FLEMINGTON, NJ - If you are over 30, you probably have a memory of where you were on Sept. 11, 2001.
But Sen. Michael Doherty, R-23, didn't share his experience when he served as the keynote speaker at a 9/11 memorial ceremony on the steps of the historic county courthouse in Flemington Friday.
Instead, Doherty chose to express his own opinions about the current state of affairs nationally, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement as "Marxist" and "burning cities down." He peppered his speech with statements that any declaration of the United States as having a history of systemic racism was an "evil lie" and that calls to defund the police are meant to "destabilize the nation," and are "part of an agenda that seeks to create chaos and mayhem in the United States."
The ceremony is put together annually by the Hunterdon County Sheriff's Office, and Sheriff Fred Brown was the host. All state-level representatives for Hunterdon County were invited to the 9/11 gathering, with Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-23) in attendance, as well as a number of local officials.
Response on social media and in communications to the freeholders was very strong. Some questioned, "How selfish, aggressive, greedy and narcissistic do you have to be to speak like this in public, let alone today?", while others called Doherty, "A fear-monger with a microphone" and "Inappropriate."
On the other hand, some took to Facebook to react positively to his comments.
Hannah Goldt, of Flemington, said, “...I think he was trying to say that on 9/11, first responders were right there, and today they are always ready to help, and BLM and Antifa just want to harass and defund them.”
Several attendees turned their backs during Doherty's speech, and some left the event entirely, including Flemington Mayor Betsy Driver.
Driver, in an email to Freeholder Director Sean Van Doren after the event, said, “One hour later, I am still speechless and upset over what occurred on the steps of the Historic County Courthouse this morning. The racism that was spoken from those important steps – steps that should stand for justice and equality.”
Raritan Township resident Karen Becker, who was also in attendance at the ceremony, said she was disturbed by the speech.
“Mr. Doherty’s comments were insensitive to anyone who lost a loved one on 9/11, and furthered the division regarding police and race relations,” she said.
Doherty, who is known to be one of the more conservative members of the State Senate, is a graduate of West Point, and served as a captain in the U.S. Army from 1985-1989 and the U.S. Army Reserve from 1989-1993.
Doherty defended his 9/11 comments over the weekend.
“I think 2020 is a very unusual year," he said in a separate interview. "There are few opportunities to address the public in 2020. I realize it was not your traditional 9/11 comments, but we’re in an urgent situation where the police have been under non-stop attack in the mainstream media and something needed to be said.”
“We're supposed to have this Kumbaya moment," he added. "This is supposed to be our moment of coming together. Where in the public arena has there been any coming together in the last six months? That led up to me giving that speech to defend the police."