The Freedom Foundation podcast host said he was not mocking the “possibly even Muslim” surname of a Washington state Democratic Party spokesman.

Share story

A local conservative think tank has taken down a podcast in which the host and a Republican state lawmaker laughed at the Middle Eastern surname of a state Democratic Party spokesman.

The podcast host, Jeffrey Rhodes, with the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation, said in an email he’d chuckled at the Democratic spokesman’s name because it sounded Middle Eastern and “possibly even Muslim.”

The Freedom Foundation last week had posted Rhodes’ podcast interview with state Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, who in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks made controversial comments opposing Syrian refugees entering the U.S. and called Islam “barbarian medievalism.”

During the conversation defending Rodne against critics, Rhodes read a statement from state Democratic Party spokesman Jamal Raad, who had called for Rodne’s removal as ranking member of the state House Judiciary Committee.

“I should mention his name is Jamal Ra-ad,” Rhodes said, adopting an exaggerated and incorrect pronunciation of Raad’s last name. “Am I the only one who found that amusing?” he added as both men laughed.

Asked why he’d appeared to mock Raad’s name, Rhodes responded in an email: “I wasn’t mocking Jamal Raad because of his name. I chuckled because the name sounded like it probably belonged to someone of Middle Eastern descent, possibly Syrian himself and possibly even Muslim — in which case the complaint would hardly be coming from a disinterested bystander.”

He added: “As a paid spokesman for the Washington Democratic Party, Mr. Saad [sic] has every incentive to misrepresent Rep. Rodne’s statements and find anything either one of us said he could twist into a bogus charge of Islamophobia.”

The bulk of the podcast was devoted to explaining Rodne’s views, Rhodes said, and there was “nothing in the rest of the show to suggest either one of us believe the vast majority of Muslims present any threat whatsoever.”

Raad, who was born in Olympia, is not a Muslim and said his father immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon.

State Democratic Party Chair Jaxon Ravens ripped Rhodes’ comments.

“So our spokesman has no credibility on this issue because they profiled him as a target of their bigotry?” he said in an emailed statement.

Ravens said it was “deeply disturbing” that Rodne laughed in the podcast “along with Rhodes’ admittedly prejudiced statements.” He added it’s been two weeks since Rodne made “Islamophobic” Facebook posts, and asked when any Republican would condemn him.

After reports about the remarks surfaced last week on social media, the podcast was removed from the Freedom Foundation website.

In an email Monday, Rhodes said the “contrived controversy” had become a distraction from the foundation’s main mission of exposing “the abuses of public-sector unions” in Washington.