Editor’s Note: The interview took place on 10/05/23 via Zoom. Below is a transcription of the interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity. Wesley “Wes” Virdell is a Republican candidate in the race for Texas House District 53, currently represented by Andrew Murr. At the time of this interview, Virdell was challenging Representative Murr. However, on November 20, 2023, Murr announced he would not seek reelection. Murr, who was first elected in 2014, is the Chair of the House General Investigating Committee and was a leading figure in the impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Virdell, who also serves as the state director of Gun Owners of America (GOA), previously challenged Representative Murr in the 2022 Republican Primary. Virdell’s website can be found at virdellfortexas.com.
Garrit: Thank you so much for joining me today. I wanted to start out the interview by talking about some of the issues. Firstly, you’re the State Director for Gun Owners of America. Can you talk about the state of Second Amendment protections in the state of Texas, and what, if anything, you think that Texas is doing wrong about the Second Amendment?
Wes: You know, we need to fight against the Gun Free School Zone Act. When I look at a lot of the mass shootings across Texas and across the country, I think it goes back to 1990 when they implemented the Gun Free School Zone Act, and ever since then, our kids have been targets. So, we’ve been working on ways to bypass the Gun Free School Zone Act. Ultimately, we need to abolish that Act. We had a bill this session, SB 354, which would have enabled teachers or employees of the school district to be able to carry if they had a license to carry. Unfortunately, that bill wasn’t heard at all, which is really frustrating. So, my goal for next session is for us to push for that bill again. There was some good bills passed, I think it was HB 3, and that bill was to require that there has to be some sort of force at the school to provide protection, which could be the Guardian Program– which is teachers that are trained through a specific training class and are allowed to carry, or it’s having law enforcement on on site at the school. My big issue that I’ve noticed across this is… I was born in 1980, went through high school, graduated in ‘98. I grew up in a small town, our schools didn’t feel like prisons or anything like that, and I worry that some of the steps that are being taken are turning our schools into little, what I call, “mini-prisons.” So, these kids are having a look at people, law enforcement officers, walking around the school armed and everything else. I don’t want the school to feel like that. When I grew up in school, we didn’t have all the doors locked or anything– and I’m not saying that you should leave all the doors unlocked or anything– but it was a different society. That goes back to 1990 and the Gun Free School Zone Act and everything that’s happened since then. But if we do have armed guards or whatever there, I’d like them to be in plainclothes at school so the kids don’t feel like they’re basically just in a prison and are being protected by guards all the time. But the real thing is we need the message out there to anyone who’s thinking about doing some kind of shooting like this, in these gun free zones, is, “Hey, there are armed people here. This is not a gun free zone.” Once you do that, I think that’s the biggest deterrent that we can have to protect those kids… deterring the bad guy from coming to begin with.
Garrit: Yeah, I want to keep on that topic. There are many people that favor legislation such as “red flag laws,” mental health screenings, and licensing, and there are some who want to ban certain types of weapons. What do you say to those, especially young people, that might think that’s the only solution to dealing with these types of crimes?
Wes: One is we have a culture difference right now than we had prior to 2000. My main job at Gun Owners of America is to bring forward the facts for people to see what the reality is of it. A lot of times we talk to people that support “red flag laws” or some kind of mental health screening or a tougher license to carry to get, and a lot of times, it’s just that they don’t know the statistics on it. Once you kind of sit down and explain… I remember meeting with PBS, the PBS crew, we did an hour long interview. Initially, I think they were all anti-gun, and by the end of that hour-long interview, the whole crew except for the journalist, she didn’t like me at all… was nodding their head every time I would say something. In my hometown, I’m from Brady, and in my hometown, it’s just kind of common sense. Everybody knows an armed society is a polite society, and when we get into those places that have heavy gun restrictions you end up with higher crime, you’re more likely to become a victim of a crime. In Texas, you don’t have that problem near as bad.
Garrit: You mentioned there’s a cultural problem. Could you speak more on that?
