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Chaos, injury and a resignation result after a poster linking Rep. Omar to 9-11 is shown on WV House floor

(File photo: screenshot)

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A confrontation erupted in the West Virginia statehouse when the state Republican Party allegedly displayed an anti-Muslim poster linking to Rep. Ilhan Omar.

One injury, the potential of disciplinary action against a Democratic member and the resignation of one official followed the confrontation over the poster which, as part of “WV GOP Day,” was displayed in the state Capitol rotunda Friday, WSAZ reported.

The poster depicted an image of the World Trade Center in New York City in flames on 9/11 above a picture of Omar, the freshman Minnesota Democrat who is a Muslim.

“‘Never forget’ – you said. . .” the caption on the upper image read. “I am the proof – you have forgotten,” read the caption under the hijab-wearing congresswoman’s photo.

The poster stirred controversy in the West Virginia House of Delegates and a story on the incident by NBC News was linked in a tweet by Omar, one of the first two female Muslim members of Congress.

She added another tweet showing a photo from an Instagram post noting a handwritten “Assassinate Ilhan Omar” allegedly written on a bathroom wall.

Democratic Del. Mike Pushkin took to the West Virginia House floor to slam the poster which was one of many others displayed outside the House of Delegates chamber as part of a “Republicans Take the Rotunda” event.

“It’s ugly, it’s hateful and there’s absolutely no place for it in American politics,” Pushkin said, according to WVNews. “Not in the country that I love. Not in the state that I love. We all give up our time during this time of year to come up here and serve our constituents because we love this state. Well, I love everybody in the state no matter what they look like, who they pray to, who they love. I’m tired of it. It disgusts me.”

An argument with the House’s sergeant at arms, Anne Lieberman, broke out after objections to the display from several Democrats and following an alleged anti-Muslim remark.

“The sergeant of arms of this body had the nerve to say to us ‘all Muslims are terrorists’ that’s beyond shameful and that’s beyond freedom of speech,” Democratic Del. Michael Angelucci said.according to WSAZ.

Lieberman, who became the state’s first female sergeant at arms last year, initially denied making the comment but submitted her resignation, “effective immediately,” by the end of the day, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

The House Rules Committee was scheduled to meet Saturday morning to discuss possible disciplinary action against Democratic Del. Mike Caputo who allegedly injured a doorkeeper, who was taken to the hospital, when he angrily tried to kick open the chamber doors in an outburst over the poster.

“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, the minority whip in the House, 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,” he added.

(File Photo: screenshot)

Republican Del. Dianna Graves was one of several members who invoked the First Amendment right to free speech in addressing the controversy from the House floor.

“My issue with what I saw outside has to do with another truly American foundational issue and that’s freedom of speech. 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,” Graves said.

Republican Del. Tom Bibby concurred but urged the lawmakers move on to other business, saying, “Freedom of speech is very dear and near to me. Let’s hold it all within the House and, Mr. Speaker, we’ve got lots to do today. Let’s move on.”

Pushkin, who is Jewish, had cited other forms of hate speech, notably “in the early ’30s in Germany,” which caused him to be bothered by the GOP display.

“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. 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,” he said.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw called on the delegates to show each other more respect.

“We owe it to our selves, we owe it to our constituents, we owe it to men and women and children and families that we represent to do better than we are,” the Republican said.

West Virginia State Senate President Mitch Carmichael called the behavior on display Friday “hateful and wrong” in a statement, according to WSAZ.

“The West Virginia Senate is a body that embraces the goodness in all people and celebrates the unique diversity of those who call this great nation of ours home,” Carmichael said. “We must be strong in our resolve to stand up and speak out against fear and hatred when we see it, and we absolutely condemn the kind of behavior that was on display in our own State Capitol. It is hateful and wrong. Above all, it is not representative of the values that the vast majority of West Virginians hold dear. We, as a state, are far better than what we saw today.”

Frieda Powers


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