Former W.Va. House Sergeant at Arms Gives Her Account of Events that Led to Her Resignation
The former sergeant at arms of the West Virginia House of Delegates broke her silence Sunday after an explosive moment Friday in the rotunda just outside the chamber that led to her resignation.
Anne Lieberman, the ousted House Sergeant at Arms, posted on Facebook that she disputes the allegation that she called all Muslims “terrorists.” She also says she has been threatened online since Friday.
“The vile and repugnant messages I have received from total strangers in response to something I did not say, now compels me to submit this account of what led up to my resignation," Lieberman wrote in the post.
Friday’s events have caused a whirlwind around the West Virginia Capitol. It all began with an anti-Muslim display in the rotunda, falsely linking U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., to terrorist attacks like the ones on September 11, 2001. The display was one of other stands at “WV GOP Day” Friday on the House side of the upper rotunda.
West Virginia Republican Party chairwoman Melody Potter has denounced the display. Potter has not returned requests for additional comment on how that display became part of the activities at the Capitol that day.
A verbal altercation ensued Friday when the display caught the attention of a few Democratic delegates. Those delegates engaged in a heated argument with others in the rotunda, then accused Lieberman of calling all Muslims “terrorists.”
Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, has admitted to kicking in the door of the House, a moment that Republican leadership has said caused injuries to the doorkeeper who was guarding the entrance to the chamber between the prayer and pledge of allegiance.
Del. Michael Angelucci, D-Marion, described on the House floor Friday the events that took place in the rotunda, where he and Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, were taking issue with the display. The two of them spoke on the House floor about the poster and the incident that ensued.
“While I was talking with Del. Pushkin I said, ‘Let's go. You're not going to change her views. Come on, let's get back inside,” Angelucci recounted Friday. “The sergeant of arms of this body had enough nerve to say to us ‘All Muslims are terrorists.’ The sergeant of arms of this body -- that represents the people the state of West Virginia -- said, ‘All Muslims are terrorists.”
Angelucci continued to denounce the display and the words he said he heard from Lieberman.
“That's beyond shameful -- and that's not freedom of speech. That's hate speech. It has no place in this House, the people's House. I am furious and I don't want to see her representing the people of this great state in this House,” he said Friday.
Lieberman resigned following a Friday afternoon meeting with House Speaker Roger Hanshaw.
House rules outline the sergeant at arms’ job description. The holder of that position, elected by delegates, is tasked with maintaining order in the chamber and the surrounding areas under the supervision of the House.
The former sergeant at arms wrote Sunday in a Facebook post titled ‘Statement to the Media’ her account of what happened. She acknowledged the incident in the rotunda involving Angelucci, herself and others.
“I know for certain that I said - verbatim- that ‘Not all Muslims are terrorists,’ but that THOSE (9/11) terrorists WERE all Muslim, trying to bring the discussion back to his original complaint.” Lieberman wrote.
“Perhaps he misheard or misunderstood me. Or given his agitation, he may have heard what he expected or wanted to hear,” she added.
She said two other witnesses would corroborate her account, but “that hardly matters now.”
Lieberman acknowledges that Angelucci threatened to bring the display and his accusation about her words in the rotunda to the attention of House Speaker Roger Hanshaw. She said she secluded herself in her office and missed not only the floor session but also the incident in which the doorkeeper was injured.
“I reported to the Speaker's staff that the doorkeeper had been injured. This led in the end to my being interviewed by the Speaker, in the company of his Counsel and the Majority Leader. I explained all that I knew to have happened and offered to resign if it would help diffuse the situation. It didn't take long for my offer to be accepted,” Lieberman said.
A request for additional comment from Lieberman went unreturned.
Speaker Hanshaw denounced the anti-Muslim display in a statement Friday shortly after the incident occured.
“The West Virginia House of Delegates unequivocally rejects hate in all of its forms,” Hanshaw wrote.
Hanshaw also stepped down from the podium Friday evening to deliver a lengthy speech in which he called on delegates to rise above mounting animosity between parties this session. At one point, Hanshaw cited a speech from civil rights leader and humanitarian Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. I wish I was smart enough to have said that, but that’s Dr. King. Friends, we can do better,” Hanshaw said.
Del. Mike, Caputo, D-Marion, publicly apologized Saturday for storming into the chambers and injuring the doorkeeper. House leadership has not released the condition of the doorkeeper, citing a privacy issue related to the situation involving medical and personnel matters.
But the fallout from Friday’s events seems to ongoing for delegates of both parties -- with Republicans still considering punitive action against Caputo and Democrats continuing to demand more action stemming from this incident and others involving hate speech this legislative session.