After a narrow primary win in June, Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) is under fire for remarks he made about the protests in Charlotte Sept. 22. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

For several years now, as demonstrators across the country have poured into the streets, there has been little doubt about their chief motivation: Outrage over the killings of unarmed black Americans at the hands of taxpayer-funded law enforcement agencies.

But Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) isn’t buying it.

A white American male born in 1948, the lawmaker says he understands the motivations of young, African American protesters better than they do.

“The grievance in their minds — the animus, the anger — they hate white people, because white people are successful and they’re not,” Pittenger told BBC Newsnight when he was asked about what is driving heated protests in Charlotte.

“It is a welfare state,” he added. “We have spent trillions of dollars on welfare, and we’ve put people in bondage, so they can’t be all that they’re capable of being.”

Pittenger, who is serving his second term in Congress, represents North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District and is a member of the House Committee on Financial Services. His district includes portions of Charlotte, where violent protests exploded after local police fatally shot a black man, Keith Lamont Scott — putting the city on a growing list of communities across the country that have erupted amid a growing debate on racial bias in policing.

His comments drew the ire of local politicians and the state’s Democratic Party, which labeled his remarks “racist,” according to the News & Observer.

“These comments are inexcusable,” North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds said. “At a time when we need calm and understanding while we learn more about the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, Congressman Pittenger is fanning the flames of hate with his racist rhetoric. This sort of bigotry has become all too common under the party of Donald Trump. Our great state should not be represented by someone who would make such hateful comments.

“Congressman Pittenger must apologize, and Gov. [Pat] McCrory and every Republican leader in this state should denounce this hateful rhetoric immediately.”

Friday morning, after a night of peaceful protests in Charlotte, “Hate White People” was trending on Twitter.

The third night of protests in Charlotte, N.C., stayed peaceful despite continuing past the city's midnight curfew. Protesters have been demonstrating since Tuesday, when police fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott, and one injured protester has died. (Reuters)

Hours after BBC Newsnight posted its interview, Pittenger posted a “heartfelt response” on his website, along with a series of corresponding tweets.

Then, he went on CNN, saying: “Frankly, I apologize for the comments. They certainly weren’t meant in the context of how many viewed them.”

The congressman said he simply was quoting what he’d heard protesters saying.

“Do you believe that protesters hate white people?” host Don Lemon asked.

“No, sir, it’s the comments that they made — if you go back and look at the tapes, the comments they made on air,” Pittenger said. “I was only trying to convey what they were saying, and yet it didn’t come out right, and I apologize. … That certainly is not the spirit of who I am.”

“Let’s walk through what you said,” Lemon went on. “You said, ‘They hate us — they hate us because we’re successful, they hate white people because we’re successful.’ How is that taken out of context, with all due respect?”

“What I’m trying to communicate was, what has occurred with the economy has left them out,” the congressman said.

“Was this a learning point for you at all?” Lemon asked.

“I love my community,” Pittinger said. “I am very sorry for how I said what I said. My desire is everyone could grow up the economic ladder and have the greatest benefit of the American opportunity.”

He added: “I’ve come on the air to apologize in every way I can.”

This post has been updated.

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