The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

EPA chief ‘liked’ a blatantly racist meme about the Obamas. He says he doesn’t remember.

Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler addresses staffers in July. (Ting Shen/Reuters) (Reuters)

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency “liked” a racist post about the Obamas a few years ago and engaged with prominent far-right conspiracy theorists on social media, according to screen images published online Tuesday.

Andrew Wheeler, who has been the agency’s acting administrator since Scott Pruitt resigned in July, “liked” a racist meme that showed President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama staring at a banana, sometime after it was published in January 2013, according to an image posted online by HuffPost.

The Obamas have been prominent targets of those seeking to spread the racist trope, which has a deep historical connection to racism in the United States.

In a statement provided by spokesman James Hewitt, Wheeler did not dispute that he had liked the post but said that he did not remember it. Other posts unearthed by Huffpost included incidences in which Wheeler retweeted prominent right-wing conspiracy theorists.

“Over the years, I have been a prolific social media user and liked and inadvertently liked countless social media posts," the statement said. “As for some of the other posts, I agreed with the content and was unaware of the sources.”

The nonprofit director who called Michelle Obama an ‘ape in heels’ has lost her job — for good

The image was no longer publicly accessible Tuesday night on the Facebook page of the Italian meme group that posted it, Mia Mamma è Vergine (My Mother is a Virgin). The page had also posted other images comparing the Obamas to apes.

HuffPost said it had been alerted to Wheeler’s social media activity by the Democratic PAC American Bridge 21st Century.

The trope has a long connection to the world of racist thought in the United States and around the world. New York Times editorial writer Brent Staples, in a piece he wrote after Roseanne Barr employed it to attack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, called it “one of the oldest and most profoundly racist slanders in American history,” noting that it has been used to justify slavery and lynchings.

“The toxically racist ape characterization has been pushed to the margins of the public square,” Staples wrote. “Nevertheless, a growing body of research shows that it has maintained a pernicious grip on the American imagination. It is especially problematic in the criminal justice system, where subhuman treatment of African-Americans remains strikingly visible.”

This coal lobbyist once wrote Trump was a ‘bully.’ Now he’s the nominee for EPA’s No. 2 spot.

Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, was nominated by Trump to be the second in command at the agency in October 2017, to cheers from those in the fossil-fuel industry.

He is now one of a long list of Trump appointees to draw scrutiny for making questionable or overtly racist statements before taking their current positions.

Carl Higbie, who was appointed as chief of external affairs at the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs AmeriCorps and other service programs, resigned in January after comments he made disparaging blacks, Muslims, gays, women, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and immigrants in the country illegally surfaced in the news media. Before that, Jamie Johnson, a Trump appointee at the Department of Homeland Security, resigned after comments he made linking blacks to laziness and promiscuity.

The White House did not return a request for comment about whether it planned to take any action about the disclosure.

Read more:

Mark Judge’s out-of-print memoir was fetching big money. Now you can get ‘Wasted’ free.

Facebook blocked many gay-themed ads as part of its new advertising policy, angering LGBT groups

‘Art of the Deal’ writer says New York Times report ends myth of Trump as ‘self-made man’