Tenn. Republican under fire for telling Muslim group she wants an NAACP for ‘Western people’
A GOP lawmaker from Tennessee has come under criticism from fellow legislators for an online response to the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that she insists was misconstrued, WKRN-TV reported.
The dispute began when State Rep. Sheila Butt (R) commented on a Jan. 25 online post by CAIR encouraging Republican presidential candidates to “reject Islamophobia” and “engage Muslim voters.”
Instead of addressing that issue, however, Butt chose to state, “It is time for a Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP in this country.” The Huffington Post reported that she later deleted the comment and posted a new one saying, “We need groups that will stand for Christians and our Western culture. We don’t have groups dedicated to speaking on our behalf.”
By then, however, Butt had been accused of calling for a “National Association for the Advancement of White People,” a name used by several white nationalist groups dating back to 1953. One incarnation of the “NAAWP” — a takeoff of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples — was led by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Butt told WKRN on Wednesday that she had never heard of Duke’s organization, and instead made the acronym up while intending it to refer to “Western People.” She also accused “liberal groups” of unfairly targeting her in a post on her own Facebook page.
“It saddens me that we have come to a place in our society where every comment by a conservative Christian is automatically scrutinized as being racist,” she said.
CAIR spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper rejected her statement, telling the Nashville Tennessean, “I can appreciate the fact that she’s trying to wiggle out from under this controversy, but that explanation just isn’t plausible.”
Meanwhile, the state House Black Caucus demanded that Butt not only apologize, but be removed from her position as a House majority floor leader.
“It’s an insult to my intelligence that someone in leadership would say that the NAAWP is the National Association for Advancement of Western People,” Rep. Johnnie Turner (D) said. “That’s an insult to my intelligence. If you’re going to say it, be brave enough to stand up to it.”
State House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) did not accede to the caucus’ demands, while Butt insisted in remarks on the House floor on Thursday that she meant her remarks online to be inclusive.
“I am disappointed that some in this body misunderstood,” she said. “I strongly believe that this nation is better off when we all adhere to our Christian values and beliefs, when we all work together to solve the problems that beset every single one of us. And this being divisive, and this trying to make something intentionally that was inclusive to be divisive, is something that should not happen in this body, and I am disappointed if it was misunderstood by many of you or some of you.”
Watch WKRN’s report on the controversy surrounding Butt, as aired on Thursday, below.
[h/t Talking Points Memo]