Warren Hurst, at 67, is a longtime resident of Sevier County, Tennessee, an area best known nationally for its tourist attractions: the 150-acre Dollywood mulitplex is in Pigeon Forge, and the county is home to restaurants owned by Blake Shelton and Paula Deen. Hurst is also a county commissioner, and on Monday he leveraged his status in his community to deliver comments about the apparent ugliness of a gay man running for president and the prejudice in America against white men like himself.
“It’s time we wake up people, it’s time, it’s past time,” Hurst said, during an unscripted speech that departed significantly from the issue the commission had convened to discuss.
On Monday evening, as first reported by the local news outlet WVLT, country commissioners held a meeting to discuss naming Sevier a “Second amendment sanctuary,” a tenuous designation adopted by conservatives as a riff on liberal cities’ equally tenuous idea that certain cities might be “sanctuaries” for people targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The label, which was unanimously passed, essentially suggests certain gun laws will be ignored by local authorities should they be perceived to contradict (certain) citizens’ right to keep and bear arms. During the hearing, commissioners took the floor to discuss the agenda item: Hurst, who also owns a Red Roof Inn franchise and a construction company in the county, went somewhat off-topic in a meditation on the plight of white men in America and the encroaching threat of a “queer” presidential candidate:
“We got a queer running for president, if that ain’t about as ugly as you can get. Look what we got running for president in the Democratic Party. We can go over here to Hoss’s jail [Sevier County Sheriff] and get better people out of there than those running for democratic, to be President of the United States.”
“I’m not prejudiced, a white male in this country has very few rights and they’re getting took more every day,” Hurst said later in the hearing, to a round of applause in the room.
As of Wednesday a slew of local institutions released statements condemning Hurst’s behavior, including the City of Sevierville and Dollywood. “We read the comments made in Monday night’s County Commission meeting and they do not reflect the Dollywood experience in any way,” the latter read: “Dollywood is open and welcoming to everyone, every day.”
Reached by WVLT on Tuesday, Hurst said he stood by his comments because he is entitled to his opinions. “He also said some of his best friends were African American,” per the local outlet.