Former Mayor Calls Out Smear Campaign Against His Town

Former Southlake Mayor John Huffman
Former Southlake Mayor John Huffman | Image by Southlake Mayor John Huffman/Facebook

Former Southlake Mayor John Huffman is calling out NBC’s Mike Hixenbaugh for what he sees as an outrageous smear campaign against the city and people he loves.

Hixenbaugh is a Berkley-educated, D.C.-based investigative reporter with NBC News. He has been covering the political upheaval in Southlake and the surrounding area for the legacy broadcaster since around 2020.

He is the author of a new book about the city titled They Came for the Schools: One Town’s Fight Over Race and Identity, and the New War for America’s Classrooms.

The title is a reference to fascism and is derived from a 1946 poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller that reflects Niemöller’s view of Nazism’s rise in Germany.

The harshly critical nature of the title is reflective of Hixenbaugh’s reporting on the city and is demonstrative of the sensibilities Huffman takes issue with. The depiction of Southlake as a viciously racist enclave with fascists moving the levers of government is one that Huffman describes as just plain “wrong.”

“That does not describe the story of Southlake at all,” the former mayor told The Dallas Express.

He pointed to Bob Jones Park, where he once cut two ribbons, as an example of the positive experiences black Americans have had in Southlake. Bob and Almaedy Jones were ranchers and major landowners in the area whose former estate makes up much of the parkland in the north Texas town. The couple were of African descent and became prominent members of the post-Civil War community. Today they are honored with statues, parks, nature centers, roads, and in Southlake’s social media presence.

But their story does end there. Their descendants opened the Jones Brothers Cafe, which was reportedly the first integrated cafe in Texas.

Huffman also made statements to The Dallas Express that called into question the thoroughness of the out-of-state journalist’s reporting. The former mayor told DX that Hixenbaugh only contacted him twice while he was a city council member and that he was never contacted for comment on stories that involved him or the city after he was elected mayor in 2021.

He did not deny that “some individuals had negative experiences,” but he stressed that was “not the story of Southlake.” He pointed to an overreliance on anecdotes as just one more flaw in Hixenbaugh’s reporting, noting a recent tweet thread Hixenbaugh posted that catalogs a long list of sometimes decades-old allegations of racism, often with no identifiable victim and cases in which the alleged perpetrators were either dead or not quoted in response.

Huffman said Hixenbaugh repeatedly summarily sustains or dismisses allegations without providing evidence. One such example comes in the form of the reporter’s interpretation of Southlake residents wanting to “protect” their “rural atmosphere” by using zoning regulations to prevent the construction of trailer parks and apartment buildings. Hixenbaugh reports, without countering analysis, that this was ipso facto proof of racism.

In one NBC story, Hixenbaugh dismissed allegations made by many Southlake residents that a federal investigation into Carroll ISD (Southlake’s local public school district) was politically motivated without indicating whether he actually investigated the topic.

“There’s no evidence that the investigation at Carroll — which focuses on allegations by three students who say they were bullied based on their race, gender, and national origin — was opened in response to Southlake’s elections,” Hixenbaugh wrote in a 2022 story.

The NBC reporter dismissed the allegations without including the context of contemporaneous investigations by members of Congress that found the Biden administration’s Justice Department had “no legitimate basis” for investigating parents who protested at school board meetings.

On occasion, Hixenbaugh’s race-centric social media activism appears to inform how he attributes motives to the parties he reports on. Like the depiction of Southlake parents as “fascists,” Hixenbaugh repeatedly ascribes positive motives to left-wing political actors and negative or racist motives to those who do not openly share such beliefs.

In one instance, he celebrated the appearance of celebrities at George Floyd’s funeral. He later called media figures like Jack Posobiec “disinformation artists” for sharing clips of expert testimony that posited Floyd’s death was caused by pre-existing medical conditions.

