HUNTINGTON — Cabell County Delegate John Mandt Jr. resigned from his position in the West Virginia House of Delegates on Saturday night after messages were released allegedly showing the delegate using anti-gay slurs and other disparaging remarks.
Mandt claimed the messages were fabricated, but at least one person authenticated them.
The messages, which were forwarded to The Herald-Dispatch and circulated on social media Friday night, appear to be Facebook chat messages in a group called The “Right” Stuff. The group participants are identified only by first names, but profile pictures identify Mandt, a Republican seeking re-election in District 16; Derrick Evans, who is running as a Republican in District 19 in Wayne County; and Jeffrey Ward, who is running for Huntington City Council District 4.
Throughout the thread, the group uses anti-gay and anti-Muslim language, and uses anti-gay slurs and other disparaging remarks about other delegates, candidates in the District 16 race, the president of the Senate and the mayor of Huntington. At one point, Mandt allegedly uses the word f----t, widely recognized in the LGBTQ community as one of the most offensive anti-gay slurs.
In his resignation letter, Mandt said he needed to focus on his family and his business.
In a separate statement, Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said while Mandt denies the messages are real, Hanshaw strongly condemns the language and rhetoric used in the chat group.
“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,” Hanshaw said.
Mandt said in a now-deleted statement Saturday morning that the messages were all fabricated and he has been receiving death threats since they were released on social media.
“Everything electronic can be fabricated,” Mandt said. “It’s by design, my family, my business and I are being attacked.”
Ward authenticated the messages in a statement, saying he was personally invited to join The “Right” Stuff by Mandt.
“At first this group spoke of issues in the community and occasionally had some locker-room humor,” Ward said. “However, the rhetoric from Delegate Mandt and several members shifted to personal attacks, sophomoric remarks and were not issue driven and were beneath the dignity of his office — as such, I left the group in March of this year.”
Screenshots received by The Herald-Dispatch show one exchange where Ward asks the group if a member of the legislature "is a homo," to which Mandt replies "probably Bi."
After leaving, Ward says he received accounts of Mandt’s “behavior at the Capitol,” which led him to return a donation Mandt made to his campaign.
“I want to be clear that I support all of the citizens of Huntington and want our city and all of its people to prosper,” Ward said.
Mandt could not be reached for comment on Ward’s statement.
In a statement Saturday evening, Evans said he stood by his “alleged” comment in the thread that calls Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a terrorist.
“As a hopeful representative, it is our job to represent everyone with integrity, and that’s exactly what I will do,” Evans said. “I’m disappointed that my name is being included as a participant in such disparaging comments. I will continue fighting for Christian values, and I will continue doing it with class and integrity.”
Mandt, who owns and operates Stewarts Original Hot Dogs, said he now knows why business people don’t run for office, and said he is sorry to those who were dragged into the situation.
One of the state’s two openly gay legislators, Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said seeing the messages was hurtful, especially following statements made by now-outgoing Del. Eric Porterfield about the LGBTQ community in the past two sessions. Thompson said he plans to write a letter about the situation to Gov. Jim Justice and Speaker Roger Hanshaw.
“It hurts. It really … I work with these people. We don’t always agree on policy, and that’s fine,” Thompson said. “I don’t always agree with some of the policy my fellow Democrats propose, and I don’t always agree with some of the policies some of the Republicans propose. In general I’m very proud of a lot of things we can work together on for the betterment of the people of West Virginia, but when it comes down to seeing these comments, it’s really hard to work with those who, they may smile to my face and talk to me, but behind closed doors or in conversations with others they use homophobic slurs.”
Thompson said he was open to speaking with Mandt about the situation.
“This is something that needs a long conversation in how we address this, how we move forward, how we rectify and make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” he said.
“We need to remember that Del. Mandt’s comments reflect more than just his personal views,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness WV, in a statement about the messages. “He carries these views with him every day into the Capitol, and they’ve clearly affected how he represents the people of his district.”
It is not the first time Mandt has been accused of making offensive remarks on social media.
In 2019, Mandt made a Facebook post following a vigil at the Huntington mosque to honor the victims of the mass shooting at a mosque in New Zealand. Mandt said he chose not to attend because he distanced himself from “anything Muslim.” He later said the post was a misunderstanding, but that he was also hacked.
He has also been in hot water for remarks he has made about the LGBTQ community, once referring to the community as the “alphabet hate group.”