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'Whitesplaining': GOP Rep. Burgess Owens Compared to KKK by Mainstream Newspaper

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The Salt Lake Tribune is under heavy fire for comparing a black congressman to a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Outrage spun up fast Thursday morning, as a political cartoon made the rounds on social media, with caricatures of Republican Rep. Burgess Owens and a white Klansman separated by 70 years of American history, but standing side by side in utterance of the words, “They are coming to your neighborhoods.”

With a “border” sign sat squarely on Owens’ right, the cartoon was apparently meant to draw attention to the supposed similarities between Republican legislators concerned with the rising tides of illegal immigration and the rhetoric of America’s longest surviving hate group — a terrorist organization responsible for stoking the racial flames that led to the lynching of roughly 2,000 black Americans during Reconstruction.

Owens has been among the most outspoken Republicans when it comes to the Biden administration’s crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, using a handful of recent statements and television appearances to highlight a widely held expert opinion that the near-record influx will serve to further disadvantage underprivileged minority communities.

But Tribune mainstay Pat Bagley, the longest-serving full-time editorial cartoonist in America, seemed to suggest Wednesday that such analysis was reminiscent of fear-mongering racial narratives from the KKK. “Utah Rep Burgess Qwens has been on the news arguing against reparations for slavery using FoxNews talking points. Last week he was arguing against immigration using talking points from another ‘reliable’ RW source,” Bagley wrote in posting the cartoon on Twitter.

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The remark and attached image did not fly under the radar for long. Owens had, himself, seen the lasting impacts of Klan ideology coming of age in the Jim Crow era — and he would respond publicly on Thursday, lashing the cartoonist as “tone deaf” amid calls for an apology.

“We have heard of ‘mansplaining’ now we have ‘whitesplaining’ from a white man comparing a black man, who grew up under Jim Crow laws, to the KKK,” Owens wrote, adding: “[Bagley and The Tribune] compare me to the KKK, the radical hate group that terrorized me in my youth, because I am one of many sounding the alarm of the trauma being faced by women and children crossing the border. This is pathetic.”

Do you think this cartoon was racist?

The congressman would go on to explicitly label the cartoon as “racist” just a few hours later, telling The Western Journal that he had been subject to several such attacks since stepping onto the political scene and identifying himself as a black conservative.

“Once again, the woke left is attacking me since a black, conservative Republican obliterates their elitist stereotypes and perceptions. I know what racism is and this cartoon in the Salt Lake Tribune is racist and they should be ashamed of themselves,” his written statement read.

It was an incident that resonated strongly in conservative circles. Before long a variety of news personalities and political allies had weighed in, Turning Point contributor Rob Smith, Colorado Congressman Ken Buck and radio host Larry Elder among them.

The outpouring of support did little to deter Bagley or The Tribune, however.

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While neither immediately responded to requests for comment from The Western Journal, Bagley was quick to double down on social media, claiming his distaste for Owens was a result of 2020 election fraud disagreements before assuring audiences a white conservative would have received the same caricature for similar rhetoric.

“If Sen. Mike Lee, Mitt Romney or any other Utah pol had said this about immigrants they would have earned the same cartoon. Treating Owens any different on account of his race would be, uh, what’s the word…?” Bagley said.

“If you don’t want to be dunked on for using an age-old white supremacist talking points then don’t use white supremacist talking points.”

A preliminary review of Bagley’s previous work turned up nothing in the same ballpark with regard to Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, both of whom have been outspoken in their opposition to mass illegal immigration according to The Tribune’s own reporting.

The Utah congressional delegation — which includes Romney and Lee, as well as Reps. Chris Stewart, John Curtis and Blake Moore — has since released a joint statement decrying The Tribune cartoon as “beyond the pale.”

“The Salt Lake Tribune recently published a repugnant ‘cartoon’ comparing Congressman Burgess Owens, our esteemed colleague and only black member of the Utah delegation, to a member of the Ku Klux Klan,” the delegation wrote Thursday afternoon.

“This racially charged, perverse political statement is beyond the pale. We ask that The Salt Lake Tribune immediately take down this horrific image, issue a formal apology, and hold themselves to a higher standard.”

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Andrew J. Sciascia is the supervising editor of features at The Western Journal. Having joined up as a regular contributor of opinion in 2018, he went on to cover the Barrett confirmation and 2020 presidential election for the outlet, regularly co-hosting its video podcast, "WJ Live," as well.
Andrew J. Sciascia is the supervising editor of features at The Western Journal and regularly co-hosts the outlet's video podcast, "WJ Live."

Sciascia first joined up with The Western Journal as a regular contributor of opinion in 2018, before graduating with a degree in criminal justice and political science from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and worked briefly as a political operative with the Massachusetts Republican Party.

He has since covered the Barrett confirmation and 2020 presidential election for The Western Journal, and now focuses his reporting on Congress and the national campaign trail. His work has also appeared in The Daily Caller.




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