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Kristi Noem Rejects Anti-Muslim Bigotry at Tea Party Town Hall

Last updated on 2012.02.05

I joined several dozen fellow citizens for a town hall meeting with Congresswoman Kristi Noem today. I'll have full video and a breakdown of the hour-long program tomorrow.

But I want to turn first to a heinous screed issued by a citizen toward the end of the meeting. The audio is weak, so listen closely (I'll provide a transcript of the key statement below):

Tsars, Saul Alinksy, yadda yadda... but then, at 0:30:

...Recently here, Obama and Janet Napolitano appointed two Muslims, Kareem Shora, and Arif Alikhan, to the Department of Homeland Security. Now didn't we have some devout Muslims—now this is important for Janet, they were both devout Muslims—didn't we have devout muslims crash twice into the Trade Center? Didn't we have devout Muslims that killed 13 peoople at Fort Hood? Didn't we have devout Muslims that took over Flight 93 and crashed it? Didn't we have devout Muslims that cut Daniel Pearl's head off and threw Leon Klinghoffer over the side of a ship?

When I heard this anti-Muslim bigotry, regurgitated from e-mails that started getting forwarded in 2009 when President Obama appointed Kareem Shora and Arif Alikhan to serve their country, I almost spoke up. I almost interrupted and made a scene. My respect for the office and quasi-parliamentary decorum held me back. So did my fear that Noem's aides would see my outburst as cause to throw me out. I held my breath, turned the camera and my eyes directly toward my Congresswoman, and hoped she would have a John McCain moment and tell this uninformed rube to stick his religious bigotry and tired memes where the sun doesn't shine.

But she didn't, not at the mic. The speaker had rambled on to his issues with the media and with Republicans who, in his imagination, somehow don't sell their message with as much unity or aggression as Democrats. He thus tossed Noem a lot of manure around which to carefully step. She did not call the man out.

I hung around after the show. Nearly 40 minutes after the scheduled end of the program, after shaking hands and talking and taking photos with numerous other constituents, after doing a few minutes with the professional press, the Congresswoman made time to talk to me. I tried to keep it short. I said I was alarmed by the anti-Muslim bigotry expressed by the audience member. I asked her if she would disavow for the record such bigotry.

She nodded. "I definitely believe that we have freedom of religion in this country," she said.

I asked if that meant that she agreed that there is no place for anyone to say that Muslims are not qualified to serve in public office. She said yes. She does not believe in judging people by their religion. She does not condone such bigotry.

So hey, neighbor, Mr. "Outraged at the Lack of Outrage," Mr. "Hiring Muslims shows you're un-American." I regret not coming up to you earlier and saying this to your face. I should have. So should have our Congresswoman. But your bigotry is the outrage. Your bigotry is un-American and un-Constitutional.

And Kristi Noem agrees with me. Thank you, Kristi.

Update 2012.02.05 07:05 MST: Meanwhile, in another glaring example of tone deaf doltishness, Gordon Howie's Tea Party blog lets Brad Ford post another half-plagiarized racist screed lamenting the demise of White privilege. Apparently Brad Ford thought being called offensive and ridiculous was a compliment. And apparently, Ford can't make up his mind whether we white folks are the oppressed or the oppressors. As Troy suggests below, maybe I just need to learn to leave crazy alone.


  1. troy jones 2012.02.04

    I want to praise you both for saying nothing.

    It has been my experience when the most offensive is said there are two options:

    1) confront "crazy" and ruin the rest of the meeting for everyoneelse

  2. troy jones 2012.02.04

    or 2) Let "crazy" say their piece and move on.

    As much discipline as it takes, the latter is best. Crazy is stillcrazy either way.

  3. Owen Reitzel 2012.02.04

    I think your right Troy but there comes a time when a person can get tired of that bigotry and has to stand up say "Sir, your full of it." These people claim to love American but hate America.
    We have the same problem here in Hanson, except with Mexicans. It's disgusting

  4. Owen Reitzel 2012.02.04

    Hanson County I mean. It's late. lol

  5. mike 2012.02.04

    What does she expect when she holds a town hall hosted by the Tea Party?

