Often when asked why the peculiar band of Americans that hail from West Virginia hold such pride in where they are from, I’ll say that there is a good amount of defiance involved. To be from the Mountain State is to deal with a fair amount of jokes, puns, and laughs at the stereotypes applied. For the most part Mountaineers are inoculated enough to take such things with good humor. I can remember fondly in basic training the room being called to attention so that all could mark the occasion of me and one other West Virginian “getting our first pairs of shoes” issued by the benevolent military of the United States. I happily brush my teeth with a toothbrush, clearly named in West Virginia, or else it would have been dubbed the teethbrush. Third cousins are legal to marry, depending on county.
The list could go on.
Stereotypes, however, don’t just come out of thin air. They started somewhere from a kernel of truth that over time was warped and pushed. The hills and hollers of the Mountain State hold some of the finest people on Earth. It is a state with a singular natural beauty that rivals any place on the globe. Those hills are old, very old, and still have more than a few places human feet are yet to trod.
They also contain more than their fair share of ignorance, prejudice, and lack of understanding. The old ways can all too easily be the wrong ways. Isolation and hard times can bring resilience and strength, but they also have the potential for bitterness, envy, and hatred. Ignorance left unchecked and handed down from generation to generation can slide from prejudices to something far worse, like a bad game of moral telephone.
I know the good, the bad, the ugly of my home state. I know where the bodies are buried, literally, some of them buried by my forebearers to cover the sins and misdeeds of others. Books have been written on our family’s journey in the mountains. There are bridges, mountains, and historical markers with our names on them, hundreds of graves with our bones in them, and scores of relatives continuing the next generations.
I love my home state. I’m proud to be from there, to have my family from there, and God willing to be buried there. Circumstances that currently keep me away, going back and forth from here to there, pull at my heart and mind constantly. I’m only ever really at peace when I am on my mountain, beside the lake, on a tract of land first signed over by James Monroe for the purposes of a ferry site when the term Virginia was still written in fresh ink on parchment. Like many West Virginians, my family has endured crushing poverty, abuse both of and from outsiders, each other, and substances, fighting in foreign wars and domestic struggles, sacrifices so the next generation can thrive, and somehow someway each generation having it a little better than the previous. Whatever privilege I was born with came at a high price to those who came before, from colonial times to the internet age, and the proper response to understanding that is thankfulness, humility, and a responsibility to leave it better for the next batch of folks.
And for all those reasons and ten thousand more, I will not surrender what little respect we have won through generations of toil to the smarmy personification of many of those stereotypes that is Delegate Eric Porterfield. Unfit for office, he should not represent anything other than Eric Porterfield, hateful dullard.
Eric Porterfield is one of three representatives to the House of Delegates for District 27. With a population just under 60K, Porterfield received 8,821 votes, for 21% of the vote in the general election. In the crowded primary, he made the top three cut by just eight votes. His main claim to fame outside of that election is being a minister, or as he puts it, “as a preacher, I’m one of the long-winded ones.” In a profile that ran in the WV Gazette after his election but prior to his swearing in, Porterfield talked about why he ran: “I’d like to be a role model for people that want to stand up for what they believe,” he said. “Not just limited to the scope of their vision, but the scope of their faith. To the scope of the fact that it’s OK to be a male, that it’s OK to be a voice, that it’s OK not to give in to constitutional liberalism and socialism.”
After a feud with a local OB-GYN doctor brought an order of protection against him for a time, a feud which by Porterfield’s own admission started over his anger at a Facebook post on abortion rights, Porterfield turned his anger towards the magistrate that issued the protection order:
The situation escalated to the point of him filming a Facebook video calling for the boycott, and the doctor obtaining a protective service order from Magistrate Sandra Dorsey against Porterfield in court. Mercer County sheriff’s deputies then confiscated guns owned by Porterfield and his wife, Jessica.
According to a copy of the order’s dismissal, which Porterfield provided along with the initial order and public posts, Porterfield did not make any threats of physical harm, and all of the Porterfields’ weapons were returned.
Still, Porterfield resents the actions of Dorsey, whom he called an “Oregon liberal,” even though she was elected as a Republican.
“Those are the kind of things why guys like me need to be in politics, because our local party would never back someone like that if they knew their ideology,” he said.
Remember that pattern: instigate, make a scene, claim victimhood afterwards. You will see it again.
Fast-forward to the floor of the House of Delegates, present day:
This past week, Porterfield felt sufficiently empowered to really feel himself on the House floor:
A second round of bigoted comments from a Republican delegate has drawn frustration from legislators and no sign of resolve.
Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, made the comments after calling a reporter to discuss a report in Friday’s Gazette-Mail. That report detailed a flurry of criticism House Democrats aimed at Porterfield on Thursday in response to an inflammatory anti-gay and lesbian rant he delivered in committee Wednesday.
“The LGBTQ is a modern day version of the Ku Klux Klan, without wearing hoods with their antics of hate,” Porterfield said in an interview Friday morning. He also called the gay community a “terrorist group” and said he is being “persecuted” by the gay community in retaliation for his remarks, including receiving threats on Facebook and voicemails.
