A poster connecting Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Muslim, to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was at the center of a dispute Friday at the West Virginia statehouse.
Things got heated amid arguments that began outside the legislative chamber and continued on the floor of the House of Delegates when a legislator allegedly injured a doorkeeper, WSAZ-TV reported.
The poster at the center of the controversy consisted of two photos. The top photo showed the Twin Towers bleeding smoke on 9/11. It bore the caption, “‘NEVER FORGET’ – YOU SAID.” Beneath it was a photo of the hijab-wearing Omar. The caption for that image read, “I AM PROOF – YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN.”
The poster was part of a display outside the House of Delegates chamber as part of a “Republicans Take the Rotunda” event.
It was unclear who put up the poster, but it got a very clear reaction.
Democrat Mike Angelucci accused House Sgt. of Arms Anne Lieberman of making an anti-Muslim remark, which she denied. However, Lieberman resigned later Friday, according to WSAZ.
— The Hill (@thehill) March 2, 2019
Angelucci denounced the poster on the floor of the House of Delegates.
“That’s beyond shameful — and that’s not freedom of speech. That’s hate speech and it has no place in this House — the people’s House — and I am furious,” Angelucci said.
Democrat Del. Mike Caputo was accused of injuring a doorkeeper. According to West Virginia Public Radio, he did not deny the claim.
“We’ve got doorkeepers going nose to nose with members, Sergeant at Arms going nose to nose with members. We have created an anger that I’ve never witnessed in 23 years in this body and it sickens me. It absolutely sickens me. But, yeah I, kicked that door open. I’ll own it,” Caputo said.
“I did and I said some things that I don’t normally say. So, the point should be that we shouldn’t do what’s going on outside here. Whether it’s the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, there’s no place for that.”
Others said the price of free speech is dealing with unpleasant expressions of opinion.
“My issue with what I saw outside has to do with another truly American foundational issue and that’s freedom of speech,” said Republican Del. Dianna Graves. “So, while I may not agree with everything that is out there, I do agree that freedom of speech is something that we have to protect, even if we don’t agree with it. Maybe especially when we don’t agree with it.”
Democrat Mike Pushkin said the poster was out of line, but he stopped short of calling for it to be taken down.
— (((Mike Pushkin))) (@pushkinforhouse) March 1, 2019
“I expressed my disgust about something like that — that, really, I believe points out the hatred and a mistrust of somebody because of their religious background,” he said.
“I would fight for anybody’s right in here to say whatever they want, no matter how stupid it is. I believe in the freedom of speech with every ounce of me,” he added. “I’m a strong supporter of the First Amendment. I would never ask somebody to take something down. I rose to condemn it, and I would hope you would, too.”
Omar later tweeted her condemnation of Republicans for the poster, even though there was no proof of who put it up.
No wonder why I am on the “Hitlist” of a domestic terrorist and “Assassinate Ilhan Omar” is written on my local gas stations.
Look no further, the GOP’s anti-Muslim display likening me to a terrorist rocks in state capitols and no one is condemning them! https://t.co/0ouCaloWqh
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) March 1, 2019
West Virginia Republican Party Chairwoman Melody Potter responded to the incident in a statement, WSAZ reported.
“The West Virginia Republican Party does not approve, condone, or support hate speech,” the statement read. “One of the exhibitors at our West Virginia Republican Party Day at the Capitol displayed a sign that we did not approve, were not aware of before the day started, and we do not support.”
Potter said that as soon as they learned about the poster, they asked for it to be taken down.
“Our Party supports freedom of speech, but we do not endorse speech that advances intolerant and hateful views,” she added.
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