, in fact, coincidences in Austin? We investigated a few important moments in the history of the state capital.
1972: The Sharpstown Scandal
The past is ever prologue. Sharpstown was a stock-fraud scandal in the early 1970s in which Houston banker Frank Sharp gave sweetheart loans to state officials and lawmakers who used those loans to buy shares in Sharp’s life insurance company, reselling the shares at a profit after inflating the stock price. The scandal entangled a great many of those officials and led the SEC to file criminal charges against a different Texas attorney general (Waggoner Carr, who was eventually acquitted) and a Speaker of the Texas House (Gus Mutscher, whose conviction was overturned on appeal), and effectively ended the political careers of both the lieutenant governor and the governor. For those with some nostalgia for the days when political scandals had political consequences, it’s worth revisiting the details of Sharpstown.
Are there coincidences in Austin? No. It does not appear to have been a coincidence that so many Texas politicians received loans from the same businessman, invested in his company, and pursued laws that would redound to the company’s benefit.
One of our favorite conspiracy theories over at Texas Monthly goes like this: beloved cult comedian Bill Hicks, a Houstonite whose fame only grew after his death from pancreatic cancer in 1994, didn’t die at all—instead, his death was faked by the CIA, which furnished him with a new identity as Alex Jones, the host of a public access cable TV show. The evidence for this claim is scant—it mostly hinges on the passing resemblance the two share when photographed from a particular angle. Of course, there’s no real reason why Hicks would have needed a new identity to become Alex Jones, but it is true that Jones launched his public access show right around the time Hicks died.
Are there coincidences in Austin? Yes. The actual connection between Hicks and Jones is that Kevin Booth, cofounder of Hicks’s Sacred Cow Productions, befriended Jones during his early public access days and released a video compilation called The Best of Alex Jones in 2000.
The 2005 college football season was one for the ages. Texas quarterback Vince Young, in the midst of an all-time-great season, came in second in Heisman voting to University of Southern California running back Reggie Bush. The two faced off at the Rose Bowl. With seconds left in the game and UT’s receivers blanketed by USC’s defenders, Young ran the ball into the end zone himself, securing the victory—and the national championship—for the Longhorns.
Are there coincidences in Austin? Technically, the game didn’t happen in Austin, but Young is certainly one of the city’s favorite sons (to this day, there’s a steakhouse named for him downtown). And his career is the sort that warrants extra scrutiny. Bush, famously, had his Heisman vacated because of allegations that he had received gifts from sports agents while still a student. When the trophy was retroactively offered to Young in 2010, he turned it down. Young joined the Tennessee Titans and earned Rookie of the Year—even as his head coach apparently spread rumors about his mental health. Is it a coincidence that Young was able to achieve so much in college and appeared set up to fail by his own team in the NFL? We know what Tony Buzbee would say about that.
One particularly active conspiracy theory has been roiling Austin for months. A handful of drownings in Lady Bird Lake are the work of a serial killer, the theory goes, and the police—who’ve said there’s no evidence of foul play or suspicious activity—are covering up for the Rainey Street Ripper.
Are there coincidences in Austin? Almost certainly. Despite the many ripper-pilled Austinites who are convinced that someone is stalking Rainey Street for fresh victims, there’s no evidence of it, and no reason to believe that if a killer were targeting thirtysomething-year-old men in Austin, the police would cover it up. What would be their motive? Furthermore, there are far fewer serial killers known to be active now than there were in previous eras, in part because of increased surveillance and more cautious behavior. That, and the existence of online groups whose members devote countless hours to sifting through information about unsolved crimes (including those who believe in the Austin serial killer), makes it much more difficult for someone to operate without being caught. It’s impossible to prove a negative, but these deaths are almost certainly proof that—tragic though it may be—there are, in fact, coincidences in Austin.