State representative Glenn Rogers wants to confiscate your firearms and create a registry of firearm owners. So said the large, red-type message on a glossy mailer sent to voters’ homes in his rural North Texas district in late February. On the leaflets, Rogers’s head is clumsily pasted, via a photo editing tool, onto the body of a man in a suit carrying a leather bag full of assault rifles. The man is shaking President Biden’s hand, and a text bubble reads, “Their guns are yours.”

Rogers was flipping through this mailer and others on a recent Friday in his study at his ranch office outside Graford, an hour west of Fort Worth. As usual, he was wearing boots, jeans, and an ironed, button-down ranch shirt. Behind his desk, an imposing wooden bookshelf displayed a collection of porcelain cows, the Bible, and volumes about Texas history and animal husbandry. Rogers suddenly rose to his feet. “Let me show you something back here real quick,” he said. He typed a code into a hidden number pad on the wall, and a floor-to-ceiling panel of the bookshelf sprang open. He disappeared into it and invited me to join him in a walk-in safe. On one wall hung several assault rifles that he uses to shoot wild hogs from his porch. The opposite wall housed shotguns and handguns. Boxes of bullets covered the floor. “Is this a room of an anti-gun representative?” he asked. “To call me anti-gun is just a blatant lie. And they know it is.”

Three days earlier, Rogers had lost his reelection bid in the Republican primary—a particularly contentious fight marked by baseless attacks on his GOP bona fides. The 68-year-old rancher and large-animal veterinarian is conservative by any measure. He coauthored the “constitutional carry” bill to allow Texans to bear firearms without a license, signed on as a sponsor of the abortion “bounty” bill in 2021, and helped pass legislation to regulate which books school libraries can shelve. But last year he voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton and was one of 21 House Republicans to oppose Governor Greg Abbott’s push for school vouchers, which would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to pay private school tuition. Those decisions earned him the ill will of two of Texas’s most powerful politicians, and their wealthy right-wing backers, heading into the GOP primary.

The blowback from Paxton and his allies was expected, but Rogers was surprised to find himself so squarely in Abbott’s crosshairs. Late last year, Jeff Yass, a Pennsylvania billionaire who runs a Wall Street trading firm and was an early investor in TikTok, a Chinese-owned social media company, gave Abbott $6 million to distribute to several challengers running against voucher-opposing incumbents in the Texas House. Abbott passed around $200,000 of that to the campaign of Rogers’s opponent, Mike Olcott, a retired research scientist from Aledo who has never held public office. The governor also campaigned for him, visiting the district twice and accusing Rogers of being too liberal and a “two face-faced [sic] hypocrite.” Olcott prevailed easily in the primary, receiving 63 percent of the votes to Rogers’s 37.

The morning after the election, Rogers issued a scorched-earth letter ripping into what he called Texas’s corrupt political culture. He described Paxton as a “sophisticated criminal” and Abbott as “a liar.” He reserved special antipathy for two billionaire oilmen, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, who have used their wallets and political clout to exert growing control over Texas and its politics and who, along with their wives, spent $100,000 against him in this race.

“Because of my unwillingness to be compliant with the two billionaire, ‘Christian’ Nationalist, power brokers that run this state, I have been unmercifully slandered through the politics of unwarranted personal destruction,” Rogers wrote. “History will prove that our current state government is the most corrupt ever and is ‘bought’ by a few radical dominionist billionaires seeking to destroy public education, privatize our public schools and create a Theocracy that is both un-American and un-Texan.”

Rogers told me he wrote the letter not out of anger or bitterness, but out of concern about the direction that Texas is headed. He has seen how large campaign contributions can be used very effectively to spread lies. In addition to the mailers accusing him of being anti-gun, another set, from the Dunn-connected Texas Family Project, accused him of wanting to bring Muslim “Sharia Law” to the state. Rogers felt betrayed by constituents, including his neighbors in Palo Pinto County, who ought to know him but many of whom believed the attacks. “If you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth,” he said. “It’s not the truth, but it becomes their version of the truth.”  

Rogers also expressed outrage at Abbott, who recorded an advertisement attacking the representative. As in other races, Abbott didn’t hammer the incumbent on his voucher vote, because the governor’s proposal doesn’t connect well with Republicans in rural parts of the state with few private schools. Instead, Abbott repeatedly hit Rogers as weak on border control. That attack was also based on lies and misinformation, said the representative, who supported the $1.5 billion state allocation in December to build more walls and beef up security along the Rio Grande.  “All I’ve done is support him. One hundred percent,” he told me. “If I’m weak on the border, he’s weak.”

Rogers believes it was the mailers that sunk him. Ironically, he tried to force the dark money behind such leaflets into the light last year but was thwarted by Abbott. During the regular legislative session, Rogers built bipartisan support for a law to make it easier to trace political action committee money flooding into local races. For example, his bill would have required disclosures from the group behind the “anti-gun” mailers in his race, a Virginia-based political action committee called Make Liberty Win, which spent more than $100,000 attacking him. This expenditure benefited Olcott, and could have been funded by Olcott allies, but it never showed up in state ethics reports as a campaign expenditure that supported Olcott. (A call to Make Liberty Win went unreturned.)

Glenn Rogers Exit Interview
Glenn Rogers on his ranch, near Graford.Russell Gold

Rogers’s bill passed the Texas House 147–1. In the state Senate, Republican Mayes Middleton and Democrat Sarah Eckhardt, who are about as far apart on the political spectrum as it gets, sponsored the legislation, and it passed unanimously. And then Abbott vetoed it. In a tangled leap of logic, the governor said he was killing the bill because he wanted lawmakers to “concentrate” on passing school vouchers.

Facing an unwanted political retirement, Rogers told me he plans to spend more time on his ranch, where he raises Red Angus heifers, a handsome breed of cattle with an oxblood-colored coat and a curious streak. Rogers and his wife, Mandy Moody, a small-animal veterinarian, live in a hexagonal house built from local limestone on a bluff above the Brazos River. He took me on a tour of their ranch on an all-terrain vehicle, which he drove at high speeds on rutted roads.

At one point, we stopped to admire cattle in a field of thick grass, green and shining from a heavy rain the night before. Rogers worked for four decades as a veterinarian and said he is looking forward to spending his days with his herd. A couple times a year, he said, he likes to lie down in a field and put his cowboy hat over his face. The cattle will come close, sometimes licking his boots. He listens to them chew their cud. It is relaxing, he said. And far, far from the money, meanness, and madness of today’s Texas politics.