GOP activist says escaped gorilla was ancestor of Michelle Obama - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

GOP activist says escaped gorilla was "ancestor" of Michelle Obama

Posted: Updated: June 19, 2009 09:28 PM
Screen capture of the comment (Source: FITSNews) Screen capture of the comment (Source: FITSNews)
Rusty DePass (Source: Facebook) Rusty DePass (Source: Facebook)

By Logan Smith - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A state Republican activist has admitted to and apologized for calling a gorilla that escaped from the Riverbanks Zoo Friday an "ancestor" of First Lady Michelle Obama.

A screen capture of the comment, made on the Internet site Facebook, was obtained by FITSNews, the website of South Carolina politico Will Folks.

The image shows a post by an aide to state Attorney General Henry McMaster describing Friday morning's gorilla escape at Columbia's Riverbanks Zoo.

Longtime SCGOP activist and former state Senate candidate Rusty DePass responded with the comment, "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors - probably harmless."

DePass told WIS News 10 he was talking about First Lady Michelle Obama.

DePass has been involved in state politics for decades, and helped elect Republican Governor Jim Edwards in 1974. He was an early South Carolina supporter of former President George W. Bush in 2000.

We asked some of DePass' political allies and rivals what they thought about the comment.

"Even if it was taken out of context - its not something that should have ever been said. It's sad, disappointing, and unfortunate," said former SCGOP Chairman Katon Dawson.

Columbia Mayor Bob Coble also condemns the comment.

"You know, I think the comment is inappropriate. It's a racist comment," he says. "I think Mr. DePass should apologize."

We spoke with DePass over the phone Friday night. He said, "I am as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest."

"You know, I don't think there's anything funny about that comment," says Coble. "That is the First Lady of the United States. We've had a long tradition of wonderful first ladies, and I don't think any of them deserve that type of comment."

DePass took his apology a bit further. He also said, "The comment was hers. Not mine," saying the first lady made statements in the media recently saying we are all descendents of apes.

But an Internet search for those comments turned up no news articles of the like.

"I don't know of any," says Coble.

All of that aside, the mayor wants a clear-cut apology.

"Rusty DePass is well known in the community, and I know he's done very good things in addition to his political work," says Mayor Coble. "I don't want a comment like that coming out of Columbia, South Carolina for the world to comment on."

The comment has been removed from Facebook. DePass' Facebook page has also been deleted.

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