NASHVILLE — Tennessee politicians continued Thursday to lambaste congressional candidate Rick Tyler, whose billboard bearing the words "Make America White Again" made national headlines Wednesday.
State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, said Thursday that Tyler simply "does not have a good grasp of American history.
"You can't make America 'white again,'" said Favors, who is black. "It was never 'white.' The Native Americans were already here when the Europeans came. Mexicans were already here in the Southwest. Eskimos were already here."
And blacks were soon here, too, she noted, adding, "so it appears to me that he may be intellectually challenged and needs to go back and study history. And the district, you know, the United States of America is a diverse nation, and we made a lot of progress and we certainly do not need to have someone who has those thought processes."
Despite such responses, the 58-year-old Ocoee, Tenn., restaurateur reveled in the controversy his two billboards elicited.
While both signs — the second featuring a picture of the White House festooned with Confederate flags — were taken down by the billboards' owners Wednesday, Tyler said on his campaign website that "be assured, the response that has been engendered by the billboard is precisely what was expected and hoped for.
"You see this is not a mere publicity stunt, but rather a calculated maneuver to dispense hardcore truth while simultaneously doing an end run around the iron curtain of censorship," the site reads.
Tyler added that his "Make America White Again" billboard was indeed a takeoff on GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again."
In a Times Free Press interview Wednesday, Tyler, principal owner of the Whitewater Grill in Ocoee, described himself as an "insurgent candidate" in the 3rd Congressional District race. Tyler said he wants to ban non-whites from emigrating legally or illegally to the U.S., deport undocumented immigrants already here and end government-support programs he says encourage non-whites to have children at taxpayer expense.
While Tyler says he is on a mission to save America and return the country to its past, Tennessee House Minority Leader Joe Towns, D-Memphis, wasn't buying any of it, calling Tyler a "con and a psychopath."
"He doesn't need to lead a pack of dogs," Towns, who is black, said of Tyler.
Ryan Lenz with the Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation, on Thursday called Tyler's billboards, including several proposed signs that never went up, "just brazen white supremacist messages."
"I think what we're seeing here is a political season where ideas that have no place are now front and center as a result of Donald Trump," said Lenz, senior writer for the SPLC's Intelligence Project and editor of its Hatewatch blog.
Tyler ran as an independent candidate against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in 2014. He received just under .05 percent of the vote. He would be one of three independents and a Democratic nominee facing Fleischmann in the Nov. 8 election.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.