When Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) makes radical, bigoted remarks in his official capacity at the Oklahoma State Capitol — as he did this week — many onlookers shake their heads and wonder how Oklahoma politics reached such a point. Fortunately, there are answers.
Bennett held kangaroo court Tuesday on “radical Islam, Shariah Law, the Muslim Brotherhood and the radicalization process,” during which he reportedly branded local Muslim leaders as terrorists, demanded that they not hug others in his presence and proclaimed a secret plan to banish the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) from Oklahoma.
From the Tulsa World’s Barbara Hoberock, who covered Bennett’s contentious interim study:
John Guandolo, the founder of UnderstandingtheThreat.com, served in the Marines and is a former FBI agent. He said the Islamic movement in Oklahoma has made significant strides, and he called (CAIR Oklahoma executive director Adam) Soltani a terrorist.
Under questioning from Bennett, Guandolo said groups in the country’s jihadi network use relationships with other faiths as a tool.
(Imam Imad) Enchassi then got up from his seat in the audience and hugged two members of other faiths who were in attendance.
Bennett asked Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, chairman of the Judiciary and Civil Procedure Committee, to admonish members of the audience not to hug one another. Grau did not issue an admonishment.
“It’s a free country,” Enchassi said.
“I know,” said Bennett, who served in the U.S. Marines. “I fought for it in two wars.”
The day’s events were far from Bennett’s first public spectacle aimed at engendering hard-line anti-Islamic support and belittling the world’s second-largest religion. First elected in 2010, Bennett has railed against political correctness, mongered fear of Sharia Law and posted fake or false news on his Facebook page.
Throughout his time on the political stage, Bennett has broadly emphasized his experience as a Marine to argue he knows what he’s talking about.
“The truth is,” a nasal-y Bennett says in the above video, “I’m speaking the truth.”
‘You are an ignorant Sallisaw backwoods retard’
Bennett was first elected to the Oklahoma House in 2010 when he defeated another military veteran who fought in a war, Democrat Glenn Bud Smithson.
Smithson represented the people of House District 2 and Sequoyah County from 2002 through 2010, during which time he won only two elections: the 2002 primary against Dana Stites and the 2008 general election against Lawrence Mann.
Smithson, a retired Oklahoma state trooper and Vietnam veteran, served the conservative district while voicing opposition on several conservative issues du jour, including elements of concealed carry, abortion restrictions and making English the state’s official language.
In debating that final topic and other immigration-related issues, Smithson regularly told tales of his fictional friend “Pedro,” a farm worker who served as a rhetorical device to discuss the bigotry, economics and political climate of the time.
Criticized by his opponent on the topic of tax cuts in 2008, Smithson told The Oklahoman’s Ron Jackson:
Given Oklahoma’s economics right now, I think we need to make sure all our bills are paid first. Then if we have anything left over, we can give that money back to the citizens. If that makes me a liberal, then I guess I’m a liberal.
In 2010, Bennett challenged Smithson during the first election cycle in Barack Obama’s America. Democrats across the state of Oklahoma were trounced, and Smithson received 3,200 votes fewer in 2010 than he did in 2008. Bennett received only about 200 more than Smithson’s 2008 opponent had.
In examining that election, it appears Smithson paid a price for being “liberal,” and his name was beset by the sort of anonymous and borderline-illiterate ranting preserved on this Topix.com forum. Some high(low?)lights:
Old pumpkin head Bud Smithson is a loser.
Lady I have read the Bills, and facts are facts.. So just get a reality check, he is a boozer, he does have a drinking problem, anyone drinking scotch straight up before noon, and drunk at most all of the events he goes to, let me tell you one thing we maybe from Sequoyah County, but that doesn’t mean we don’t understand right and wrong and cannot understand what his voting record is, I am quite aware of how to read English and to understand yea or nay.
The only reason Bud Smithson has the kind of money to help people out because he gets a 20% cut in the drug money that is made here in this God Forsaken Town.He helps protect the drug dealers and Don’t believe me if you don’t want too because i don’t care.I’m just stating the truth!!!!!!Like it or not!!!!
In response to someone defending Smithson and saying it’s not nice to call people names, one of the commenters added this:
One can certainly tell you are an ignorant Sallisaw backwoods retard. You are always saying such ignorant backwoods sayings such as… “Didn’t your momma ever tell you.” How backwoods can a person get. Plus, who cares a big rat’s behind what someone like you thinks.
To that end, perhaps Bennett’s election in 2010 and subsequent hateful grandstanding make sense in a world where respectful political discourse is often drowned out by paranoid, hateful ranting. (For a more recent example, see Trump, Donald.)
Bennett has artfully created a foil for his religious/political crusading, and his convenient choice of radical Islam connects with people who saw 9/11 and fear ISIS but have never met any Muslims living in their own community.
‘The No. 2 guy in the House of Representatives’
Bennett’s theatrics Tuesday come as he faces re-election Nov. 8 against Tom Stites, a U.S. Air Force veteran and engineer who sold his company, Impact Golf Technologies, to Nike in 2001. Stites is a cousin by marriage of Dana Stites who ran in 2002 and a Sallisaw Chamber of Commerce member.
For Bennett, some of his strongest supporters believe a lot is on the line this election season. Sooner Tea Party founder Al Gerhart hosted a forum in Sallisaw and introduced Bennett by talking about the new House leadership group that will formally be elected in 2017.
“We stand a great chance — I’m going to say it’s probably over 50 percent — of getting this man in as the No. 2 guy in the House of Representatives,” Gerhart said in the video, priming conservative voters to jump behind Bennett.
Stites, on the other hand, has been working to tie Bennett to Oklahoma’s budget troubles that are affecting area schools and, specifically, state park attractions that have been closed owing to financial issues.
Bennett defeated Democrat Rick Agent by about 900 votes in 2012. He ran unopposed in 2014. All told, Sequoyah County may be interesting to watch during the final election in Barack Obama’s America.