Utah Rep. Burgess Owens (R) slammed The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday in response to the newspaper publishing a “pathetic” political cartoon comparing the Black congressman’s rhetoric on the recent surge in migrants to that of the Ku Klux Klan decades ago.
“The @sltrib and @Patbagley compare me to the KKK, the radical hate group that terrorized me in my youth, because I am one of many sounding the alarm of the trauma being faced by women and children crossing the border. This is pathetic,” Owens tweeted about the longtime satirist Pat Bagley, with the hashtag “#wokeracism”.
The cartoon’s lefthand panel depicting Owens “last week” saying “They are coming to your neighborhoods!” next to a “border” sign, while the righthand panel features a torch-wielding klansman 70 years ago saying the exact same phrase.
Other members of Utah’s congressional delegation came to Owens’ defense and denounced the illustration, asking the newspaper to remove it and apologize.
“The Salt Lake Tribune recently published a repugnant ‘cartoon’ comparing Congressman Burgess Owens, our esteemed colleague and only black member of the Utah delegation, to a member of the Ku Klux Klan. This racially charged, perverse political statement is beyond the pale. We ask that The Salt Lake Tribune immediately take down this horrific image, issue a formal apology, and hold themselves to a higher standard,” said Sens. Mike Lee (R), Mitt Romney (R), and Reps. Chris Stewart (R), John Curtis (R), and Blake Moore (R) in a joint statement.
Bagley stood by his cartoon on Twitter.
In response to another tweet from Owens saying, “We have heard of ‘mansplaining’ now we have ‘whitesplaining’ from a white man comparing a black man, who grew up under Jim Crow laws, to the KKK. Awful tone deaf @sltrib @Patbagley. Expect an apology but I won’t hold my breathe,” Bagley wrote: “My problem with @BurgessOwens, as with so many Republicans, is his promotion of dangerous conspiracy theories totally divorced from reality”.
He also gave a longer defense of his cartoon in a lengthy thread.
“If any one of these Utah pols uttered the white supremacist dogwhistle Burgess Owens used he would have been featured in the cartoon. Treating Owens differently because of his race is the definition of racism,” Bagley wrote. “If Owens doesn’t want to be dunked for using white supremacist talking points then he shouldn’t use white supremacist talking points.”
Bagley then cited a portion from a recent speech Owen gave in Edinburg, Texas during a trip he took with other Republicans to the U.S.-Mexico border as the one which prompted satirist to create the cartoon. In the speech, the Utah Republican told President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to visit the overcrowded migrant detention facilities holding thousands of unaccompanied migrant children, saying, “Get some backbone. Get some compassion. Come down to the border and see what mess you’ve made.”
In one part of the quote Bagley cited, Owens said: “So, no Americans, this isn’t a border issue anymore. They are coming to your neighborhoods, not knowing the language, not knowing the culture, and there is a cartel influence along the way.”
While Bagley admitted that he “can’t speak to the Black experience (obviously)” of Owens, he refused to apologize, saying, “but I know from White experience Owens’ words are the very same words supremacists use to instill fear and hate towards vulnerable communities. The cartoon was accurate. No apologies”.
According to Owens, who grew up under Jim Crow in the South, his great-great-grandfather Silas Burgess came to America shackled in the belly of a slave ship and was subsequently sold on an auction block in Charleston, South Carolina to the Burgess Plantation. Silas, Owens said, was able to escape his enslavement via the Underground Railroad to West Texas, where he became a landowner and founded the first black church and first black elementary school in his town.
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @DouglasPBraff.