As someone who spent decades closely watching political life in Georgia, I can attest that it’s hard for state legislators down there to stand out for strange and offensive behavior. But Representative Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) has managed to do so regularly. And now, in the twilight of his political career, he has set a new, hard-to-exceed low, as the butt, so to speak, of comedian/prankster Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest video outrage.
Cohen’s new Showtime offering, Who Is America?, features among several bogus characters a fake Israeli anti-terrorist expert who tries to embroil conservative pols in bizarre stunts (in the first episode, it involves a “program” to train toddlers in the use of firearms). It’s hard to imagine anyone fishing in more completely than Spencer, who probably attracted Cohen’s attention with a nationally notorious 2016 bill he introduced banning burkas as an amendment to the state’s anti-masking law aimed at the Ku Klux Klan. On camera, the South Georgia lawmaker readily complied with instructions from Cohen (or rather, Cohen’s fake Israeli, Captain Erran Morad) to use a selfie stick to take up-burka photos; to shout the N-word to attract attention in the case of a terrorist attack; and finally, to expose his posterior (while shouting “USA!” and “America”) to “intimidate” a Islamic terrorist by threatening to “make him a homosexual.” Gaze in awe:
Doubling down on his satiric coup, Cohen brings back Spencer for another appearance at the end of the show, but it doesn’t add much to the incredible line-crossing.
You’d think this would bring Spencer’s political career to a screeching halt, but he was already at the ass end, so to speak, of his tenure as a legislator. His regular antics made him a target for primary challenges from practically the moment he was first elected in 2010, and he finally lost in May of this year. His downfall was this 2017 incident, as reported by the conservative Washington Times:
Mr. Spencer had posted a series of photos of the Jefferson Davis Memorial near Fitzgerald, including a caption saying, “This is Georgia’s history. #DealWithIt.” Ms. Jones, who is black, responded to the post by encouraging Mr. Spencer to get as many photos as he can, while he can, because Confederate-era memorials on public property will soon be a thing of the past. Mr. Spencer warned Ms. Jones that South Georgia is not the same as Atlanta, and that she would likely be met with “something a lot more definitive” than tiki torches.
“They will go missing in the Okefenokee [Swamp],” he wrote in response to a sympathetic commentator. “Too many necks they are red around here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about ‘em.”
Nothing quite like suggesting your constituents might be ready for a an old-fashioned lynching to alienate pretty much everybody.
Georgia Republicans, who are under a national spotlight in connection with a May 24 gubernatorial runoff in which Donald Trump has intervened, are frantic to disassociate themselves from Spencer at this point. House Speaker David Ralston immediately called for him to resign, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp (Trump’s candidate) removed him from his list of legislative endorsers.
Spencer, taking a cue from a common conservative tactic these days, is playing the victim, as Greg Bluestein reports:
In a statement Monday, Spencer said he was “distracted by my fears” and apologized for the “ridiculously ugly episode” but he refused to step down from office. He said he was told the techniques would help him deter “what I believed was an inevitable attack.”
“Sacha Baron Cohen and his associates took advantage of my paralyzing fear that my family would be attacked,” he said.
Yeah, I’m sure the Burka-wearers and Confederate-monument-haters of southeast Georgia had Spencer cowering in his home, unable to perform his duties and predisposed to letting himself be filmed screaming racist epithets and, well, showing his ass. If there’s any defense for his behavior it might be that he took his gubernatorial candidate Kemp’s tack of being “politically incorrect” a bit too far. The primary season could not come to an end any faster for Georgia Republicans, who have been competing with each other all year long to show, as Kemp’s runoff opponent Casey Cagle privately put it, “who could be the craziest.”