CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Fallout from an anti-Muslim display at West Virginia’s Capitol continued this morning as supporters of Muslims gathered outside the House of Delegates chamber, the state Republican Party issued a condemnation of the display and Delegate Mike Caputo expressed remorse over an injured doorkeeper.
Anger on Friday over the display resulted in the resignation of the House sergeant at arms after allegations that she had made an anti-Muslim statements to delegates, plus reports of a doorkeeper who was injured when irate Caputo forced open a door that had been closed during the prayer and Pledge.
The display that prompted the intense reactions was part of a broader “Republicans Take the Rotunda” event. Not far away were cardboard cutouts of President Donald Trump, signs for “Trump Pence” and displays featuring West Virginia Republicans.
The most prominent part of the display was an image of an airplane crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11 juxtaposed with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who is a native of Somalia. Pamphlets described “The Four Stages of Islamic Conquest” and “Readin’, Writin’ and Jihadin’.”
The state Republican Party, rather than the Republican-led House of Delegates, was the organizer of the full event, clarified Jared Hunt, spokesman for the House of Delegates.
A statement was released this morning by Republican Party Chairwoman Melody Potter:
“The West Virginia Republican Party does not approve, condone, or support hate speech. 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. Upon learning about the sign, we immediately asked this exhibitor to remove the sign.
“Our Party supports freedom of speech, but we do not endorse speech that advances intolerant and hateful views. We have shown that when West Virginians are united, when we respect each other, embrace our differences and focus on moving our state forward what we can accomplish.”
Supporters of area Muslims gathered outside the House of Delegates chamber this morning, prior to an anticipated Saturday floor session.
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) March 2, 2019
Leaders from both parties in the House of Delegates were supposed to meet during an 8 a.m. Rules Committee meeting.
The topic was believed to be what to do about Caputo and his role with the doorkeeper. Democrats had filled the House Judiciary Room, which is not where these meetings usually take place, in support of Caputo. Punishment could range from censure to expulsion.
Republican leadership was delayed in appearing by more than half an hour. Then House Speaker Roger Hanshaw briefly appeared to say the Rules Committee meeting would be delayed until after today’s floor session.
Later in the morning, House Republicans gathered for a private caucus in the House Government Organization Committee Room.
About an hour into the caucus, Caputo and Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, walked together into the Republican meeting.
And after that, Caputo began Saturday morning’s delayed floor session with a speech apologizing about the incident.
“I let my emotions overload my good sense,” Caputo said. He added, “I feel just as horrible about that as you could ever imagine.”
He continued, “I will do my best to rebuild your trust and confidence in me because that is who Mike Caputo is.”
There was no more open discussion of punishing Caputo. The Rules Committee meeting that had been meant to do so wound up not happening.
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) March 2, 2019
Hanshaw made a speech to the full House of Delegates on Friday evening, expressing shame for the body over everything that had unfolded.
“I’ve bluntly struggled with what even to say,” he said.
“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?”
Hanshaw’s speech made reference to a doorkeeper being examined for an injury. Delegates said the door hit the young doorkeeper as it was being forced open. The extent of the injuries has not been clear.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve allowed the proceedings in this House to reach a point at which we’ve allowed a staff member to be physically injured,” Hanshaw said.
A Friday night update from House spokesman Jared Hunt said little other information about the doorkeeper’s status could be conveyed.
“That incident has been referred to the Capitol Police for investigation,” Hunt said. “Because this is a personnel matter, I cannot comment further.”
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) March 1, 2019
Caputo, during a Friday morning floor speech, acknowledged being so upset that he’d forced open the chamber door.
Caputo, acknowledged getting so angry he kicked the door to the chamber open during the prayer that starts each day’s floor session.
“I’m the one who kicked the door open. That’s how angry I was. I went over to that poster and I said it was a racist poster,” he said.
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, speaking on Friday evening, said Democrats do not believe Caputo was in the wrong.
“In regards to the whip going in, he was barred entry into the door, he shoves the door open, and one of the doorkeepers says he was injured as a result of going in the door,” Sponaugle said.
Sponaugle said Democrats will be united with Caputo if there is an attempt to punish him.
“I don’t know what they’re planning on doing,” Sponaugle said. “But I will tell you that will not go over very well with our minority caucus. We think the world of Mike Caputo; we believe he was totally right.”
Strain has run through the House of Delegates this session after ongoing remarks by freshman Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, about gay rights organizations. “The LGBTQ is a modern day version of the Ku Klux Klan, without wearing hoods with their antics of hate,” Porterfield said in several instances.
“It should have been handled weeks ago. There was no reprimand, no nothing. So the Democratic Party right now is extremely frustrated,” Sponaugle said.
He added, “There’s a big concern that Delegate Porterfield brought hate into this body. It’s continued to fester.”