TOPEKA A Republican legislator in Kansas criticized a Black Lives Matter supporter's protest while singing the national anthem by posting on Facebook that she should go back "home," then said Tuesday he was defending the military and the American flag.
The comment by state Rep. Joe Seiwert of Pretty Prairie has been taken down, but he confirmed it in interviews with The Topeka Capital-Journal and The Wichita Eagle. It was posted under a meme showing singer Denasia Lawrence kneeling with a headline denouncing "anti-American blacks" and another directing a vulgarity at the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Go back to where you claim home," Seiwert's post said, later adding, "so if they don't like it here, I believe that their freedom completely allows them to go where ever they believe is more fair and non racist."
Lawrence, who is black, knelt to sing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game Friday in Miami. She wore a Black Lives Matter shirt and said in a Facebook posting that she was protesting racial injustice.
The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand while it is played. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest.
State Rep. Gail Finney, a Wichita Democrat, told The Eagle that Seiwert's comments about Lawrence's protest were insulting. Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, told the newspaper that he's "saddened to see such racism." Finney and Haley are black; Seiwert is white.
Clifton Beck, a Democrat running against Seiwert in their Wichita-area district, also denounced the Facebook posting. Beck, who also is white, said Seiwert's posting was offensive because during the civil rights movement, "go home to Africa" was a racial slur.
"It's a well-known slur, and he used it," Beck told The Associated Press.
While Seiwert did not return a telephone message Tuesday evening from AP, he told The Topeka Capital-Journal that he was trying with his post to stand up for the U.S. flag and the military.
"I am not a racist. I believe in freedom," he told the newspaper. "It offends me when people disrespect the flag. If unhappy, move to somewhere where you're happy."
Seiwert was first elected to the Kansas House in 2008. In November 2010, he faced criticism for forwarding an email without comment to about 40 people arguing that good Muslims couldn't be good Americans.