After Republican General Assembly member Dana Bumgardner died, the GOP committee in his district replaced him with Donnie Loftis, who was present at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
When Dana Bumgardner, a Republican who served in the North Carolina General Assembly for more than eight years, died in early October, he left behind a vacancy in the Legislature.
Under state law, when there's a vacancy in the General Assembly, the governor is required to fill it with whomever is recommended by the executive committee of the political party to which the person who vacated the seat belonged when elected.
It didn't take long for the Republican Party of Gaston County, the district Bumgardner had represented, to pick a successor: Donnie Loftis, an Army veteran and former county commissioner who was present for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
According to WRAL-TV, a Raleigh NBC affiliate, Loftis, in a since-deleted Facebook post, posted a picture of himself ahead of the insurrection, saying that he was on his way to Washington, D.C., for the "Stop the Steal" rally on the Ellipse of the National Mall that preceded the attack.
He later posted a comment under the photo saying that he was at the entrance of the Capitol when pro-Trump rioters breached the door, and added that he was "gassed three times" by police. He wrote that he "spoke to many service members, and we all agreed that we didn't want to be there, but we had no other choice. They don't get it that they work for us. And I mean that in a respectful way."
Multiple people died and hundreds were injured as a result of the insurrection on Jan. 6.
Though Loftis has since deleted all his Facebook posts related to Jan. 6, he told WRAL that he "peacefully exercised my first amendment rights in front of the U.S. Capitol" and "was surprised and disappointed to watch others storm the entrance as violence ensued." He also claimed that he "had absolutely zero involvement in the rioting and categorically condemn[ed] the storming of our Capitol building that day."
Neither Loftis nor the Gaston County GOP returned the American Independent Foundation's requests for comment regarding his involvement on Jan. 6.
This is not the first controversy that Loftis has been involved in. In May of 2020, he resigned from his position on the board of directors of a regional health care system after posting on Facebook that he thought North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was tyrannical for imposing statewide quarantine mandates to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Loftis' appointment to the General Assembly is the latest in a nationwide shift toward far-right extremism seen in the Republican Party. In October, leaked documents from the far-right extremist paramilitary group the Oath Keepers revealed that a number of the group's members hold or held elected office across the country.
According to the documents, two of them — Mike Clampitt and Keith Kidwell, the latter of whom has declined to comment publicly on his affiliation — currently hold seats in the North Carolina General Assembly.
"That is troubling," said Rep. Grier Martin, a Democrat in the North Carolina House of Representatives. "It's troubling that they were members of an organization like that, but I think it's even more troubling that as real, real problems with the Oath Keepers have arisen, neither of those two legislators have renounced their membership or been critical of that group."
Martin helped to stage a walkout among his Democratic colleagues when Loftis was officially seated. He said that they tried to block Loftis' appointment but couldn't find enough votes among their Republican colleagues to prevent him from being sworn in.
"I would like to think that there were many, many qualified conservative Republicans in that district who have not tried to undermine democracy that could have been chosen," Martin said. "But instead, they chose an insurrectionist. And my concern is that not only is that a bug that they're willing to overlook; it's a feature. It's the selling point for why, in fact, he may have been nominated by the GOP."
Blair Reeves, the executive director of the progressive policy organization Carolina Forward, has been critical of Loftis' selection as well.
"Donnie Loftis was an active participant in a far-right terrorist assault against the U.S. Capitol — and that's only the part he's admitted to already," he said. "If outright political terrorism isn't beyond the line of what's acceptable, then what is anymore? Does the North Carolina Republican Party even have a line anymore?"
Loftis' fellow Republicans, meanwhile, have jumped to his aid.
"He's done so much for the community," said House Speaker Tim Moore, calling Loftis a "good man."
"Everything I've ever known about Donnie is about trying to give back and serve the community," he added. "I think we're fortunate he's here to serve."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.