Sen. Michael Willette

State Sen. Michael Willette apologized Monday for sharing a Facebook post criticizing President Obama’s handling of the terrorist group ISIS and suggesting that its members are family members of the president.

Willette, a Republican from Presque Isle, posted a photo from Conservative News Daily that depicted Obama with the caption, “Why haven’t I done anything about ISIS? Because I’ll deal with them at the family reunion.” The post is designed to be humorous, but stokes long-harbored suspicions among some conservatives that the president is a Muslim extremist and not born in America. It also implies that the president and his family are kin with the same terrorist organizations known for beheading foreign aid workers and journalists.

ISIS, or the Islamic State, is also responsible for the immolation of a Jordanian pilot, whose country is partnering with a U.S.-led coalition to conduct airstrikes against the terrorist group. Those airstrikes began in September and Obama has since asked Congress to formally authorize the mission.

On Facebook, Willette commented on the post, writing, “I’ve been very good over the last year and a half about not posting things about Obama, but this one was too good to pass up. I promise this will be the last one for some time.”

When asked to explain the rationale for the post, Willette issued a written statement in which he apologized for sharing the photo publicly. However, he did not apologize for the message the post conveyed.

“I apologize for posting this on Facebook. Like too many people these days, I fell into the trap of posting something first and then thinking later. It was an error in judgment,” he said.

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett issued a statement expressing his disappointment, criticizing Willette’s judgment and calling on the Maine Republican Party to condemn Willette’s action.

“His post is offensive and perpetuates a false religious and ethnic slur at a time when our state and country should come together,” Bartlett said.

Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett could not immediately be reached for comment.

Willette served two terms in the House of Representatives before being elected to the state Senate in November. He is the father of Alex Willette, a former legislator who worked on Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election campaign and is now employed by the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

According to his legislative biography, the elder Willette joined the Army as a medical specialist and served a tour in Iraq during Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991. His Facebook feed contains a variety of conservative memes that criticize Obama’s stance on terrorism.

Obama’s statements on terrorism have fueled convictions among some conservatives that he was born in a foreign country – the so-called birther conspiracy, which persists despite evidence to the contrary.

Posts reflecting the birther theory were discovered last week on the Facebook page of the Waldo County Republicans.

In one, Robert Hanish, the county chairman, posted a photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his enlistment with the Israeli Defense Forces. Hanish went on to suggest that Netanyahu is more American than Obama – or “O’Bummer” as he described him – because the prime minister graduated from a high school in Pennsylvania.

Hanish wrote that Obama “didn’t step foot” in the United States until high school, an inaccuracy that he furthered by writing that the president “never experienced or embraced a normal upbringing in the Homeland … Bibi (Netanyahu) did!!”

In October, a poll by the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey at Harvard University found that 54 percent of Republicans said that “Muslim” best described what Obama “believes deep down.” Thirty percent of Republicans said they didn’t know, while only 9 percent selected “Christian.” Among Democrats, 45 percent chose “Christian,” 17 percent said “spiritual,” 10 percent said “Muslim,” and 26 percent said they didn’t know.

 

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