Maryland Lt. Gov. Rutherford under fire for hate speech comment

Amid an uptick in hate speech following the divisive presidential election, Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford said this week that he'd rather people "show their real colors than hide."

Rutherford was tweeting in response to state Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, who had tweeted that she was "shocked" by Rutherford's lack of awareness about the root of recent anti-Semitic vandalism.


"You act as though hate is new," Rutherford tweeted at the state senator. "It was always there. I'd rather people show their real colors than hide."

The lieutenant governor had just given a speech Thursday to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, where several attendees said Rutherford condemned a recent increase in hate speech but also said he didn't know what was causing it. That remark set off uncomfortable laughter in the audience.


Progressive lawmakers and other groups have been pushing Gov. Larry Hogan's administration to make more forceful public comments about hate speech.

Since Election Day, about 1,000 people have called or emailed Hogan's office, encouraging his administration to publicly condemn an uptick in hate speech in the state, according to the governor's office. Another 627 asked the administration to decry President-elect Donald Trump's appointment of former Breitbart news executive Stephen Bannon as his chief White House strategist.

Rutherford, who is African-American and normally low-key, clarified his tweet about 24 hours after he posted it. His spokeswoman issued a statement Friday, saying the lieutenant governor thought the country could benefit from a candid discussion about racially motivated hate.

"As a black man who grew up during the Civil Rights movement and someone who has stared real racism and discrimination in the face, the lieutenant governor was simply referencing the indisputable fact that racism and race-related tensions have been issues facing our nation for hundreds of years," spokeswoman Shareese Churchill said in the statement.

"He believes all Marylanders and Americans benefit when these issues can be discussed frankly in the public arena."

Hogan's spokesman, Doug Mayer, said Friday, "We condemn all acts of hate and racism. Period."

Last week, Hogan said of the increase in post-election hate speech that "we would not like to see any hate crimes on either side of this issue." He also said that "everyone should take a deep breath" about Trump's election and declined to comment on Bannon.

The remarks did little to quell progressive lawmakers who thought the administration was shying away from taking a stand.

"What are we really asking him to do?" said Democratic Del. Kirill Reznik of Montgomery County. "To say that he comes out and stands with the people of Maryland, all the people of Maryland, and that people who commit who hate crimes should be punished.

"I don't see how we're cornering him into anything other than being a decent person."

Kagan blamed the rise in hate speech on a presidential election rich in racially and ethnically charged rhetoric.

Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, who asked Rutherford the question that sparked this controversy, said he wanted to know what the administration will do about the anxiety and bullying he's seeing in his Gaithersburg community.


"I know that I, as Jewish person, don't feel better that it's out there," said Blumenthal, rabbi of the Shaare Torah congregation. "We just have to recognize that's an issue — that there are parts of the community that feel vulnerable, and there are parts of our society that now feel like hate speech is a legitimate activity."

The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report this week documenting about 900 hate-based incidents across the country in the 10 days following Trump's election.

In Montgomery County, school officials said a swastika was discovered Tuesday at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, the second time such a symbol has been found at the school since October. Other swastikas were found painted outside a Bethesda elementary school in October, and more in a Bethesda middle school in November.

On Wednesday, police said three cars in Burtonsville were defaced with swastikas.

And earlier this month, a 15-year-old wearing a "Make American Great Again" hat was attacked at a Rockville high school while students protested Trump's victory.

"The anxiety that is going on about this is pervasive," said Susan Turnbull, a longtime Montgomery County activist and former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. Turnbull attended Thursday's event and said she was stunned by Rutherford's response to the rabbi's question.

"He could have said so many other things, and he didn't," she said. "The lieutenant governor's total lack of connection with that feeling was mind-blowing."

The push for the Hogan administration to take a stand has come with some nastiness, according to Mayer.

One anonymous email provided by the governor's office to The Baltimore Sun told Hogan that "maybe you'll take hate crimes in Maryland seriously when they come to register your foreign mail order bride," a reference to Hogan's wife, Yumi, who is Korean-American.

On Thursday night, Trump forcefully denounced hate speech at a rally in Ohio, saying, "We condemn bigotry and hatred in all of its forms."

Kagan said her Jewish community is "mystified" by Rutherford's remarks.

"It's hard to imagine how the lieutenant governor could have been blind to the hate speech that has been spewed by Donald Trump and many of his supporters," Kagan said. "He missed an opportunity to be an effective role model.

"Just because racism has existed for hundreds of years doesn't make it right. Nor does it sanction the shocking increase in race-related hate."


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