Anti-Muslim Signs in Statehouse Roil West Virginia, Draw Outrage
CHARLESTON, W.VA. —
An anti-Muslim poster outside the West Virginia House of Delegates chamber falsely connecting a freshman congresswoman to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has drawn strong rebukes from local and national lawmakers, while causing the resignation of a Capitol staffer and the reported injury of another.
The sign, which loomed over a table loaded with other Islamophobic flyers on a “WV GOP Day” at the legislature Friday, bore an image of the burning World Trade Center juxtaposed with a picture of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat and one of the first Muslim congresswomen ever elected. “‘Never forget’ — You said,” was written over the Twin Towers. On Omar’s picture, a caption read, “I am the proof you have forgotten.”
On Saturday, the West Virginia’s Republican Party condemned the appearance of the anti-Muslim flyers and posters.
“Our party supports freedom of speech, but we do not endorse speech that advances intolerant and hateful views,” West Virginia Republican Party Chairwoman Melody Potter wrote in a statement, which added that they did not approve of the sign and had asked the exhibitor to remove it. No one acknowledged permitting the display.
Designated hate group
The group responsible for the display, ACT for America, has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Onlookers outside the House chambers Friday snapped photos of the poster and the additional literature.
“Readin’, Writin’, And Jihadin,’ The Islamization of American Public Schools,” read one of the pamphlets. Another flyer warned of “The Four Stages of Islamic Conquest.”
A phone number listed for the organization went straight to a voicemail box that was full and could not accept messages. The answering machine message described the group as “the nation’s largest nonprofit grassroots organization devoted to promoting national security and defeating terrorism.”
Many House delegates denounced the group just as the body convened. One lawmaker admitted to getting so mad that he kicked a House door open, which resulted in a doorkeeper being physically injured, according to the speaker of the House. Another delegate grew furious, saying he had heard a staffer make an anti-Muslim remark.
“The sergeant of arms of this body, that represents the people of the state of West Virginia, said, ‘All Muslims are terrorists.’ That’s beyond shameful,” said Del. Michael Angelucci, a Democrat, his voice rising to a shout. “And that’s not freedom of speech. That’s hate speech, and it has no place in this house.”
The sergeant of arms, Anne Lieberman, resigned later Friday. She has declined to comment after being reached by phone by The Associated Press.
Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw questioned how things had gone so wrong.
“We owe it to ourselves; we owe it our constituents; we owe it to the men and women and children and families that we represent to do better than we are,” Hanshaw told lawmakers.
“We have allowed national level politics to become a cancer on our state, to become a cancer on our legislature, to invade our chamber in a way that frankly makes me ashamed,” Hanshaw said.