Bad word or bad acting? Beto O’Rourke spins 180°, shouts at Abbott sign guy over AR-15s

·4 min read

Beto O’Rourke unleashed Texas Democrats’ pent-up rage Wednesday night.

With a single word shouted in a moment of campaign passion, he punctuated Democrats’ frustration at 20 solid years of losing.

It was a dramatic moment. O’Rourke’s eyes flashed with anger.

But — was it real?

Only 4 minutes into a packed campaign rally in the ballroom atop the Crazy Water Hotel, an indignant O’Rourke shouted a mother of a bad word toward somebody holding a Greg Abbott sign who seemed to chuckle when O’Rourke dramatically described the AR-15 used in the Uvalde school massacre.

When the Democratic gubernatorial candidate bent a knee like a marksman kneeling, then pointed dramatically and said the AR-15 was designed for Vietnam War troops to “penetrate an enemy soldier’s helmet at 500 feet,” a snicker went up directly behind him.

According to the campaign’s own video on the Facebook page for O’Rourke’s monthlong whistle-stop “Drive for Texas” tour, O’Rourke rose on his toes and spun 180 degrees.

“It might be funny to you, [expletive]! But it’s not funny to me!” he said, pointing as the crowd of a few hundred Parker and Palo Pinto County Democrats cheered wildly.

On the eve of a big-city rally in Fort Worth on Thursday at the Round-Up Inn in the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall, O’Rourke’s rhetoric sparked a national social media firestorm that turned into millions of video replays, news reports, TikTok tributes and a brief new round of Betomania from around the world.

Beto O’Rourke points at someone with a Greg Abbott sign who laughed during Abbott’s comments about the AR-15 used in the Uvalde massacre.
Beto O’Rourke points at someone with a Greg Abbott sign who laughed during Abbott’s comments about the AR-15 used in the Uvalde massacre.

Maybe O’Rourke set out to make a point.

Maybe he meant to silence the few people with Abbott signs early, before he got into the meat of a policy-driven speech.

But this wasn’t the first time O’Rourke has used such rhetoric to shut down laughs at that point in his speech.

On July 21 in Snyder, as reported by Patrick Svitek in the Texas Tribune, O’Rourke shouted back to somebody in the audience, “Might be funny to you. It isn’t to me.”

After the clapback in Mineral Wells, O’Rourke went on to talk another hour about education, expanding Medicaid eligibility, improving the energy grid, equalizing road funding, legalizing marijuana — even about how ranchers are exploited by big meat companies.

But some Republicans in neighboring Wise County, where O’Rourke will stop in Decatur earlier Thursday, had already posted on social media that Abbott volunteers are specifically asked to protest only outside O’Rourke’s rallies. They’re not supposed to go inside and risk becoming part of the show.

Maybe that message didn’t make it to a few maverick Parker or Palo Pinto volunteers.

Or maybe — surely not.

But coincidentally, O’Rourke started the gestures in exactly the opposite direction from the Abbott signs.

That meant when he heard the chuckle, he had to theatrically rise and pivot with a flourish.

As a driver in a sound truck across Oak Street blasted loudspeaker commands like “Leave town!” and “Don’t vote for him!” the Abbott sign-wavers stood in one corner of the Crazy Water’s top-floor ballroom.

One older man holding an Abbott sign and wearing a black leather jacket drew particular police attention during the event, according to video posted by an O’Rourke supporter.

Mineral Wells police have a word with an attendee at the Beto O’Rourke rally. It is not clear why police approached the man.
Mineral Wells police have a word with an attendee at the Beto O’Rourke rally. It is not clear why police approached the man.

O’Rourke’s early snapback generally slammed the lid on heckling, although that corner continued to snipe and boo quietly throughout the speech.

For O’Rourke, it was a breakthrough into national media after weeks of crisscrossing West Texas in what has basically been a daily Facebook reality show.

Some of the videos were full of Texas roadside scenery and looked more like he was trying out for a co-host role on Bob Phillips’ “Texas Country Reporter.”

But in Mineral Wells, the El Paso Democrat was trying to amp up his statewide support and national contributions before Texans mostly forget about politics and turn to football.

There was already worry about guns in the crowd. A man of unidentified loyalties had been seen with a concealed handgun and was asked by police to take it back outside. The hotel bans weapons, Mineral Wells City Manager and Police Chief Dean Sullivan said.

O’Rourke’s rallies are open to the public, a campaign spokesman said, and several attendees in other cities typically come armed with handguns or rifles.

Several armed attendees have asked questions during rallies or been singled out by O’Rourke. (But not cussed out.)

So if you bet that August 10 would be the first day O’Rourke would drop a bad word during this campaign, you win.

It probably won’t be the last.