A Texas Republican county chairman-elect said Saturday he won’t assume office amid backlash over posting a controversial image of a Martin Luther King Jr. quote with a banana in the picture.
Keith Nielsen, the GOP chairman-elect in Harris County, announced in a Facebook post that he would be stepping aside and would not be taking office in August. Harris County encompasses Houston and the surrounding area.
“I have spent my entire adult life supporting conservative candidates and causes and I am grateful for the thousands of supporters who have reached out to me over the last several days,” Nielsen’s post began.
“I regret that I must step aside as Chairman-elect of the Harris County Republican Party and will not be taking office on Aug. 3rd. I will continue to stand up for the values that have made our country great…’Faith, family and freedom.’ Dr. King’s quote is as relevant today as when it was delivered. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’” he added.
Earlier this week, Nielsen had posted to Facebook an image of a King quote – “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – featured with a banana, according to The Texas Tribune.
The Tribune reported that Nielsen deleted the post and addressed it on his Facebook page Thursday, saying, “It is unfortunate that the sentiment of the quote and my admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been overshadowed by people’s misinterpretation of an image.”
Nonetheless, the image shared by Nielsen was immediately denounced as racist and met with backlash by members of his own party, including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Both tweeted on Friday that Nielsen should step down and withdraw from consideration as county chair.
“Dammit, stop it. Stop saying stupid, racist things. Our country is grieving,” Cruz wrote.
Patrick said the image shared by Nielsen is “offensive to me and it should be to every Republican,” adding that there’s “no excuse for this outrageous behavior.”
The head of the Texas GOP, James Dickey, said in a statement Friday that he asked Nielsen not to accept the role of Harris County GOP chair.
CNN reached out to Dickey on Saturday after Nielsen’s announcement.
Nielsen’s decision to step aside comes as the Texas Republican Party is facing intense scrutiny over a series of social media posts. At least four county GOP chairs have recently promoted on Facebook unfounded conspiracy theories related to the death of George Floyd. The posts earned condemnation from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who called on some of the chairs to resign.