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A campaign spokesman for Representative Nan Hayworth (R-NY) advocates “hurl[ing] acid” at female Democratic senators. Jay Townsend, the spokesman for Hayworth, makes the statement during a discussion on a Facebook page entitled “NY19 US House of Representatives Discussion Center.” The page, according to its owner, encourages “civil multi-partisan discussion about issues impacting citizens of New York’s US House District represented by Republican Congresswoman Nan Hayworth.” The particular thread is about falling gas prices, and contains comments from some posters critical of Hayworth. In response to one poster, Tom Conroy, Townsend writes the following: “Listen to Tom. What a little bee he has in his bonnet. Buzz Buzz. My question today… when is Tommy boy going to weigh in on all the Lilly Ledbetter hypocrites who claim to be fighting the War on Women? Let’s hurl some acid at those female democratic Senators who won’t abide the mandates they want to impose on the private sector.” Townsend then links to an article illustrated with a photograph of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). The page moderator responds: “[A]s an official and paid employee of the Hayworth Re-Election Campaign, please refrain from calling our members names. If you keep that up, I will have to remove you from the page. Also, I can’t believe Representative Hayworth would want you posting such un-referenced nonsense to this page. Does she know you are doing this or have you gone rogue?” Townsend responds by accusing the other posters of name-calling, and then says (referencing Memorial Day), “In the interest of this sacred holiday I am celebrating the sacrifce [sic] made so that might might [sic] have the freedom to express our views.”
Opponent Objects to 'Acid Hurling' Comment - One of Hayworth’s Democratic challengers, Richard Becker, objects to Townsend’s comment via a post in the New York Observer by Becker’s own spokesman, Barry Caro. On the Observer’s “Politicker” blog, Caro writes: “I’d be fired—immediately and with cause—if I said stuff like this. Which begs the question: why is Jay Townsend still Nan Hayworth’s spokesman?” Caro also addresses other other comments made by Townsend in the Facebook discussion: “Does she agree that ‘bin Laden is dead in spite of Obama?’ Does she agree that we should ‘hurl some acid’ at politicians her campaign disagrees with? These comments are simply unprofessional and should never cross the lips of a congressional spokesman.… This isn’t some obscure supporter or no-name right wing provocateur, and we’re not playing ‘six degrees of condemnation.’ This is Nan Hayworth’s official campaign spokesman saying some truly disturbing things on her behalf. The people of this district deserve to know whether Nan thinks what her spokesman is saying is OK—and if not, what she’s going to do about it.” Hayworth’s office refuses to comment on Townsend’s comments, or Caro’s rejoinder. (Levy 5/31/2012; Rich Becker for Congress 5/31/2012; Johnson 5/31/2012; Times Herald-Record (Middletown NY) 6/3/2012)
Acid Attacks Common in Islamic Fundamentalist societies - Journalist Eric Dolan notes that acid attacks “against women who violate social traditions” are frequently used by Islamic fundamentalists “in Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries.” That fact apparently prompts some Facebook posters to ask Townsend if he believes he lives in Afghanistan, or if he wants to impose a Taliban-like fundamentalism in America. (Dolan 5/31/2012; Levy 5/31/2012)
Comments Removed - Townsend later removes the comments. On his Web site, he describes himself as an “adept wordsmith” who has worked on over 300 campaigns in 25 states. In 2010, he ran for the US Senate against Charles Schumer (D-NY), a race he lost by 18 points. (Pfeiffer 6/1/2012) Huffington Post columnist Melissa Jeltsen describes the comments as a “vicious… taunting… online rant.” She observes: “In an ironic twist, Townsend also maintains a Facebook page called ‘How to Run for Public Office’ offering free ‘campaign and communications tips.’ It’s safe to say he could use a refresher.” (Jeltsen 5/31/2012)
Opponent Advises Representative to Fire Official - Becker later issues a statement advising Hayworth to fire Townsend. He will note that Townsend may have violated Federal law by issuing a threat to “assault, kidnap, or murder, a United States official… with intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with such official.” Case law holds that violating this law does not require that an actual intent to carry out such a threat “be present.” Becker will continue: “Does Nan Hayworth want Jay Townsend to be the public face of her campaign? Because to me, this is clear cut: Jay’s rhetoric is indefensible. It’s just mind boggling that a Congressional spokesman would use this kind of incendiary and downright offensive language and equally shocking that his boss would not instantly fire him for doing so. The specific choice of words here is also particularly sickening. Acid attacks on women have a disturbing and disgusting history—they’re used almost exclusively to silence and punish women across the globe who’ve bravely spoken out on behalf of their human rights.… With every minute ‘No Comment’ Nan refuses to take a stand, she takes on responsibility for Jay’s hateful and hurtful remarks.… Refusing to take a stand now and fire Townsend would permanently mark Nan as unfit to hold public office and unworthy of the public’s trust.… Threats to physically harm elected officials for disagreeing with you are specifically banned by federal law for a very good reason; they’re just never acceptable, and are particularly corrosive in a democracy. The fact that these comments are likely illegal only highlights how far out of bounds they were—and how absurd it is that Jay Townsend is, as of this moment, still Nan Hayworth’s official spokesman. Words have power, words this symbolic especially so. Last January, the US Congress saw some of the ugly and real—even if unintended—consequences of calls for political violence [referring to the assassination attempt against Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona]. I would have hoped Nan Hayworth learned the same lessons from that tragedy that the rest of us did.” (Weathers 6/1/2012)
Attempt to Shift Blame onto Opponent - The campaign will attempt to shift the blame for the controversy onto Becker (see June 1, 2012), but will soon fire Townsend (see June 4, 2012).
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