West Virginia is fast becoming known as the state that loves to hate – thanks to some GOP legislators.

An extraordinarily bad moment Friday landed – yet again – another damaging blow to the image of the Mountain State. As part of a “Republicans Take the Rotunda” event, a despicable, anti-Muslim display stood shoulder-to-shoulder with cardboard cutouts of President Donald Trump, signs for “Trump Pence” and posters featuring West Virginia Republicans.

Why anyone in the state GOP thought it would be a good idea to associate with such a deplorable and strikingly anti-American message of racial, ethnic and religious intolerance is beyond our powers of reasoning. But someone – or many – did. How we got to this point in time, however, is well documented in recent legislative action and more easily understood.

That no one on the GOP side of the aisle offered up an apology for the Friday fiasco, that no one has been held accountable? Convicting.

It was a discordant and calamitous day. A legislator kicked open a door, a legislative aide was caught in the crossfire and sought medical attention, and yet another aide quit her job after she was heard saying “all Muslims are terrorists.”

For his part, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw delivered a speech at day’s end, blaming a cancer in our national politics.

“Where are we as a House and what possible example are we setting for the people of this state?” Hanshaw asked. “What possible example are we as a body setting for those who sit at home and watch our sessions?”

Got news for you, Mr. Speaker. Folks out here think y’all have lost your compass to govern – and this is not a new suspicion.

What we saw Friday was an embarrassment to the great majority of people in this state. Homegrown hate has been allowed to spread like a noxious weed and is flowering in our state capitol, the people’s house. History shows that the Speaker and others have been a party to the cultivation.

Brenda Arthur, of the anti-Muslim group American Congress for Truth (ACT), set up the offensive booth at the capitol. The most prominent part of the display was an image of an airplane crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11 juxtaposed with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who is a native of Somalia.

ACT, defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, is the largest anti-Muslim organization in America yet on Saturday tried to distance itself from the mess in West Virginia. When a hate group disavows your brand of hate? Yeah.

ACT advances anti-Muslim legislation while infecting the American political conversation with wild anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, denigrating American Muslims and deliberately conflating mainstream and radical Islam.

It would be too easy to write it all off as balderdash and, in doing so, allow it to become the norm. It is, plain and simple, hate speech – dangerous, unwelcome and unprotected in a free and democratic society.

The GOP’s aversion to civil rights in the state didn’t just show up unannounced this past week.

Lawmakers have introduced bills targeting refugees for several years, some going so far as to call for a complete ban of accepting refugees into our state.

Republican lawmakers also regularly introduce bills attacking LGBTQ people who seek the same civil rights protections enjoyed by other historically persecuted groups.

Each year, enlightened legislators introduce a bill to ban conversion therapy, which purports to change a person’s sexual orientation.

This year, Del. Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, compared LGBTQ people to the KKK, has said he wanted to run for office to support conversion therapy and, in a television interview, suggested he would drown his children if he discovered they were gay. For saying all of that, Porterfield faced no rebuke, no censure, no expulsion from fellow Republicans.

And in 2015, Hanshaw joined other delegates to introduce the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a knee-jerk reaction by conservatives to the decision by the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage. Hanshaw’s efforts failed. But still, we saw the man behind the curtain.

Maybe the Republican Party is fine with the state’s continued population decline, and waving good-bye to young and talented natives who are moving out of state for better opportunities and more exciting lifestyle choices.

We’re not sure why Republicans are cozying up with hate and haters, but they are and its giving our state a bad look.

But we do know this: There’s no amount of marketing dollars in the kitty to fix all of the black eyes and broken bones. We are a sad sight to anyone paying attention.

— The Register-Herald

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