Wes: Yeah. So I’m always gonna reference back to the way I grew up, which was a very rural community, lot of farmers, a lot of ranchers. I see farmers or ranchers every day. I’ve lived on a couple of ranches, and it’s just a normal way of life to have guns in your pickup or hunting with them….Today, a guy stopped by my house, and I showed him one of my rifles. So, we’re standing in the front yard with a rifle and none of my neighbors think that that’s a strange thing for us to be out there with the rifle. Whereas, you go to these communities where that’s not a normal lifestyle for them, and they would freak out if they saw somebody standing in a front yard of a driveway with a rifle. We have a change in society where less and less people have experience in the outdoors or anything like that. We also have, I think, an educational system that doesn’t promote the Bill of Rights near as much as it used to when we were growing up. So, they’re not hammering on, “Hey, you have a second amendment right? You have this list of rights that our federal government has said, ‘we recognize we don’t have the authority to overstep these boundaries’.” You have a lot of people who just maybe don’t understand that now. It hasn’t been taught to them in the education system, whatever the case is. Our job at GOA is national education. It’s like, “Hey, here’s what’s working, here’s what’s not working, here’s what your rights are, and here’s where the government’s overstepping those rights.” Even with the NICS system, which is the background checks for when you go to buy a firearm from an FFL dealer, a Federal Firearms Licensed dealer, you have to go through a background check. That NICS system is faulty all the time. It flags people all the time and delays them from purchasing a firearm when there was nothing wrong with it. There’s people who absolutely should have been disqualified by those factors that fall under the NICS system. If you look at Sutherland Springs, the guy that shot, he went into the church and ended up killing 26 people… and I’m actually friends with the guy who stopped the bad guy, [he was] a good guy with a gun– with an AR 15– that ran across the street, engaged the bad guy, and took them out… anyways… I kind of lost my train of thought there too. Sorry about that. But we ended up having where good guys with guns stop the bad guys all the time.
Garrit: Some say that America has this “gun culture,” I’m sure you’re familiar with that saying, and that that’s actually the reason why we have all these shootings. I presume that you would disagree with that. But do you think that there are things beyond cultural issues and beyond say, growing up around guns, that have caused a lot of these kinds of shootings and criminal activities?
Wes: Yeah, I would say if you were to look at the transition of what we considered high moral value back in the 80s and 90s, to what we consider moral values now has changed dramatically. There was a time when lifestyles that are commonly accepted today weren’t accepted at all. For me, being a Christian and coming from that side of it, we have a society that is falling away from living a moral life and to definitely living a life that is definitely less moral, less virtuous. When people quit caring… you see the videos all the time now that pop up of people in public just being completely terrible to other people and doing terrible things. I don’t think you had that happening 20, 30, 40 years ago, and now it’s just common to see a video of people being really bad– you know, people on school buses beating disabled kids and all kinds of stuff. I think our society has changed. There’s a quote by Alexander Tytler that I like quite a bit, but it kind of talks about the cycle of society. And, actually, there’s another quote that’s the same thing but a much shorter version. So, I’ll spare you on the long one, but it’s,”Hard times create tough men. Tough men create good times. Good times create weak men. Weak men create hard times.” So, there’s that cycle and, and we’re in a part of society right now where we have lived… there’s a lot of people in this society that have lived without having to see where [their] food comes from and how hard that work is. For my background, it’s heavy truck repair, diesel repair. So, I’ve grown up almost every day of my life either working in a repair shop or watching other guys just sweat it out… so these guys are watching and seeing the amount of actual sweat equity that goes into the effort to make sure that society keeps moving. And we do have a portion of society that doesn’t see that anymore. You know, their family didn’t come from ranching or farming or from doing manual labor. So now they’re in a position where the bigger goal right now is comfort, I guess you could say. Most of America is focused more on comfort and entertainment now, instead of what work went in to create the society that we have right now. When we look out and see the roads and bridges and everything else, that didn’t magically appear. That was sweat labor that a bunch of people put into it. Now, there’s people here that were born into this society without seeing what it was like before that. So, I hope that makes a lot of sense. I’m kind of walking in circles here.
Garrit: What does… and I know this is probably a very difficult question to answer, but how do you think we go about solving this issue?
