At a press conference this morning at the State Capitol regarding last night’s destruction of the Ten Commandments monument on the State Capitol grounds less than 24 hours after it was installed, Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) continued stating his opinion that the crime was an act of violence perpetrated against the people of Arkansas, and that it was an outgrowth of heightened political rhetoric. He then laid into groups that have opposed the monument and the local media for statements Rapert claimed could have the effect of “fomenting hatred.”
Rapert started the press conference, held in the old Supreme Court Chambers, by again making his legal case for the monument’s construction, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court building features images of the Ten Commandments and Moses.
Rapert said that he had heard reports that the alleged monument vandal, Michael Reed, 32, of Van Buren, had made threats against President Obama and might be mentally ill, but said of that “I don’t know.” Reed is same person who allegedly ran over and destroyed the Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds in October 2015.
“I do question [Reed’s mental illness] when the person actually plans out what they’re going to do, and they actually get in a vehicle live video themselves doing it, and it appears he knew exactly what he was doing,” Rapert said. He went on to say that if Reed is mentally ill, he hopes Reed gets some help. If he is found to be sane, however, Rapert said he hopes Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley will prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.
Rapert said his initial reaction to hearing of the destruction of the monument was disappointment. He then turned to a topic he’s often touched on lately on social media: rhetoric that he said incites violence and hatred.
“Is there something wrong with America when somebody can be so motivated by hatred that they can carry out an act of violence, in this case, against the State Capitol?” Rapert asked. He said it could have been any issue that triggered the perpetrator, who “destroyed public property all because he has a disagreement on an issue.”
“That’s the same hatred, the same motivation that would make someone put on a mask and take a bat and go to a college campus and attack someone who is standing there exercising their free speech rights,” Rapert said, adding that it was also the same kind of hatred that motivated the shooting at a Congressional baseball game in Virginia.
“My number one goal today is to ask people to think about this country and where we live, and what we want it to be like,” Rapert said. “I don’t want my children or your children or your families to live in a country where people take up violence against each other simply because they have a disagreement. That’s not what America was founded on… and it’s not the America I intend to see develop under our watch.”
Rapert said the group behind the monument has already ordered an identical replacement and it is being prepared. Asked whether the cost of any barrier to protect the monument will be borne by the taxpayers, Rapert said that is not his goal. He said that the cost of repairing and reinstalling the monument might be covered by Reed’s automobile insurance, and said that there is also an insurance policy covering the grounds of the state capitol.
On a planned lawsuit by the ACLU to have the monument removed, Rapert said: “The ACLU has a problem with going around the this country filing frivolous lawsuits just to attack the values and traditions of this country. No question about it.” He then suggested that the ACLU, Freethinkers Society and Satanic Temple bear “culpability” for the destruction of the monument because of constant promises to “tear down that monument.” Those statements, Rapert said, “foment hatred and violence” that can incite unstable people.
Rapert said he “won’t go that far” as to say such groups are responsible, then launched into a criticism of the local news media, saying that some of the pieces he’s seen written in area papers are “not appropriate,” though he didn’t cite any specific articles.
“I expect the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and our newspaper media in this state to deliver news,” Rapert said. “When they use their columns to berate, belittle and intimidate people in their columns, using language that isn’t appropriate, you have to understand that has the ability to foment hatred.”
“You can’t light a fuse and walk away and say you’re not responsible for the explosion,” Rapert said. “We all have a responsibility to use language that is befitting our offices we hold, and befitting the roles we play in society.”
Asked by Arkansas Times if it is fair to attribute a rational political motive to Reed — who told The Tulsa World newspaper in 2015 that he believed Michael Jackson’s spirit was trapped inside raw meat, and that he was in contact with Lucifer’s high priestess, Gwyneth Paltrow — Rapert said that he hadn’t heard those accounts, then turned his answer to suggesting Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves (A.K.A. Douglas Mesner) had signed legal documents with a name other than his own.