On Thursday, the U.S. House approved a measure to ban most displays of the Confederate flag in national cemeteries.
The final tally was 265–159, but a majority of Republicans opposed the measure, with 158 voting nay and 84 voting in favor. Before the vote, a staffer working on behalf of one of the Republicans who voted against restricting the Confederate flag, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), distributed an email comparing those who support the measure to ISIS.
“You know who else supports destroying history so that they can advance their own agenda? ISIL. Don’t be like ISIL. I urge you to vote NO,” Westmoreland’s legislative director, Pete Sanborn, wrote, signing the email, “Yours in freedom from the PC police.”
Rep. Westmoreland's (R-GA) office using strong language urging House Rs to oppose Confederate flag amendment pic.twitter.com/Vbj8A8DBJW
— Cristina Marcos (@cimarcos) May 19, 2016
Westmoreland spokesman Leigh Claffey later released a statement distancing the congressman from the email.
“Representative Westmoreland does not condone this type of language from his staffers. While this email was intended to be between colleagues and not for public distribution, that type of unprofessional language should not have been used and appropriate disciplinary measures against the staffer have been taken to ensure this does not happen again,” the statement says, according to a report published by The Hill.
But this isn’t the first time Westmoreland has been involved in a Confederate flag-related controversy. In the wake of a racially motivated massacre in a black church in South Carolina last summer, Westmoreland offered the following defense of the flag (from the Washington Post):
“The majority of people that actually died in the Civil War on the Confederate side didn’t own slaves. These were people that were fighting for their states, and, you know, I don’t think they even had any thoughts about slavery,” said Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-Ga.).
He rejected the position of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a leader in the civil rights movement, who called the flag a symbol of oppression.
“Does he understand where I’m coming from?” Westmoreland said. “Well, if I believe it comes from heritage, does he understand where I’m coming from?”
Following Thursday’s vote, the author of the amendment, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), identified the “heritage” Westmoreland referred to as representing “slavery, war, and tragedy.”
“Symbols like the confederate battle flag have meaning,” Huffman said in a statement. “To continue to allow national policy condoning the display of the Confederate battle flag on federal property is wrong and disrespectful to our past. Even General Robert E. Lee recognized that symbols of the Confederacy are symbols of treason — which is why he asked that they not appear in his funeral. In 2016, the House should be at least as forward-looking as Robert E. Lee was in 1869.”