It started when N.C. legislator Larry Pittman compared Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis to a Democrat.
It escalated after Tillis’ wife responded.
And it boiled over Thursday when Pittman compared President Abraham Lincoln to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler — for the second time since 2017.
“It was only a matter of numbers,” Pittman wrote on Facebook, responding to another Facebook user. “Lincoln was responsible for the unnecessary deaths of 800,000 Americans. Hitler was responsible for millions more. Both unjustly invaded and subjugated sovereign nations.”
N.C. House leaders took a rare public stance against one of their own Thursday as they condemned Pittman, a Republican firebrand from Cabarrus County who has become known for making controversial remarks.
Pittman last year suggested that most school shooters are “communist Democrats” — a comment he apologized for — and earlier this year tried to outlaw same-sex marriage with a bill that called those couples “immoral” and part of the religion of “secular humanism.”
And earlier this month, Pittman called Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper “Heir Cooper” in a June 6 Facebook post about a controversial abortion bill that Cooper vetoed. The “heir” is a reference to “Herr Hitler,” how the Nazis used to reference their fuhrer.
Informed of Pittman’s latest Lincoln-Hitler comparison Thursday, Speaker of the House Tim Moore released an email statement to The News & Observer through spokesman Joseph Kyzer.
“House leaders obviously do not condone such a reprehensible comparison,” Kyzer said.
Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, called on House Republicans to formally reprimand Pittman.
“Once again, Rep. Pittman has disgraced himself and his office with shameful comments that reveal a deep lack of understanding about the history of our state, nation, and world,” Goodwin said in an email Friday afternoon. “House Republicans are right to condemn Rep. Pittman, but their words are meaningless without action.”
Pittman’s mention of Hitler comes the same week prominent Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez compared migrant detention facilities to concentration camps.
Pittman’s comments about Cooper and Tillis also come at a sensitive time for each. Cooper is in budget talks with the GOP-controlled legislature, and Tillis faces a primary challenger who has suggested the senator hasn’t done enough to support President Donald Trump.
And it was a photo of Tillis that led to Pittman’s comment about Lincoln.
A ‘political stunt?’
A photographer named James Piedad posted a photo of Tillis, who’s up for re-election next year, wearing a bulletproof vest while riding a horse along the southern U.S. border.
Pittman described the photo as a “stunt.”
“Reminds me of [1988 Democratic presidential candidate] Michael Dukakis putting on that helmet and riding in a tank,” Pittman said Wednesday on Facebook. “Looks just about as ridiculous, too.”
That prompted a response from Susan Tillis, the senator’s wife.
“(S)ir with all due respect, perhaps you should try it,” she posted. “He spent 3 days on the border with our patrol agents seeing first hand what is occurring at our border. I doubt seriously the folks he spent time with think he looked ridiculous or his time there was not well spent.”
Responding to Susan Tillis, Pittman said: “I respect and understand your loyalty to your husband,” and he acknowledged “I realize how ridiculous I would look on that horse, myself.”
Pittman added that their argument saddened him because he considered Tillis “a friend” when Tillis was Speaker of the N.C. House. When another Facebook user suggested Pittman rarely spoke well of Tillis, Pittman deepened his criticism.
“I thought a lot of Speaker Tillis, until I came to understand how he operated, and I had to stand up and tell people what was really happening in Raleigh,” Pittman said. “I hope I never learn to look out for myself and corrupt cronies and just go along to get along with things that just aren’t right.”
So how did Pittman get to another Hitler reference?
Another Facebook user, former N.C. resident Carlton Huffman, suggested Pittman had cornered the market on looking “ridiculous.” As proof, Huffman pointed to Pittman’s comments from 2017.
That April, a different Facebook user suggested that lawmakers should “get over” the Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage. Pittman responded: “And if Hitler had won, should the world just get over it? Lincoln was the same sort (of) tyrant, and personally responsible for the deaths of over 800,000 Americans in a war that was unnecessary and unconstitutional.”
In the face of criticism for those comments, Pittman doubled down on his comparison.
Pittman, a critic of the media, hasn’t responded to requests for comment.