National News

State representative walks back comments made about Confederate monument removal

Posted August 31

— A Republican state representative is walking back comments posted on social media seeming to threaten violence against anyone who attempts to remove Confederate statues from Georgia.

Jason Spencer, who represents Georgia's 180th District, covering Camden, Charlton and Ware counties in southeast Georgia, posted what have been considered threats of violence against anyone who considers removing the monuments. The posts have since been deleted.

In the posts, Spencer says "I can guarantee you won't be met with torches but something a lot more definitive" and "People in South Georgia are people of action, not drama."

He then writes, "They will go missing in the Okefenokee. Too many necks they are red around here. Don't say I didn't warn you about 'em."

Atlanta attorney and former Democratic state representative LaDawn Jones posted a retort to his comments, saying "Sounds like a threat of physical violence...is that what we are doing now? Desperate times call for desperate measures, huh? Afraid of what is going to happen in southern GA? I saw those white supremacist crying when (expletive) really hit the fan. See I won't threaten your safety. I don't have to."

Jones tells CBS46 that she thinks Spencer's comments were ignorant.

"If a state representative can be so comfortable with expressing those views of other people, it's very concerning," said Jones. "I think his comments were ignorant."

Jones goes on to say that she doesn't need an apology, just the opportunity to meet with Spencer and those who share his views.

"Rather than a direct apology from Jason Spencer, I would rather meet him at Stone Mountain," continued Jones. "Him and everyone else from Southern Georgia who feels the same way he expressed."

Spencer's statement

Spencer posted this statement regarding his initial post, praising Jones and apologizing for his comments.

"I respect former State Representative LaDawn Jones as a colleague and as my former seat mate in the Georgia House of Representatives. I respect her for her passion, her willingness to engage in debate with me, and her ability to advocate strongly for what she believes. She has always done soaggressively and without any fear. She's never backed down from me in any of the debates we've ever had, even if those debates might have appeared to others that we were being hostile or rude to each other. LaDawn and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but I am glad that she wants to learn how people with different worldviews think. It's a rare trait in most people, and she deserves praise and respect for having it.

"I regret that my choice of words in warning LaDawn about the possibility of violence has been misinterpreted as a threat against her, or anyone else who would like to see historic monuments to the Confederacy removed. I was trying to warn her that there really are people who would harm others over the issue. In light of the recent tragic murder of a woman in Charlottesville, I believe that a certain degree of caution is necessary. I still do.

"I condemn racism, 'white supremacy' and any group from the yesterday's Klan to today's neo-Nazis, who espouses such vile beliefs. They should not be tolerated. Provoking such hateful people is to deliberately invite violence with them, and that should not happen in America in the 21st century.

"The racial division in our nation is terrible and is going to get worse if my colleague and I cannot have the kind of conversation we had on social media and will continue to have face-to-face. It is a painful conversation that we need to have, in our communities, our state, and our nation. I'm grateful that LaDawn Jones is willing to start that conversation with me, and I hope that our experience will start similar conversations among others."

Representative Jason Spencer represents the citizens of District 180, which includes Camden, Charlton, and Ware counties. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2010, and currently serves as the Secretary of the Special Rules Committee. He also serves on the Game Fish & Parks, Human Relations & Aging, Juvenile Justice, and Science & Technology committees."

Jones also posts statement on Facebook

Jones posted this statement regarding the comments:

"Regarding the comments of Rep. Jason Spencer

My concern is not for me or my safety. My concern is for the 37-year-old African American mother in Camden County, Georgia who may have considered raising her voice about her concerns with confederate monuments to her representative Jason Spencer. Comments like those of Rep. Spencer have a chilling effect on American's willingness and ability to speak up, especially in places like south Georgia. Confederate monuments have the same chilling effect on many Americans which is why this discussion is relevant today.

This most recent comment however highlights a far more important revelation that was also exhibited in Charlottesville. Since Trump began his campaign and has taken office, the level of comfort with outward racism has increased. Although in his statement Rep. Spencer's disavowed white supremacist organizations, his tacit acceptance of the type of deplorable violence he described is de facto approval of it. Warning me of the existence of such hate, rather than addressing it head on with his south Georgia neighbors, is very similar to Trumps claims of bad people on "all sides." It is time for Rep. Spencer and others to acknowledge that one of the problems with modern day racism is our avoidance of the topic and our passive acceptance of those around us that promote hate. It would be insincere of me to ignore that if the media did not report this discussion, Rep. Spencer would have remained comfortable with the idea of murder as an acceptable response to a political disagreement.

It is true that as seatmates in the General Assembly, Rep. Spencer and I have had very frank and difficult conversations regarding all areas of politics including race, class, healthcare, and religion. I recall one of the most difficult conversations was when I learned that Rep. Spencer's twin brother was fired from the Department of Education for incendiary comments on social media. It underscores that this is not a new issue. It will remain an ongoing issue until we remove all confederate symbols from State property. These items belong in a museum surrounded by accurate historical context otherwise these groups will continue to use them as lightening-rods to highlight hate.

I know there are highly respected leaders like Ambassador Andrew Young and celebrities like Charles Barkley who believe that monuments are not the issue. Although I agree there are additional issues, if monuments were not an issue we would not have seen men in paramilitary gear in Charlottesville and Heather Heyer would still be alive. If monuments were not an issue I could speak about it without ending up in the Okefeenoke. If they were not an issue it would not have required a compromise in the Georgia Legislature to protect confederate monuments when we removed the stars and bars from the Georgia flag. The idea that we need to simply accept these historically incorrect monuments to focus on other issues is the same misguided stamp of acceptance that Rep. Spencer has shown for people that would commit a crime over these monuments.

When I proposed legislation on this issue in 2016, I received death threats and harassing emails continuously. I make weekly appearances on conservative television discussing politics and I get disturbing hate calls and mail constantly. I realized that even I had grown numb for a moment to the seriousness of Rep. Spencer's comments. We cannot become complacent and we need to stop being passive! Racism and the acceptance of it is unacceptable.

My hope is that the discussion about monuments is the catalyst for deeper discussions on race in our country. Not just racism as it relates to African Americans, but race related to immigrants and native people, as well as separating white supremacist from the rest of white America. We need to educate all Americans about our history in which the race was used as a tool of the rich to keep people in poverty. This does not happen without discussion first. A meaningful discussion that should be initiated by the Governor of Georgia, our legislative body and citizens who care. Now is the time! Our passion for this issue must be louder than Trump, brighter than a tiki torch, and more direct than ever before."

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