Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson goes on Twitter attack after Orlando shooting
NASHVILLE — Tennessee elected officials' reactions to Sunday's deadly mass shooting at an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub are mostly ranging — and sometimes raging — across the nation's political fault lines of Islamic terrorism, gun control and LGBT discrimination.
As U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., delivered harsh criticism of Islamic terrorists and political correctness, another congressman from the Volunteer State, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, called on Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan to allow gun control bills to come to the chamber floor.
Meanwhile, Chattanooga Councilman Chris Anderson, who is openly gay, ignited a Twitter furor when he accused Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, state Sens. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and Chattanooga tea party President Mark West of having encouraged the deadly assault by supporting legislation that LGBT activists have charged discriminate against them.
"In wake of the Orlando murders, do you regret your hateful attacks on the LGBT community and your incitement of this?" Anderson tweeted, prompting a heated response from West and continuing responses and counter-responses.
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Tony Sanders later called Anderson's comments "inexcusable," saying that if the councilman "can't see past his rainbow glasses to say that, then someone needs to call him out."
Fleischmann on Sunday appeared on Fox News where he expressed sympathy for the 49 victims killed by Omar Mateen, a U.S.-born Muslim, at Orlando's Pulse club, in what has been characterized as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The White House and FBI are portraying Mateen as a "homegrown extremist" who voiced support for various Islamic extremist organizations. Mateen's father told reporters his son was once upset when he saw two men kissing in public.
Fleischmann, who is from Ooltewah, pointed to Chattanooga's experience last July when 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez shot and killed five U.S. servicemen at the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway.
The Kuwait-born Muslim, who was a U.S. citizen, was said by family members to be mentally troubled. The FBI later said Abdulazeez was "inspired" by terrorist propaganda when carrying out his bloody assault.
While on Fox, Fleischmann touted his bill requiring the federal government to do more to combat and counter Islamic State propaganda in the U.S.
"We've got to take the fight right to ISIS, and we've got to beat them here and we've got to beat them abroad. It's time to be correct, not politically correct," Fleischmann said.
In a statement, Cohen called Mateen's attack "a hate crime and likely an act of terrorism.
"While the shooter is reported to have vowed allegiance to the leader of ISIS and is Muslim, we must not do what ISIS wants and tie one deranged, mentally ill murderer to others who share his religion," the Memphis Democrat said.
Cohen also challenged House Speaker Ryan "to bring a bill to the House floor banning all assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Outside of our military, no one in this country needs an assault rifle to defend themselves or their homes. They are often used in these mass shootings."
After one conservative state lawmaker, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, offered his sympathies for victims on Twitter, another user tweeted: "Instead of prayers @SenFrankNiceley. Stricter gun laws."
To which Niceley, a staunch Second Amendment rights supporter, retorted: "Terrorists don't follow gun laws. I'm not in the mood for nonsense today. #Idiot #blocked."
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke tweeted Sunday: "Praying for the victims and families of last night's shooting as well as the people of #Orlando."
In the Sunday Twitter fight spurred by Anderson, Tea Party President West said, "This was Islamic attack & I made no such 'hateful attacks.' But I don't expect honesty from @chrismanderson."
Countered Anderson: "You've been inciting violence against LGBT Americans for years. The Chattanooga Tea Party is built on it. Shame on you."
To which West replied, "Shame on you Councilman for perpetrating a lie. So childish to go to Twitter to air you political grievances."
Appearing before the local GOP's Pachyderm Club on Monday, Sanders defended GOP officials and denounced Anderson.
"I was, like most of you, probably, just taken aback by what was happening in Orlando. And to think an elected official will come and say something as irresponsible as this about other elected officials is inexcusable."
"I'm calling for the elected Democratic leaders to call Anderson out," Sanders said. "We had nothing to do with this. It was [a] radical Islamic terrorist and it was not anything else."
In this year's session of the Tennessee General Assembly, the GOP-dominated body passed a law allowing mental health counselors with "sincerely held principles" to turn down gays and others whose goals conflicted with their own beliefs.
The LGBT community unsuccessfully fought the bill which Haslam later signed into law.
State lawmakers also considered but didn't pass a bill requiring transgender public school students to use bathroom and other facilities matching their birth sex not their gender identity.
But state Attorney General Herbert Slatery later joined a lawsuit by some states challenging an Obama administration's directive that schools must accommodate gender preference or risk losing federal education funding.
Most Republican elected officials tweeted their thoughts instead of issuing news releases.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., got in his own take with a tweet: "Islamic terrorism is real and it is beyond time we started treating it as such. Muslims across the U.S need to disavow radical Islam!"
Haslam on Sunday tweeted: "Flags over State Capitol & buildings to fly @ half-staff thru sunset 6/16 in memory of victims of violent attack in Orlando. #PrayForOrlando."
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., tweeted: "Saddened by the tragedy that occurred overnight in Orlando. Praying for the victims, their families, and our dedicated first responders."
He later added: "Appreciate the Christians, Muslims and leaders of all faiths who have stepped forward to condemn the tragic terrorist attack in Orlando."
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., tweeted that "my heart goes out to the family and loved ones of those killed in [Sunday] night's horrific act of terror."
In Georgia, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, a Republican, asked in a statement for people to "please continue praying for the victims of the Orlando terrorist attack, their families and friends, and the first responders who put their lives at risk every day.
"We cannot, and will not, back down in the face of militant Islamic terrorism," Graves continued.
Staff writer Kendi Anderson contributed to this report.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com and 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.