    She would be better off to hold a town hall on neatral ground hosted by the city chambers. Good grief if Cory asked Noem about medicare it would be more important than this fringe nonsense.

  6. mike 2012.02.04

    But I'm sure she is trying to avoid real issues also and Cory just happened to have a camera.

  7. Barbara Hall 2012.02.05

    While I am glad CAH asked her the question at all, and I am happy enough to hear Noem's response, I agree with Owen.

    Engaging with crazy is futile. But Noem, or Santorum or any other professional political speaker at a public event should be able to speak up and dismiss the crazy before moving on, without losing control of the situation.

    It is possible to confront crazy without "ruining it for everyone." In fact confronting crazy is the best way to NOT ruin it for everyone. Stop me if you've heard this one before:

    "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me."

    Martin Niemöller

  8. Nick Nemec 2012.02.05

    I disagree Troy. The best thing McCain did in his campaign was to take the mic from the crazy haired old bat in Iowa and correct her misperceptions.

    Years ago I was in a meeting with a bunch of other young farmers when the speaker made a stupid joke about Jesse Jackson's mother and National Geographic Magazine. I could smell the punchline coming a mile away and as soon as he finished I stood up and loudly expressed my disgust at that kind of racist bullshit. The speaker immediately apologized. My response to the joke might have made some uncomfortable but I'll bet I wasn't the only one uncomfortable or disgusted by the joke. Maybe I should have talked to the speaker alone during a break but I bet he never told that or a similar joke again.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.02.05

    Even I chicken out of confrontation sometimes. Barbara, I do regret not speaking directly to that man. I'm not sure I could justify interrupting that town hall as an audience member, but Nick's example gives me food for thought.

  10. Troy Jones 2012.02.05

    I agree with you Nick. Sometimes, you just have to react. My point is it is rare and I think turning the other cheek is often the most effective which is what "moving on" and not dignifying the tyrade with a response does.

  11. Bill Fleming 2012.02.05

    Cory, if that guy is going to comment publically, he deserves to be identified and denounced publically. I for one would like to know what his name is and what town he's from. I'd like to write him a letter. An open letter, in the form of an op ed piece, and offer it for publication in the SD mainstream press, particularly in his own home town paper.

  12. Owen Reitzel 2012.02.05

    I agree with you Bill. But I bet if you'd ask him his name and where he's from he'd never give it out. People like him are usually cowards

  13. Bill Fleming 2012.02.05

    He's in the video. I'm sure somebody who was there knows who he is.

  14. Barbara Hall 2012.02.05

    If I wasn"t clear, Kristi Noem was the one who should have been in charge of saying, in some way, that the comment was out of line. The McCain example is illustrative. When a politician fails to stand up to this type of question, they can be seen to be in complicit agreement by those they appease with silence, while reassuring other audience members individually that of course they actually disavow this kind of statement.

    I agree that when audience members start debating each other, it can get out of control and I do not fault you Cory for not seeking a confrontation with this guy.

    I also think there is merit in identifying yourself if you want to ask questions at a public event like this.

  15. JohnKelley 2012.02.05

    Ignoring the bigotry is showing complicit acceptance. It is lowering ones moral standards to that of the bigot. How one responds is another issue; but ignoring it is tacit adoption of the low standard by all who were in the room.
    Never confuse toleration with morality.
    On the 70th anniversary of the White Rose those in attendance and some commenters here show they've learned nothing.

    “The real damage is done by those millions who want to 'get by.'"
    - Sophie Scholl

    "I was satisfied that I wasn't personally to blame and that I hadn't known about those things. I wasn't aware of the extent of the crimes. But one day I went past the memorial plaque which had been put up for Sophie Scholl in Franz Josef Strasse, and I saw that she was born the same year as me, and she was executed the same year I started working for Hitler. And at that moment I actually sensed that it was no excuse to be young, and that it would have been possible to find things out."
    - Traudl Junge, Im toten Winkel - Hitlers Sekretärin

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.02.05

    Good points, Barbara, on proper decorum for such events. I was disappointed not to hear an immediate rejection on the mic. But Rep. Noem took time to speak to me. She knows who I am, and she knows things she says to me are quite likely to end up on the public record. She recognizes that man is wrong, and she said so on the record.

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