West Virginia delegate resigns after slurs appear online

CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – West Virginia House Speaker Roger Hanshaw says a House delegate has resigned after homophobic messages attributed to him were circulated online.

John Mandt Jr.’s resignation from the West Virginia House of Delegates was effective the end of Saturday, Hanshaw said in a statement. Mandt, a Republican from Cabell County, was running for reelection in District 16. Hanshaw said it is the “best course of action” for Mandt’s family and business.

Mandt did not respond to requests for comment by telephone and by email on Sunday, but he denied making such statements in a now-deleted Facebook post.

Screenshots of what appears to be a Facebook group chat called The “Right” Stuff were posted on Twitter, showing homophobic comments and anti-gay slurs. Jeffrey Ward, who is running for Huntington City Council District 4, told the Herald-Dispatch he was invited to join the group and said Mandt made the comments.

But Mandt has denied their authenticity and said they’re fabricated.

“Everything electronic can be fabricated. It’s by design, my family, my business are being attacked,” Mandt wrote in the deleted Facebook post, in which he said he received threats.

The group message thread shows bigoted comments against gay people and Muslims. At one point, Mandt allegedly used a homophobic slur. According to the civil rights advocacy group Fairness West Virginia, Mandt also disparaged other Republican state lawmakers who supported LGBTQ legislation.

Hanshaw, a Republican from Clay, said in another statement that he saw the posts circulating on social media and that he spoke with Mandt, who stuck to denying the comments.

“I want to be very clear: I strongly condemn these comments and this type of rhetoric,” Hanshaw said. “I don’t care who said it — it’s wrong and I want everyone to know there is no place for hatred or bigotry in our state, our political discourse or the West Virginia House of Delegates.”

Under West Virginia law, the party of the preceding delegate submits three suggested people to fill a vacancy in the House of Delegates, and the governor appoints one to fill the position.

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Kassie Simmons joined the team in January 2019 as a weekend journalist. She graduated from Virginia Tech in just two and a half years with a BA in multimedia journalism. During her short time at Virginia Tech, she served as the editor for the university’s chapter of The Tab. Kassie was named the top reporter for The Tab at Virginia Tech on multiple occasions and made the list for the top 30 reporters for The Tab in the U.S. She also studied theater performance and minored in creative writing. Before coming to WOAY, Kassie interned at WSLS in Roanoke and the Tidewater Review in her hometown of West Point, Va. She has loved following breaking news since her childhood and has a passion for delivering the stories people care most about. Kassie is excited to be working in Southern West Virginia and looks forward to all the adventures ahead of her. You can follow her on Twitter at @KassieLSimmons and like her page on Facebook. If you have a story you think she should check out, send her an email at ksimmons@woay.com.