(Bethany Blankley, The Center Square) While several organizations and individuals outwardly claimed a bill banning foreign nationals from countries posing national security threats to the U.S. from purchasing land in Texas was racist and discriminatory, what conspired behind the scenes was an aggressive and coordinated effort to kill the bill using a social media platform with direct ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, filed SB 147 to ban foreign representatives not legally present in the U.S. and from countries identified as a national security threat listed on the National Threat Assessment from purchasing land in Texas.
She did so, she said, because “some of the authoritarian regimes that pose a threat to the United States do not respect private property rights and are willing to use these rights to undermine our constitutional republic.”
The bill passed the Senate but died in the House State Affairs Committee chaired by state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi. When asked by the Center Square why Hunter didn’t prioritize the bill or move it out of committee, neither he nor his chief of staff responded to requests for comment.
However, before Hunter killed the bill, several reports identified how WeChat was used to coordinate efforts to kill it and ostracize Kolkhorst and supporters of the bill.
An unclassified U.S. Air Force report obtained by the Center Square from a military source, entitled, “The China Threat,” details how the CCP uses WeChat to engage in “information warfare” against Americans, “whose content is thoroughly regulated by the CCP.”
WeChat, which has over 1 billion users and is the largest social media platform in China, is owned by Tencent, which is heavily governed by the CCP. Fast Company reported earlier this year that the Chinese government sought “golden shares” in Tencent, “opening the door” for the “CCP to establish leverage inside” it.
The Wall Street Journal reported on how the CCP has used “golden shares” to expand control through private companies, resulting in U.S. officials questioning if they are “agents” of the CCP. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also told CBS News in February, “In China, there’s really no distinction between private companies and the state.”
An FBI report has also raised similar concerns, saying, “China seeks to use these seemingly benign relationships and engagements to push its own policy objectives secretly, while hiding the fact that Beijing is behind the request or narrative.” The People’s Republic of China “seeks to undermine our democratic processes and institutions at all levels of government,” it states.
Aware of these threats, an international expert on Chinese influence tactics became alarmed after he noticed WeChat activity targeting the Texas legislature. Seth Kaplan, a professorial lecturer at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, spoke with the Center Square in an exclusive interview to explain his research and what he found.
Kaplan, who lived in China for seven years and is fluent in Mandarin, began investigating how WeChat was used to sabotage the Texas legislative process.
He told the Center Square his concern “is not about singling out any particular group or discriminating about a people based on their background but about the Chinese Communist Party interfering in state politics. As someone who lived in China and researches the CCP’s influence campaigns, Texans need to be aware of what this foreign entity is doing to undermine their democratic rights.”
Kaplan identified a large WeChat public account, “1point3acres (一亩三分地)” and its online forum and website that operates in the U.S. but is managed in Shandong, China.
He found numerous examples of how WeChat was being used to propagate the narrative that SB147 was the “new Chinese Exclusion Act.” After Kolkhorst’s bill was filed, and for months, the narrative framed opposition efforts.
He also identified one Chinese thread that included an article published by the Center Square that Gov. Greg Abbott shared on social media, expressing his support, and saying he would sign it.
Kaplan also found anti-Kolkhorst groups on WeChat appearing to use “CCP-sanctioned campaigns” created to ban supporters of the bill, label them as “Chinese traitors” and report them as spies.
One supporter of the bill posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, screenshots of WeChat users threatening to kill or disable him.
In another thread, a Chinese man from Houston named Stephen says a group was focusing on applying pressure to Sen. Juan Hinojosa, who ended up being the only Democratic senator to vote for Kolkhorst’s bill.
Kaplan believes pro-CCP and anti-democracy propaganda on WeChat encouraged roughly 100 people to protest in Austin when the bill was heard in a committee. One supporter of the bill who testified, Chinese American Bob Fu, thanked Texas DPS for sending two armed state troopers to protect him and other witnesses when they came to Austin.
“CCP brainwashed/organized many Chinese” people to protest at the Texas Capitol, he said, “threatening violence intimidating me/other witnesses.” What occurred was a CCP “disinformation campaign” spreading a false racial hatred narrative,” he added.
Navy JAG and national security law expert Jonathan Hullihan told the Center Square that the orchestrated attack on Kolkhorst’s bill “should be a wake-up call to all Americans that China is engaged in unconventional warfare against the U.S.”
Hullihan—general counsel of Citizens Defending Freedom, a nonprofit advocating for liberty—has been speaking statewide about the dangers of the CCP.
“The time to defend Texas is now,” he said. “In the absence of federal action, Texas must use all legal tools to defend it from CCP foreign influence. Sen. Kolkhorst had the foresight to defend Texas and Gov. Abbott said he would sign her bill. CDF is calling on Gov. Abbott to call a special legislative session to do just that.
“Anyone who opposes her bill is siding with a foreign communist government actively seeking to thwart official Texas legislative business,” he added. “The Texas Legislature represents Texans, not the CCP. Passing her bill is about national security and ensuring the prosperity and liberty for all Texans.”