Wes: The question there, I think, would be how do you stop the cycle? Because the way that cycle works is once everything’s really good, then everybody kind of gets a little softer. Then we start deteriorating back into bondage. I guess you would say we become apathetic, where we don’t really care about a lot of things. We’re just focused on some very specific things like comfort and entertainment. Honestly, I don’t know how you stop it. You hope that you can delay it. In Alexander Tytler’s quote, he talks about how Republics have only lasted about 200 years, and then it goes through that whole cycle. You see that if you get into the Bible, or even just through the history of society. You see societies rise, they end up doing really well, and then, once they hit that peak, it starts going downhill. You can turn that into looking at our government too, which is similar to the Roman Empire, [it’s] overstretched itself and we’re exhausting resources to other countries, instead of focusing on our own country. Until we have– I’d say leadership but it’s not leadership– elected people that are actually representing us and fighting for those things and making sure that we’re making good financial decisions. You know, debate back and forth on this, you can’t legislate morality. You can’t force people to be moral or anything like that. But I hope that people will see, “hey, we need to treat people better, and we need to not be financially terrible with our money either,” which our country is pretty bad off right now. We’re $33 trillion in debt on the federal side. I did the math the other day, and from 1776 to today, to get to $33 trillion, you’d have to spend something like $365 million a day from 1776 to now, which is absolute insanity. We’re spending money that is absolutely insane. We’ve got to change who we send to DC and to the Texas legislature. I think we increased our spending by 15 billion or something like that this year in Texas for the legislature. So, we have to figure out how do we make better decisions. And that goes to… sorry, I’m just going to take off on a rabbit trail here… how we handled COVID. The people in the legislature, they remained dead silent through the business shutdowns, mask mandates, and vaccine mandates. Almost none of them would speak up until it was politically popular to speak out against it. But early on, they were okay… I mean, it’s not a liberty position at all to have government telling businesses they can’t open, how many people they can have in it, or that you’re going to have to wear masks and everything. In the diesel truck repair shop world, it screwed up the supply chain badly. We had a real hard time getting parts, which delayed a lot of stuff. Now, after they decided to print 8 trillion dollars, from the federal side… massive inflation. You don’t even have to be a good economist to know if you print $8 trillion out of thin air, you’re going to massively screw up the economics, and that’s exactly what happened. It was a temporary fix. They put a bandaid on something for something that, in my opinion, they helped cause, and we have to start sending people there that when something like this pops up, they’re gonna have to have the courage, even though it may be unpopular… I actually had some friends who were pretty mad at me early on during COVID, because I learned quickly whatever the government tells you, do the opposite, and you have a higher chance of success. So, as soon as I saw government recommendations and mandates coming out, I was very verbal against it… so I had friends that disowned me for a little while. They were like, “Oh, you just want people to die. You don’t care about people.” That’s not true at all. I care a lot about people, but I also care about people’s freedom to live as they want. Basically everything we’re dealing with right now, I put back on government. Government enabled every bit of this to happen.
Garrit: Yeah, and sticking with the topic of government, and specifically the Texas Legislature, you’re challenging State Representative Andrew Murr, who happens to also be the Chairman of the General Investigating Committee for the House. Firstly, can you make your case to the voters as to why you should represent House District 53?
Wes: One has to do with my background. I’m from a working class family, where we have to actually produce results and have success in the business or else the business fails, whereas somebody in government for a long time doesn’t have to actually produce results. Andrew Murr first came on my radar in 2017-2019. We were pushing really hard for constitutional carry, that was after the open carry victory in 2015. Anyways, in 2015, we got the open carry victory, we were pushing. In 2017, Andrew Murr was telling people he would not support the constitutional carry bill, and then in 2019, he’s telling people he wouldn’t support it. But at the same time, he was sending out campaign mailers saying that he’s Pro 2A and he’s a second amendment supporter. So, in my opinion, that’s lying to your district on what you actually stand for. Then along comes 2020. In 2020, you had COVID… I didn’t see any action out of him. I remember sitting when it was about March of 2020… I remember sitting there, and I was like, “if I have the chance to run against a person who doesn’t stand up for the people, I’m 100% going to do it,” and Andrew Murr ended up being that guy. He didn’t stand up for us. He was all about the mask mandates and the business closures and then, interestingly, after it became politically popular to stand up against it, then he started making campaign talk about how he’s helped fight against it, but that’s what I call a “sunshine patriot.” So, when the real fight’s there and you bow down, you cower, and then go around telling everybody how much of a fighter you are… and the truth is when the real fight was there, you were coward, that’s a sunshine patriot. That goes back to a Thomas Paine speech– if you’re familiar with that. It was a great speech to soldiers talking about the summertime soldiers.
Garrit: As you’ve campaigns around your district, how are voters feeling about Murr and, specifically, his role in the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, and what has been the reaction to your campaign?
Wes: Right now things are going really well. We ran one time before against him, and pretty much all the conservatives that we met were very unhappy with Murr at the time. So, the conservative part of the Republican Party is very unhappy with Murr, and then this happened where he led the Ken Paxton impeachment. I mean, it’s what you call failing miserably? Because, they just got smashed in the Senate trial. They had, in my opinion, no evidence presented that was enough to convince the senators Ken Paxton had broken the law at all. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick called him out and said, “this is costing taxpayers a lot of money. We’re gonna do an audit on this.” We estimate that it’s 5 to 10 million dollars that it cost the Texas taxpayers. It got put all on full display for all of Texas to see what they were doing. Now, even people that thought Murr was doing a good job last time when I ran against him… it’s overwhelming how much support we’re getting where we’re actually being told, “Hey, you’ve got this. We’re behind you.” We had no idea [Murr] was like this. And it’s not just here and there, and it’s not just my echo chamber or anything like that. It’s people I’ve never met, across the district, that are saying, “we were tricked and we’re 100% behind you.”
