Spencer resigns after TV episode airs
After three days of intense national media attention, state Rep. Jason Spencer announced he will resign his District 180 seat at the end of this month.
Public outrage and disbelief followed the release of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who Is America?” episode Sunday that featured the lawmaker in a fake training video about how to prevent a terror attack.
“The agents of this show made a false representation to me, namely that I was being given the opportunity to learn self-defense skills in the wake of the assassination attempt on Congressman Steve Scalise’s life as well as death threats I and my family had received for taking a policy position on matters of public concern,” he said in a written statement. “The agents stated this 'class' would be filmed for training purposes for other elected officials who were identified as targets by terrorists. But in reality, I was the target of an elaborate prank.”
During the episode, Cohen walked Spencer, who was apparently unaware that he was participating in a spoof, through a variety of bogus techniques designed to deter an attack. The terrorists in the video were of Muslim or Middle Eastern descent, as was Cohen, who was in disguise.
“This whole thing was all an elaborate, evil and cruel practical joke,” Spencer said. “This so-called ‘class’ consisted of two hours of scenario driven training and role playing exercises; however, they aired less than five minutes of content that was spliced and edited for the purposes of making me look like something that I am not ... all the while deceiving the viewer by omitting critical context.”
Spencer complied with Cohen's instructions by shouting racial slurs at the top of his lungs, pretending to be a Chinese tourist while taking a photo up the skirt of a woman in a burqa and pretending to cut the genitals off of a terrorist. In one scene, he was encouraged to chase a terrorist with his bare buttocks because Cohen’s character told him that Muslims were afraid of homosexuals and it would scare them away.
The show “Who is America?” airs on Showtime, but video clips of Spencer are readily available online through a variety of media sources. In most, the racial slurs and his buttocks are censored.
Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston and several other state officials called for Spencer’s resignation after the episode aired on Sunday. In the days that followed, state leadership reportedly sought ways to censure Spencer, who initially refused to vacate his seat.
Local officials also reacted strongly, including St. Marys City Council member Bob Nutter, who called for Spencer’s resignation and asked his fellow elected officials to follow suit.
“(Spencer) has conducted himself in the most reprehensible manner imaginable by his conduct on a national broadcast cable channel TV show. His racist, xenophobic and disgusting rant and behaviors cannot be tolerated by the decent citizens of our city and county,” Nutter wrote to his colleagues.
Spencer also expressed regret for bringing negative light to his family and to the district.
“I deeply regret all of this. It has caused irreparable and irrevocable damage. Therefore, I had to resign my post out of respect for my family and the fine people of House District 180. The truth about this farce will eventually come to light, but unfortunately, it will be at the expense of my family in the meantime,” he said.
When the episode was released, Spencer was serving out the final months as his fourth term as District 180’s representative, having been defeated last spring by challenger Steve Sainz, also a Republican.
In a statement earlier this week, Sainz said he did not believe Spencer’s views reflected the majority of those who live here.
“During the course of my campaign earlier this year, I was able to speak with thousands of the individuals who make up this district. I can say without hesitation that our communities are welcoming, loving and accepting,” he said.
He said Spencer’s “history of inflammatory actions and rhetoric” was one of the reasons he felt compelled to challenge him for his District 180 seat.
“I hope my election as state representative for District 180 can be seen as a turning point where our collective focus is on job creation and substantive improvements for our corner of the state, and our reputation is one of integrity and focus,” Sainz said. “I pledge to work alongside my community in the goal of bringing the positive economic growth that is desperately needed. I intend on serving each person of this district with humility, reverence, and the integrity that should be expected of your representative in the Georgia General Assembly.
“To every individual who was demeaned by the actions portrayed in (Sunday’s) episode, you have my deep and sincere apology.”