ATLANTA — Georgia House Speaker David Ralston demanded that state Rep. Jason Spencer resign after he yelled racial slurs and exposed himself in an episode of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Showtime series that aired late Sunday.
Spencer dropped his pants and repeatedly used the n-word in the episode of “Who Is America?” Spencer had earlier threatened legal action to prevent the network from airing footage of him.
In a statement shortly after the episode aired, Ralston said Spencer's actions and language in the video are "reprehensible," according to our investigative partners at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AJC.com.
“Representative Spencer has disgraced himself and should resign immediately,” said Ralston. “Georgia is better than this.”
Other Republican leaders also swiftly condemned Spencer. Secretary of State Brian Kemp removed the lawmaker from his list of endorsements ahead of Tuesday’s GOP runoff for governor and urged him to apologize.
Gov. Nathan Deal called his language “appalling and offensive.”
"There is no excuse for this type of behavior, ever," said Deal, "and I am saddened and disgusted by it."
Although Spencer was defeated in the Republican primary in May, he remains a state legislator until the new class of lawmakers takes office after the November election.
Cohen, who played an Israeli military expert, persuaded Spencer to take part in what he was told was a counterterrorism video. Cohen gets him to yell racial epithets and shimmy his exposed rear-end toward purported attackers screaming “USA” and “America” by saying it will ward off terrorists.
In the show's closing minutes, Spencer returns to the screen with a "message to the terrorists."
He then repeats a racial slur, this time threatening to cut off an attacker's genitals. Then it shows him stabbing a knife into the groin area of a dummy clad in a black hijab, and shoving another item in the dummy's mouth. The segment ends with him reminding the audience he's an elected official - and a Georgia peach logo.
The New York Times called the segment the “most humiliating yet to air” on Cohen’s show, which last week featured several Republican lawmakers and gun rights supporters backing a fictitious program to teach kindergartners to use firearms.
Spencer told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that the show’s producers “took advantage of my fears that I would be attacked by someone” to convince him to appear on the program.
“They exploited my state of mind for profit and notoriety,” said Spencer, who said he was denied the chance to have final approval over what will air. “This media company’s deceptive and fraudulent behavior is exactly why President Donald Trump was elected.”
Spencer has declined further comment, and could not immediately be reached late Sunday about Ralston’s demand for his resignation. Showtime has denied that Cohen or the show’s producers acted improperly.
Spencer was defeated by a Republican challenger after four terms representing a conservative southeast Georgia district, where he grabbed headlines that enraged lawmakers from both parties despite having little influence in the Legislature.
He faced calls for resignation late last year after he warned a black former state legislator that she won’t be “met with torches but something a lot more definitive” if she continued to call for the removal of Confederate statues in South Georgia.
And Republican leaders roundly criticized his legislative proposal that would bar women from wearing burqas on public property, forcing him to withdraw the legislation.
This year, he shifted his focus toward a bill that would have allowed adult survivors of child sexual abuse more time to file lawsuits. The bill didn’t pass amid stiff opposition from the Boy Scouts and some other nonprofit organizations.
As word spread about the footage early Monday, other groups echoed Ralston’s demand for Spencer’s resignation. Among them was the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has long tangled with Spencer.
Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the director of the group's Georgia chapter, said "enough is enough."
"The ignorance and malice behind Islamophobia has led Mr. Spencer to not only pursue bad policy," he said, "but engage in humiliating and hateful behavior unbecoming of anyone - especially a state legislator."
This article was written by Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
On Monday morning, Spencer sent Channel 2 Action News the following statement:
"In 2017 I received countless death threats in connection with my introduction of legislation involving the wearing of masks. The threats escalated to the point that my wife received threatening phone calls concerning her and my children. I was very afraid for my safety and the safety of my entire family.
Then, on June 14th, a gunman opened fire at members of Congress on a baseball field. I knew people on that field. Now, the fears I already had became more intensified as the reality of my family being targeted by a similar, deranged, would-be assassin became even more possible. I was in such a poor state of mind that my wife and I also undertook marriage counseling with a licensed therapist during this time.
Sacha Baron Cohen and his associates took advantage of my paralyzing fear that my family would be attacked. In posing as an Israeli Agent, he pretended to offer self-defense exercises. As uncomfortable as I was to participate, I agreed to, understanding that these 'techniques' were meant to help me and others fend off what I believed was an inevitable attack.
My fears were so heightened at that time, I was not thinking clearly nor could I appreciate what I was agreeing to when I participated in his "class". I was told I would be filmed as a "demonstration video" to teach others the same skills in Israel. Sacha and his crew further lied to me, stating that I would be able to review and have final approval over any footage used.
I deeply regret the language I used at his request as well as my participation in the "class" in general. If I had not been so distracted by my fears, I never would have agreed to participate in the first place.
I apologize to my family, friends, and the people of my district for this ridiculously ugly episode. Finally, there are calls for me to resign. I recently lost my primary election, so I will not eligible to hold office next term. Therefore, I will finish the remaining five months at my post and vacate my seat."
Cox Media Group