The Tennessee Legislature's Black Caucus is calling on state Rep. Sheila Butt to apologize and be dismissed from her leadership role for what members are calling a racist remark on her Facebook page in which she allegedly advocated for creating an NAAWP, an acronym for the National Association for the Advancement of White People.
Butt, a Republican floor leader, reportedly posted: "It is time for a Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP in this Country," according to The Associated Press. She allegedly wrote the entry in January, but it resurfaced this week before being deleted. Her post allegedly was in response to an open letter written by The Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) asking the Republican party to engage Muslim voters and reject Islamophobia, said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for CAIR.
"It's utter nonsense, but it's representative of the kind of knee-jerk Islamophobia in the Republican circles," Hooper told msnbc about Butt's post.
Butt declined to comment further when msnbc reached out to her on Friday. Following widespread public criticism this week, though, Butt said she intended for the "WP" in NAAWP to mean "western people," not "white people," the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. She reportedly addressed the state House briefly on Thursday, saying she was disappointed her comment was misunderstood and that she didn't intend to offend anyone. Instead, she said she meant for the post to include every gender, culture, and religion.
Hooper noted that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke created an organization with the name, NAAWP.
"Even if you accept that flimsy excuse, which I just don’t buy for a minute, it amounts to the same thing," Hooper said. The phrase, western people, he added, "is almost the same thing anyway, so it doesn't really get her out of the controversy."
During her address to the House, Butt also mentioned that she created the acronym. But white supremacist groups have used NAAWP to describe race in the past. The acronym draws for that of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She also said the First Amendment allows Americans to speak their minds.
The Black Caucus reportedly met with Republican state House Speaker Beth Harwell about forcing Butt to apologize and having her removed from her position. But Harwell refused to do so, saying Butt didn't speak for the Republican Party.
On Wednesday, Butt posted on her Facebook page, saying: "It saddens me that we have come to a place in our society where every comment by a conservative Christian is automatically scrutinized as being racist."
"Liberal groups have once again incorrectly and falsely made their own interpretation," she added.
The Black Caucus also noted that in Butt's 2012 book, "Everyday Princess: Daughter of a King," she warned women that some people would judge them if they engaged in interracial relationships.
CAIR hasn't called for Butt's dismissal, but members demand state and national Republican party leaders repudiate her remark.
Hooper noted the claim made by Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, a 2016 presidential hopeful, last month that condemned Europe's Muslim "no-go zones," despite the reality there isn't evidence such areas exist.
"I think we're going to see more of [Islamophobia] as we get closer to the election," Hooper said. "That is why we are hoping to see the Republican party speak out against this phenomenon to keep this from happening."