Two high-ranking officials in Virginia’s Republican Party said Thursday that Treasurer Bob FitzSimmonds had offered to resign from his post, bowing to a wave of public outrage over a message on his Facebook page that questioned whether Muslim Americans have made positive contributions to U.S. society.
FitzSimmonds declined or did not respond to repeated interview requests from The Washington Post. He told the Bull Elephant political blog that he had not offered his resignation. But two senior party officials said FitzSimmonds spoke to party Chairman Pat Mullins on Thursday and said he was willing to resign. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the phone conversation between FitzSimmonds and Mullins.
Party leaders had called for FitzSimmonds to step down as treasurer this year after he made a crude online statement in reference to Del. Barbara J. Comstock (R-Fairfax). But FitzSimmonds, a Prince William County resident who was midway through a four-year term overseeing party finances, stayed in the job.
This week, he posted a comment about a message from President Obama marking the end of Ramadan and praising Muslims for helping to build “the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy.”
“Exactly what part of our nation’s fabric was woven by Muslims?” FitzSimmonds wrote. “What about Sikhs, Animists, and Jainists? Should we be thanking them too?”
FitzSimmonds, 62, has worked in the clerk’s office at the Prince William County Circuit Court since 2008. The GOP central committee elected him state party treasurer two years ago.
He describes himself as a conservative and abortion opponent and is a former director of the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Gainesville and the Prince William-Manassas Family Alliance, an anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage advocacy group.
FitzSimmonds spent several years as a legislative aide to then-state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R), who would go on to become state attorney general. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate or House of Delegates five times: in 1985, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011.
In February, FitzSimmonds responded angrily on Facebook to a commenter who predicted that women would turn out in large numbers to vote for Comstock, who was competing in the Republican primary for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R). (Comstock has since won the Republican nomination.) FitzSimmonds called the commenter’s prediction “sexist” and included an offensive slang term sometimes used to refer to women.
He later apologized and deleted the remark, but Mullins and other senior Republicans in the state — including House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and caucus chairman Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax) — said he should resign his post.
In 2013, FitzSimmonds embarrassed some Republicans with his comments in a YouTube video interview, conducted by a Democratic blogger, in which he said, “I’m not a big fan of contraception. We’re giving morning-after pills to 12-year-olds. Pretty soon, I guess, we’ll hand them out to babies.”
In 2012, he drew attention by predicting that Obama would blame George W. Bush when Obama “dies and goes to Hell.”
The remark about Muslims sparked a new round of denunciations from elected Republican leaders, conservative bloggers, Democrats and two Muslim organizations. Several critics said FitzSimmonds’s comments could be damaging to Republican efforts to appeal to a younger, more diverse voter population.
FitzSimmonds posted another comment midday Thursday, defending his original statement. “Modern day Muslims are integral and important members of our society, but that is not really pertinent to my previous comment,” he wrote.
“Muslims were not around in the 1700’s to ‘build the very fabric of our nation’ as asserted by the President. If he had opined that Christians ‘built the very fabric of Afghanistan or China’ I would have been equally dismissive.”
Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, noted that scholars believe that up to 20 percent of slaves brought to the United States were Muslim. “I think they may have had something to do with building our nation,” Hooper said.
Reached at the court clerk’s office early Thursday, FitzSimmonds told a Post reporter: “I am not discussing this with you, but thank you.”