Tennessee's House majority floor leader kicked off a scandal back home by calling for the creation of "a Council of Christian Relations and a NAAWP in this Country." But after the Facebook post came to light, Rep. Sheila Butt (R) said that her critics had it all wrong: "W" doesn't stand for White, it stands for Western!
Why people who live in the Western Hemisphere -- which includes everyone living in the United States -- would need a special-interest group wasn't addressed by Butt.
The comment was first flagged by alternative weekly newspaper Nashville Scene.
Her comment came in response to an open letter from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil liberties organization in the U.S., urging 2016 GOP candidates to engage Muslim voters and reject Islamophobia.
Butt later deleted her comment and replaced it with, “We need groups that will stand for Christians and our Western culture. We don’t have groups dedicated to speaking on our behalf.”
Many criticized Butt for using the acronym NAAWP, which various white supremacy groups have used in the past to mean the National Association for the Advancement of White People. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke founded an organization with that name.
Butt has responded to critics by saying her original comment was not intended to be racist and that she meant for NAAWP to stand for National Association for the Advancement of Western Peoples.
In an interview with Nashville-based political blog View From The Hill posted Thursday, Butt said she was not aware that the acronym was racist.
“That was an acronym that at that morning, I simply made up to say, ‘National Association for the Advancement of Western Peoples,'" she said. "I had no idea that had ever been used for that before. So that’s something that just came out of nowhere, actually."
Butt's comments sparked a backlash from CAIR as well as the Tennessee House Black Caucus.
Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director, told The Huffington Post they showcase “the overall level of ... bigotry” acceptable within the Republican Party.
“We’ve unfortunately had too many Republican Party leaders and lawmakers make such statements,” he said. “It’s really time that they address this issue as a party instead of just pretending that Islamophobia doesn’t exist within their ranks.”
He added that Butt's stated goal of advocating for “Western peoples” is not much better than advocating for “white people.”
“You almost end up with the same result even if you believe that explanation,” he said.
The state House Black Caucus on Thursday called on Butt to apologize and said she should be removed as majority floor leader, The Tennessean reported.
House Speaker Beth Harwell said she would not remove Butt from her position.
“I think Sheila’s intentions were good, and I think she was misunderstood,” Harwell said.
Glen Casada, chairman of the state House Republican Caucus, also came to Butt's defense. He released a statement Thursday saying CAIR should focus its attention elsewhere.
“Instead of using their energy attacking conservatives in Tennessee, CAIR should instead refocus their efforts on stopping the spread of radical extremists in their own religion in the United States and across the world,” he said. “I call on my colleagues in the General Assembly to join me in defending western values and culture against radical Islam.”