On Wednesday, he used the anti-gay slur “f—-t” in a committee meeting, within the context of quoting the name of a speaking tour that uses the term in its title.
In an extended soliloquy at the hearing, he criticized the LGBTQ community while arguing in support of an amendment. The amendment, which was voted down, would have allowed for the discrimination of gay and lesbian people in cities that have passed ordinances expressly forbidding it. State law does not currently protect gay people from discrimination in housing, employment and other areas.
“The LGBT is the most socialist group in this country,” he said. “They do not protect gays. There are many gays they persecute if they do not line up with their social ideology.”
Many delegates of both parties immediately condemned his speech, including several points of order brought up immediately upon them being uttered. Porterfield was not impressed, and on Sunday during an interview with WVVA:
He made even more disturbing remarks in a near-20 minute interview with Rachel Anderson on WVVA-TV.
Anderson asked Porterfield, who has two young children, what he would do if one day one of them told him they thought they might be gay. He said if it was his daughter, he would take her for a pedicure, if it was his son, he’d take him hunting and fishing. In both cases, after those activities, he said he would “see if [they] can swim.” He then grinned.
Anderson tries a couple of times to get Porterfield to clarify what appears to be a reference to drowning his children if they were gay. Porterfield doesn’t offer up much of anything but that grin.
Porterfield said he and his family have been harassed and threatened by members of the LGBTQ community, and that he’s worried about his safety. In the same interview, though, Porterfield downplays these communications, suggesting that those who oppose him are creating fake email or social media accounts to make themselves seem larger in number. He also said he won’t be intimidated and laughed off the idea of resigning over his own words and actions.
Which brings us to Monday, with Porterfield back in the capitol. After emerging from a closed door meeting with Speaker Hanshaw, the WV press caught up to him:
For someone who over the weekend was thanking reporters for the coverage and touting how it would help his re-election, he sure likes to change his tune when dealing with them directly. Porterfield has a real problem in not being smart enough to know that one thing West Virginia has going for it when it comes to politics, is a local press that punches far above their weight and does great journalism. Treated respectfully, and with reporters repeatedly giving him names and explaining who was around him, he still claimed to be “swarmed”. He not only doubled down on his comments but replied that WV Democratic President should “resign for inciting hate speech against me,” apparently referring to calls for him to resign. How that is hate speech is anyone’s guess.
It took 3 days but the WV GOP finally got around to issuing its own denouncement of Porterfield.
Chair Monica Potter released a statement Monday: “In recent days, Delegate Eric Porterfield has made comments that are hateful, hurtful, and do not reflect the values of our country, our state, and the Republican Party. These comments are unacceptable and we denounce them. They have no place in America. We may disagree on policy, politics, and the direction of our state, but we can disagree civilly and respectfully because intolerant and hateful views hold us back, divide us, and hurt our state.”
“I am very disappointed in her comments,” Porterfield said. “I adamantly disagree with Chairman Potter. She does not have all the facts. She did not elect me. She did not help me get elected.”
Porterfield said if she “is not capable enough” to get the facts before speaking, she may “want to find another line of work. Her coming out against me is very hurtful, very disturbing.”
Porterfield said the GOP rebuke is “out of line” and “caused great division in our party.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because reflecting calls for his own accountability back onto whoever dares utter them is a pattern. As to the criticisms of his behavior:
“I don’t understand why anyone would not agree with me, if they had been going through what I have been through with these people,” he said.
The facts, he said, relate to the threats he has received as well as the ridicule of his blindness, which, he says, prove his comments on the LGBTQ community.
“I will not be bullied or intimidated for my stand,” he said. “I am still on my committees and I am not going to resign. I am going nowhere unless I go to a bigger office in 2020.”
Once again, Porterfield has doubled down on his comments.
“I believe the LGBTQ is the modern version of the Ku Klux Klan,” he said. “You will see more hate from that group than from anyone.
They have to be in control and every time I say something, when I speak my view against them, they viciously, brutally attack me and use it for political fodder.”
Porterfield said the group tries to intimidate him, but he will not back down, pointing to the church threat as a tactic the KKK would use.
“I am terrified of these people,” he said. “I am trying to overcome fear with faith.”
There is that pattern again. Instigate, make a scene, claim victimhood. When he needs them to be, “the LGBTQ” as Porterfield constantly refers to, is either a bunch of made up randos on social media who are harmless and laughable, or a Machiavellian order of rabidly socialist and very, very gay ninjas infiltrating every area of his life. “They” are out to get him, just ask him. He one moment touts how the controversy will be great for his re-election, then in the next decries the messages of violence and threats against him personally that he’s received. And he is really bad at it.
