- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Republican legislator called a Democratic rival a “loon” Tuesday for suggesting in the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting that conservative Christian beliefs drive violent acts against gay people.

Rep. Mandela Barnes, a Milwaukee Democrat looking to win a state Senate seat from a member of his own party this fall, tweeted Sunday in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting that churches, Congress and statehouses contain “terroristic enablers” and asking how many people conservative Christian ideology has driven to attack gay and transgender people.

Rep. Jesse Kremer, a Kewaskum Republican who sponsored a failed bill this past session to force people to use bathrooms corresponding to their sex at birth, issued a statement Tuesday calling Barnes an “absolute loon.”

“I am calling out someone who should be a leader, but has instead become a laughing stock,” Kremer wrote. “Rep. Mandela Barnes, who is hoping to become a Senator by ousting one of his own for not being radical enough, is blaming Christians for the evil act of war on U.S. soil by an ISIS allegiant this past weekend. This guy, a sitting Wisconsin representative, is an absolute loon of a leader doing everything he can to divide and conquer, politicizing a horrific event … The Orlando rampage was derived from pure evil and hate - something that Christians and Muslims both denounce.”

Barnes said in response that he’s a practicing Christian himself and that those tweets came at a “self-reflective moment.”

“I have no problem challenging the thought process of individuals who are members of my own political affiliation as well as my own religious affiliation,” Barnes said, “because at the end of the day I want us to be stronger, I want us to be better than we were before.”

Kremer also said in his release, titled “Divisive Rhetoric from Leaders Must Cease,” that Barnes lacks the courage to address real problems in Milwaukee, including crime, the breakdown of the family and inner city youth desperate for father figures.

“Rep. Barnes could be that strong, black leader - but that would take hard work and perhaps some criticism by his own colleagues,” he said.

Kremer said in the release that what he calls President Barack Obama’s divisive racism and hatred of Christianity is beginning to creep into the statehouse. He did not offer any specific examples to back up his assertions. An email to the White House’s general inbox seeking reaction wasn’t immediately returned.

“This is very bizarre that he came out and called the president racist,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure what planet he’s living on.”

Barnes is running against state Sen. Lena Taylor, another Milwaukee Democrat, in Wisconsin’s August primary.

“Now is the time for love and faith, not finger-pointing and name-calling,” Taylor said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Investigators believe 29-year-old Omar Mateen, an American-born Muslim from Fort Pierce, Florida, was the gunman who opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle during a three-hour rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning. The attack left 49 people dead, making it the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

A SWAT team shot and killed Mateen, ending the carnage. During the attack he called 911 to profess allegiance to the Islamic State group, but his motivations remained unclear on Tuesday.

Obama said investigators don’t have any information suggested a foreign terrorist group directed the attack. The FBI was investigating reports Mateen had been a regular at the club and had used gay dating apps. His father has said he wasn’t gay and suggested he hated gays. His ex-wife has said he was mentally ill, controlling and abusive.


Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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