For the second time in its 60 day legislative session, the West Virginia House of Delegates is once again embroiled in controversy that stemmed from a display of hate.
Friday was deemed West Virginia Republican Party Day at the statehouse, a day for county party groups to set up informational booths in the halls of the Capitol, pass out fliers and speak with their representatives.
But a booth set up by one group in particular, which displayed anti-Muslim sentiments, sparked so much anger from Democratic members of the body that outbursts from both sides led to the resignation of the chamber’s sergeant at arms, the possible injury of a staff member and could end in disciplinary action for the House minority whip.
The poster contained two photos, the top showing planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001, with the text “‘Never Forget’ – You Said.” Below that photo was a photo of U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, D- Minn, and the text “I Am Proof – You Have Forgotten.”
Omar, who is shown in the photo wearing a hijab, is the first of two Muslim women to be elected to the U.S. Congress.
The display was directly next to a poster promoting ACT for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as an anti-Muslim hate group. A person standing behind that display was wearing a T-shirt that included the group’s logo.
ACT for America said on Twitter they were not responsible for the meme with the Twin Towers and Omar. The group later removed that tweet, though, disassociating themselves from Friday’s events at the West Virginia Capitol.
The display was denounced by Democratic members of the House of Delegates almost immediately as the chamber’s Friday morning floor session began. One claimed in a discussion prior to the session’s start, the House’s Sergeant at Arms Anne Lieberman, the first woman to hold the position in West Virginia, said all Muslims are terrorists.
“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,” Del. Michael Angelucci said on the floor.
By the end of the day, Lieberman had resigned and Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw, who said he spent his afternoon in meetings and taking phone calls, chastised members of the body for their behavior earlier in the day.
“Where are we as a House and what possible example are we setting for the people of this state? What possible example are we as a body setting for those who sit at home and watch our sessions?” he said.
West Virginia Republican Party Chair Melody Potter released a statement Saturday in response to the incident:
“The West Virginia Republican Party does not approve, condone, or support hate speech. One of the exhibitors…displayed a sign that we did not approve, were not aware of before the day started and we do not support. Our Party supports freedom of speech, but we do not endorse speech that advances intolerant and hateful views.”
Saturday morning, members of the majority party we also schedule to meet to discuss the potential censurer or expulsion of a Democratic member, Minority Whip Mike Caputo.
Before Friday’s floor session, Caputo reportedly kicked open the chamber door, which is held closed during the House’s opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, striking a staff member. Caputo admitted to the act on Friday.
“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’s sickens me. It absolutely sickens me,” he said.
During a Saturday floor session, Caputo apologized for the incident, but there has been no final decision on what if any action may be taken against him.
This story includes information first reported by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.