RICHMOND — Virginia Republican Party officials on Tuesday ordered their Mecklenburg County affiliate to remove photos portraying President Obama as a witch doctor, a caveman and a thug from its Facebook page.
The altered photos have been on the Mecklenburg County Republican Committee’s page for months but drew attention outside the rural southwestern enclave after a luncheon event this week with Republican Senate candidate George Allen.
“These kinds of images have no place in political discourse — period,” said Pat Mullins, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia. “They are offensive, tasteless and should never have been posted anywhere, let alone a local unit’s Facebook page. The Republican Party of Virginia condemns this sort of imagery in the strongest possible terms. I am in the process of contacting our Mecklenburg County unit to inform them that this is unacceptable behavior from any local unit associated with our party.”
As part of a campaign swing through the southwestern part of the state, Allen, a former senator and governor, held a business roundtable luncheon Monday that the committee had helped promote. ProgressVA, a group that supports Allen’s Democratic opponent, former governor Timothy M. Kaine, found the images among 100 “wall photos” posted on the committee’s Facebook page.
Allen’s campaign said he had no advance knowledge of the images, which he has since condemned.
The discovery may say more about the intensity of the Senate contest than anything else, said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “Given how tight this race has been, no stone is left unturned,” she said.
The contest, one of a handful that could help tip the balance of power in the Senate, had been deadlocked for more than a year until last week, when a new Washington Post poll showed Kaine up by eight percentage points.
Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, called the images racist. “I think the images are obviously offensive and seek to portray our president, and black men more broadly, as, quote unquote, savages,” she said. “I think it both perpetuates this totally debunked idea that Obama wasn’t really born here, that he’s not really an American.”
R. Wallace “Wally” Hudson, chairman of the committee, was surprised to hear from a reporter that anyone had taken offense.
“If that group is that sensitive, I’m sorry, they’re just not human,” he said, chuckling. “It’s not American. If they’ve got a problem with it, we’re not going to change what we do.”
He didn’t seem any more inclined to take the state party’s feelings into account when told in a subsequent interview what Mullins had said.
“They can do what they want,” he said, chuckling again. “I’m waiting for the phone call.”
The images were still up as of Tuesday night.
Hudson said he posted most of the images himself, after coming across them online. He said critics were playing “the race card.”
“We know our regular readers, who are good conservatives, they’re gonna get a kick out of it,” said Hudson, 55, a retired airline flight crew member who became chairman in May. “The rest of them, if they don’t want to see it, they don’t have to look at it. We don’t consider any of it racist. . . . I’m not ashamed of it. I mean, good God, you should have seen some of the images they did of George [W.] Bush. It’s freedom of speech.”
Scholl criticized Allen for associating with members of the group, seeking to connect the images to the “macaca” gaffe that was partly to blame for his Senate reelection defeat six years ago. Allen had lobbed the word, a racial slur in some cultures, at a campaign aide to his opponent. He has since apologized.
“For a candidate with his history of racial insensitivity not to be vetting the folks who are hosting campaign events, and making sure he’s not implicitly endorsing over-the-top racist statements about the president, is pretty incredible,” Scholl said.
The committee did not host the event for Allen at the Lamplighter Restaurant in Clarksville, but it put out the word that he would be coming for a “Dutch treat” luncheon. About a dozen people attended, Hudson said.
“George Allen strongly condemns such imagery regardless of its source,” spokeswoman Emily Davis said. “This has no place in our politics.”