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Lawmaker apologizes after saying leaders ‘should be LYNCHED’ for removing Confederate statues

Authorities removed the fourth and final Confederate-related statue in New Orleans on May 19. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

A Mississippi state lawmaker is under fire after calling for the lynching of leaders who supported the recent removal of Confederate monuments in Louisiana.

In a Facebook post published Saturday night, Mississippi state Rep. Karl Oliver went on a diatribe about the controversial statues in his neighboring state, which have been taken down in recent weeks:

The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific. If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, “leadership” of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED! Let it be known, I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening in our State.

Oliver included with the post a picture of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which was the last of the four controversial monuments in New Orleans to be removed.

By Monday afternoon, the post was no longer publicly visible. Oliver issued an apology, saying he regretted his word choice:

I, first and foremost, wish to extend this apology for any embarrassment I have caused to both my colleagues and fellow Mississippians. In an effort to express my passion for preserving all historical monuments, I acknowledge the word “lynched” was wrong. I am very sorry. It is in no way, ever, an appropriate term. I deeply regret that I chose this word, and I do not condone the actions I referenced, nor do I believe them in my heart. I freely admit my choice of words was horribly wrong, and I humbly ask your forgiveness.

Lynching means “to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal approval or permission.” It is a particularly fraught term in the South, where thousands of black Americans were lynched in the 19th and 20th centuries. Oliver, a Republican, was elected to the Mississippi legislature in 2015. His district includes Money, Miss., the town where a 14-year-old black boy named Emmett Till was lynched by two white men in 1955.

Oliver’s Facebook post had set off a litany of comments, from those who supported him “for speaking the truth in this world of political correctness” to others who lambasted the lawmaker for his “disgusting” and “appalling” remarks. Many called on him to resign.

Earlier Monday, Oliver was not reachable at his office in the Mississippi State Capitol and did not immediately respond to questions sent by email. A woman who picked up the phone Monday morning at his workplace, Oliver Funeral Home, said she could not take any calls regarding the Louisiana monuments and hung up.

Two other Republican state representatives, John Read and Doug McLeod, “liked” Oliver’s Facebook post, along with Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Tony Dunn, according to Mississippi News Now. Read and McLeod did not immediately respond to inquiries made by The Washington Post on Monday. Mississippi Today reported that Read later unliked the post; he told the news site that he didn’t remember liking it himself and referred questions about it to Oliver.

The truth about Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee: He wasn’t very good at his job.

Several of Oliver’s Republicans had spoken out against the Facebook post.

“Rep. Oliver’s comments were offensive, do not represent the Mississippi Republican Party and have no place in our public discourse,” Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Joe Nosef said in a statement to Mississippi Today. “I hope he will quickly clear up his remarks to make his point without these inappropriate comments.”

“Rep. Oliver’s language is unacceptable and has no place in civil discourse,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said in an email to Mississippi Today on Monday morning.

In a statement, Republican House Speaker Phillip Gunn said using the word “lynched” was “inappropriate and offensive” and that Oliver’s post did not reflect the views of the Republican Party or the state House of Representatives. Gunn’s spokeswoman also told the news site that Gunn had called Oliver to say his comments were inappropriate.

Numerous Democratic state lawmakers also spoke out against Oliver’s post.

“I am offended and outraged that a public official in 2017 would, with an obvious conviction and clear conscience, call for and promote one of the most cruel, vicious, and wicked acts in American history,” state Sen. Derrick Simmons said in a statement posted to Twitter.

State Rep. Jeramey Anderson called Oliver’s statement “a shame.”

And Democratic state Rep. Chris Bell said he was “angered beyond words” by Oliver’s “inflammatory remarks,” according to an image by Mississippi News Now of a Facebook post that was not publicly visible.

“His constant and consistent disrespect for those who are offended by the images of hate is unacceptable!” Bell wrote, according to the news station. “I will fight with vigor and tenacity to ensure not only our current state flag is removed along with those images that glorify hate.”

Jefferson Davis: The Confederacy’s first, worst and only president

In 2015, the New Orleans City Council voted to take down the four statues around the city — a move that triggered a heated, prolonged debate that involved legal challenges, death threats, violent protests and the national spotlight. The removal process finally began in April, two years after the city council vote.

“It won’t erase history,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who led the effort, wrote in a guest column for The Post this month. “But we can begin a new chapter of New Orleans’s history by placing these monuments, and the legacy of oppression they represent, in museums and other spaces where they can be viewed in an appropriate educational setting as examples of our capacity to change.”

But protesters resisted the statues’ removal up until the end, with some staging 24-hour vigils where they stood. Like Oliver, many felt that their Confederate heritage was under attack.

This post has been updated. Mississippi Today reporters Kate Royals and Kayleigh Skinner contributed to this report.

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