Public Official Held Accountable, Resigns After Bigoted Anti-Muslim Comments

Blog Post by Staff Attorney Madihha Ahussain

Last month, Big Stone County (Minnesota) GOP Chairman Jack Whitley posted multiple bigoted and threatening remarks on Facebook, suggesting that Muslims should be killed by a grenade during the Hajj pilgrimage.  He further advocated a “call to arms” against Muslims, who he described as “parasites.”

While the chair of the Minnesota Republican Party condemned Whitley’s comments, the leadership stopped short of removing him from his post.  But the Muslim community and civil rights allies spoke up, and a day after Thanksgiving, Whitley begrudgingly announced his resignation.

Allowing this type of unfettered anti-Muslim rhetoric gives cues to the American public that it is okay to treat people differently because of how they look or how they pray.  Muslim Advocates strives to push back against such divisive sentiment, and we applaud Whitley’s colleagues that asked him to step down from his position—they sent a strong message that his bigotry was unacceptable.

When we heard of this incident, we partnered with other advocacy organizations to send a joint letter to Keith Downey, chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota, calling on the removal of Whitley.  The letter was signed by Anti-Defamation League, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC), Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), The Interfaith Center of New York, and The Sikh Coalition.

Our coalition letter, among other things, stated that:

“Civic leaders have a special responsibility to uphold our nation’s founding values, including freedom, truth and fairness, and a county chairman like Mr. Whitley in particular is playing an important leadership role. Statements like Mr. Whitley’s, however, run completely a foul of that commitment. His blatantly anti-Muslim remarks send a dangerous message to the American public that it is okay to malign and, even worse, incite violence against our fellow Americans simply because of how they look or how they pray.”

Pressure from boots on the ground in Minnesota along with Muslim Advocates and its allies led to Whitley’s resignation.  In fact, Whitley was unapologetic about his remarks and told the Associated Press that he had not planned to resign, but was asked to do so by other members of the county GOP board. Published reports also state that Whitley was fired from his day job at a local hardware store because he expressed no remorse for his inflammatory remarks.

This is a proud moment for our anti-Muslim hate program. We seek to hold public officials accountable for their actions including remarks that fan the flames of bigotry against our communities.

The resignation of Jack Whitley serves as an example of how our collective voices can make a real difference—and in this case, hold a public leader accountable for his hateful comments.  We know we make progress when we collaborate, because we are stronger together.

Read the full letter, here.