But he gives the game away with that last quote. “I am terrified of these people” is not so much a statement as a insight. It is justification. He is not acting out of any rational basis of thought; it’s just plain, old-fashioned hate and “othering.” You see, the Eric Porterfields of the world are not only trying to make sure the world changes to exactly how they require it to be, but they must make the journey of enlightening the world to their POV as heroic as possible. Overcoming fear with faith is a fine thing, but when you are marinating yourself in your own ginned-up fear to start with, it is fair to question whether the faith that helps you overcome might have been self-serving in the first place. It makes for a nice, neat, and self-contained eco-system of ignorance, hatred, and stupidity.
People will rightly jump all over Porterfield’s blatant disdain for any member of the LGBTQ community. But we can rightly suspect that if it wasn’t the LGBT community it would be something else, like the family OB-GYN who didn’t share the Porterfield-approved opinion on Facebook, leading to legal intervention against Porterfield. Crusading crusaders must have a crusade, and Eric Porterfield has made it clear he has found his Deus Vult moment that will launch him to recover the promised land for fundamentalist MAGA people everywhere.
But what a sad, miserable way that must be to live. Porterfield’s comments, from klan references to not-so-subtly hinting what he would do to his own children if gay, are evidence of a soul and heart problem. Irrational hatred and lashing out at “others” while defending that behavior with victimhood is the product of a sad, weak, unworthy person not able to function in society as a whole. Porterfield has no excuse for his conduct, no justification for his behavior, and no reason that he should be anywhere near a public office. Claiming to be the target of a conspiracy while stirring one up for your own political gain is the worst kind of hypocrisy. Using the most hateful language and veiled – and not so veiled – threats towards others while excusing it because of receiving the same in return is to foster a symbiotic relationship between stupid and reckless, constantly feeding an already troubled mind.
Of course no one should live with legitimate threats against their safety, and anyone making such threats, regardless of the vileness of Porterfield, should also be condemned. If it rises to the level of criminality, it should be prosecuted. The LGBTQ community, like all communities, has a wide range of folks in it. And yes, there is a tiny minority that can be extremist, like there is a minority of any group of people who use their cause as an excuse for all sorts of things. But that isn’t the majority. Nor is the LGBTQ community immune from all criticism. Like any community of people, they have the problem of being made up of people, and people are varied, difficult, and not prone to nice, neat labeling. People, for a lack of better way of putting it, are not easy, regardless of their groupings.
Which is all the more reason to denounce and take action against the Eric Porterfields of the world.
Save your red herrings: Porterfield is free to say whatever he likes, but he is not immune from the consequences of that speech. He is not just a citizen, but an elected representative. The people of District 27 will, if he makes it that long, make a decision whether they want to keep him as their representative. The legislature has legal recourse they can take against him as well, including disciplining, censoring, and removing. He can preach whatever he wants in his church, but he isn’t immune to pushback when he tries to make it policy for the rest of the state. He deserves accommodation for his disabling blindness, but folks can also make their own decisions when he uses that disability as a shield against criticism. Yes, I’m aware that a baker has been sued over a cake, more than once, and there are legal fights afoot, and there are examples of people getting out of hand and going to far; none of that makes Porterfield any less intolerant of his fellow man. Eric Porterfield is accountable for Eric Porterfield.
Clean your own house first. Eric Porterfield is in West Virginia, and West Virginia is my home, so let’s just deal with him for now.
Jake Jarvis, in reporting on this mess, pointed out a study estimating 46,000 LGBTQ folks lived in WV, and that number was from 2010. That might not sound like a lot, but consider it is widely believed the next census will show a 10K-20K decrease in population; that could lead to the loss of a US congressional district, among other things. Furthermore, Jarvis points out the effect it would have if that group of people were to leave West Virginia. In a state that is demographically bleeding to death, such an exodus would be catastrophic. West Virginia cannot afford that morally, economically, or demographically.
Which is why – beyond his ignorant, hateful, self-serving rhetoric – I find this episode and his behavior so appalling. If ever there were a people who should be understanding and tolerant of others, it is West Virginians. Beaten down, taken advantage of, used by companies, politicians, and others that over-promised and under-delivered, the folks of the mountains should at least be empathetic to a community that has mostly been treated as “other” throughout history. The people whose lineage is a tale of rejecting slavery, surviving the mines, scratching out a living in difficult terrain, and remaining in a world that many times seems to have passed it by, can and should be sensitive to such a plight.
But to avoid becoming like Eric Porterfield requires effort to educate ignorance, fight prejudice, and seek out those that lack understanding. The old ways can all too easily be the wrong ways, but respect for your fellow man is the oldest of ways that can make a new path. Isolation and hard times have brought resilience and strength; all the better to reject bitterness, envy, and hatred. Ignorance left unchecked and handed down from generation to generation can slide from prejudices to something far worse, but in calling out and rejecting the Eric Porterfields of the world, and using it as an example to teach and learn, we stand a good chance of overcoming.
Mountaineers are always free – as the state motto goes – but that requires constant maintenance, and an understanding of the good, the bad, and the ugly of people and how to overcome that for the common good. Wanting a better life for the state, and the people therein should be a goal that rises above. We can come together on some things. Many things. Most things. Respect for each other must be first among those.
After all, we all still call it a toothbrush. Very West Virginian of us.