In one thread of tweets, Hixenbaugh, who is white, appears contemptuous of a “white woman” for having a negative interaction with his “mixed [race]” kids, and he seems to imply that police are typically racist and discriminate against black people.

Huffman explained that media focus on Southlake began during the 2018-2019 school year when a Facebook video circulated. The video included Carroll ISD students using various racial slurs. This prompted the school board to adopt a five-year Cultural Competence Action Plan (CCAP) created by the District Diversity Council (DDC), which was supposed to socially reform the community and students.

Huffman said this plan was extremely flawed and included DEI programs, elements of critical race theory (CRT), the defunding of school resource officers, and the implementation of “microaggression” reporting systems. He characterized it as a fundamentally “Marxist plan.”

Recognizing the same issues as Huffman, parents balked when the plan began to be rolled out during the spring of 2020 as the COVID-19 lockdowns swept the nation.

“Our school district convened a district diversity council, which was comprised of 60 parents and community members, and they met together to talk about ideas about how our school district could respond to this issue,” Hannah Smith, a local attorney and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, told Fox News.

“In theory, it was a really great idea, but unfortunately, we had a handful of administrators in the school district that decided to push down into the plans some really radical ideas, and that’s when parents really revolted and said we don’t want this kind of radical divisive policy taught to our kids,” she added.

Subsequently, in 2021, there was political upheaval in Southlake. Voters replaced two school board members and elected two new city council members and a mayor. Smith and Cam Bryan, two vocal opponents of CRT, received nearly 70% of the vote in their respective school board races, according to Southlake Style.

Both Smith and Huffman saw the barrage of negative press from out-of-state journalists as part of what drove local residents to the polls. This included, in Huffman’s view, Hixenbaugh’s podcast Southlake. The podcast, like Hixenbaugh’s other reporting, is almost entirely populated with quotes from “hardcore progressive Southlake residents” and rarely includes alternative perspectives, the former mayor claimed.

“They are trying to get aircover from the Department of Education… to weaponize the federal government to impose on Southlake what voters rightly rejected at the ballot box,” Huffman said, referring to a recent announcement by the Biden DOE claiming Southlake violated students’ civil rights.

In Huffman’s estimation, “that top-down approach won’t work… and it isn’t right.” He noted that Southlake is “multicultural” and that overcoming issues requires “bringing people together [voluntarily].”

He identified many examples of this in Southlake, including the city’s many diverse cultural events, such as Diwalifest, the Lunar New Year-themed Spring Festival, Art In The Square, Christmas in Southlake, Oktoberfest, and many others.

Indeed, Huffman himself has been unafraid to engage with left-wing residents. DX asked him about an appearance he made in front of a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters as riots swept the nation in the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd.

“I never said Black Lives Matter or took a knee,” Huffman said before noting that he went with then-mayor Laura Hill for three reasons:

First, stores in Southlake Town Square were getting boarded up due to allegedly credible threats of a riot. He told DX he went not only to protect the city but to protect the mayor, who was a lady of petite-build.

Second, he explained that they were invited by the protest organizers, although he is now unsure whether the offer was motivated by other factors.

Third, they went to make the opposing case intelligently and calmly to those who might disagree with them.

The crowd was not receptive, Huffman recalled, and the protesters became agitated.

“There is a point when individuals stop being individuals, and they start becoming a crowd,” Huffman said with a grimace. “We cut it short and got out of there –– thankfully without incident.”

The exchange was something Hixenbaugh had to be aware of because he referred to those same protests in his reporting, yet he never asked Huffman about it on one of the few occasions he approached the soon-to-be mayor for comment in 2021.

So what has made Huffman come forward now?

“I am out of office, now I can say whatever I want,” he said with a chuckle before turning serious. “But it is hard for me as a former mayor not to feel very defensive of this community… I love these people, and they did not ask for this. They do not deserve what is happening to them.”

Hixenbaugh, who recently appeared in Grapevine to promote his book, and NBC were reached out to for comment. They did not respond by press time.

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