CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s top-ranking Republican, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, says there’s no place for the kind of anti-Muslim display that was part of a “GOP Day” at the state Legislature.
“I deplore what happened, and I hope that lessons learned,” Capito said while at the state Capitol on Saturday.
Capito was interviewed briefly while in the Rotunda outside the House of Delegates chamber, not far from where a display of posters and pamphlets were fuel for anger at the Statehouse the prior day. She was visiting her son Moore, who serves in the House of Delegates.
“I think we need to, as a party but also as a state and a community and a country, respect one another’s origins, views. We have a diverse population. Love is stronger than hate,” Capito said.
The display was part of a broader “Republicans Take the Rotunda” event on Friday that included cardboard cutouts of President Donald Trump, signs for “Trump Pence” and displays featuring West Virginia Republicans.
“It does not in any shape or form represent the feelings of the Republican Party or everybody that I know that’s in the party,” Capito said.
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 woman who had the display identified with “Act for America” said she is a South Charleston resident but otherwise did not identify herself. She declined to comment, saying members of the media usually misconstrue her positions.
Those familiar with her later identified the woman as Brenda Arthur. Hours after first appearing at the event, she took down the big poster and replaced it with a different one but left the pamphlets out.
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.
The West Virginia Republican Party issued a statement Saturday morning condemning the display.
“The West Virginia Republican Party does not approve, condone, or support hate speech,” stated Melody Potter, the state GOP chairwoman.
“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.”
Potter continued, “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.”
Capito, speaking on Saturday morning, was puzzled about why and how the display wound up at an official Republican Party event at the Statehouse.
“I don’t know how something like that passes the…” Capito said, beginning her thought before shifting to a question. “Why didn’t someone say something before it reached the heightened kind of emotional reaction that it did?”
She said she sees many similar sentiments in Washington, D.C.,
“It’s a reflection of where we are unfortunately. It’s not a good spot.”
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, made reference to the ugliness of national politics creeping into West Virginia politics during a floor speech on Friday evening.
“We have allowed national level politics to become a cancer on our state, to become a cancer on our Legislature, to invade our chamber in a way that frankly makes me ashamed,” Hanshaw said.
West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, issued his own statement of condemnation of the display on Friday evening.
“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 stated.
“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.”
Legislative Democrats were incensed by the display and said so during floor speeches on Friday.
“I’m disgusted by what I see out there,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.
Pushkin did not ask for the display to be taken down but said it was wrong.
“If the shoe was on the other foot, I would condemn that. It’s ugly, it’s hateful, and there’s no place for it in American politics.”