Garrit: As we run close to running out of time, I wanted to touch on a few things about you personally. You served in the U.S. Air Force, and not only that, but your family has a very long history of service for the U.S. military. Could you speak more about your time in the military and your family’s history of service?
Wes: I joined three days before September 11th on a delayed enlistment program. I had no idea, you know, none of us knew September 11th, 2001 was going to happen. Ended up two months after that reporting to basic training. I had done well on my ASVAB score, which is the test that they give you to see what your knowledge base is or competence level or something like that. They said “hey, you can pick whatever job you want.” I picked intercontinental ballistic missiles. I didn’t fully understand what I was picking when I did it, but it sounded good. I ended up getting to work on the most powerful weapon system we have, which is the Minuteman III missile and the Peacekeeper missile. Which, in comparison to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, were 15 kiloton nuclear bombs, ours were like 300 kiloton nuclear bombs, so pretty amazing. Then I got to be a military training leader for three and a half years after that, which was a great experience. Then I got out and came home. I wanted to raise my kids… I talked about being from a small town, I could make a lot more money doing other things, but I wanted to raise my kids in that small town… back to the family stuff. We ended up doing a lot of research on… I had watched candidates over the years talk about how they’re seventh generation, fifth generation, whatever Texans and, I hadn’t really thought [about that]. I just always thought of myself as a Texan, but we started going back through it and found out my eighth-great granddad had served in the American Revolution, which is pretty amazing. My sixth-great granddad first came to Texas in 1804. His grandson, Jonathan Lindley, who would be a relative of mine, ended up being one of the Immortal 32 Rangers from Gonzales that responded to William Travis’s letter asking for help at the Alamo. So, he was one of those 32 guys that went over there and ended up dying at the Alamo. So, not good for him. But, what he did for Texas and what came out of that battle at the Alamo is pretty amazing. My granddad served in World War Two, he was in the Army. My other granddad, I think he was a National Guard Reserves or something like that– I can’t remember exactly. But his background, which is pretty amazing, he grew up in San Saba, Texas, a small town, had no college degree, and was considered one of the founders of a hugely successful recreational boating company that started off in the late 50s. My grandma says that he had 52 patents in his name before he passed away. So, pretty amazing.
Garrit: You touched on how your family has a very long history in Texas, and that you’re a ninth generation Texan. What does that mean to you, especially as you’re running to represent your fellow Texans in [the] legislature?
Wes: Yeah, if we compare first generation to ninth generation Texans, I actually don’t think there’s a lot of difference. I have a lot of Texas pride, which is something Texas is known for. But I think that even the first generation guys and girls that are here right now, they love Texas just as much as I do, and they came from places that were far worse than Texas. So, they actually might even love Texas a little more because they know what it’s like to live in a state that has some really bad [second amendment] positions or freedom positions on things. So, I don’t think that anyone who’s first generation is any less Texan than me to be honest. As long as they love their state and want to see us enable freedom and to… because honestly, if Texas falls– and you hear this all the time and sometimes it’s cliche– the rest of the nation falls with it. We’re supposed to be that shining beacon on the hill, and I truly believe as Texans that we have the ability to do it, we just have to make sure we’re sending the right people there to represent us.
Garrit: Wes, we are out of time now. I wanted to see if there was anything else you’d like to say as we conclude the interview.
Wes: Yeah, I think what I’m grateful for at this current time in our state is a lot of stuff has been exposed. A lot has been coming out about how these guys that proclaim to be Republican have actually been working against us. They’ve been working with the Democrats. So, now we’re actually getting to see that full front. I’ve been spending 10 years trying to point to people, hey, these guys are killing our bills. They’re putting Democrats in charge of our committees that are killing our bills, and they’re going home and saying that it’s the Democrats’ fault, but, really, it was the Republicans who enabled all of this. So, we’re in a position where we can change what the state legislature looks like. You know, there are things we can work on with Democrats, such as [agriculture] bills and other things like that. I’m not for giving any leeway to the Democrats for anti-Republican, anti-conservative positions. If they want to work on farm bills, water bills, transportation, commerce related stuff, and infrastructure, I’m all for that as long as it is with good financial discipline. Ultimately, I want to make sure that Texas is protected and doesn’t end up looking like New York or California.