As Hurricane Matthew barreled toward the North Carolina coast on Friday, Gov. Pat McCrory spent the night on stage addressing far-right pastors, asking them to support the state’s controversial anti-LGBT law and back his reelection.
"You have five weeks, or four-and-a-half weeks, to speak out in North Carolina," McCrory implored the group on Friday, according to a recording of the event obtained by BuzzFeed News. McCrory lamented the backlash to the law, which restricts restroom access for transgender people, and denounced his Democratic challenger, who opposes the law.
"I don’t agree with the concept of redefining gender,” he said. “Let your congregations and your businesses, and everyone else know. Are there people behind this issue or not? We’re going to find out."
Just a couple hours before, in a press release, McCrory warned the storm posed an “immediate” threat to human life and President Obama had just signed a disaster declaration for 66 of the state’s 100 counties. By Monday, 10 people in North Carolina were counted dead.
In a rambling defense of the law at Friday's event, McCrory said the measure's supporters were being “purged,” that he and his wife have been socially shunned, and that university presidents were responsible for relocating championship sports games in a display of hypocrisy.
McCrory added he has received death threats — though he did not elaborate on them — and corporate executives were distancing themselves from his reelection campaign over his support for the unpopular law.
"Please, please, help America and stand with this man and his team and get others to stand with him and vote for him,” pleaded moderator Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which sponsored the event in Raleigh. The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified Perkins’s organization as a hate group.
McCrory with Perkins last Friday.
McCrory's office did not immediately respond for a request to comment on his appearance at the event prior to the storm or his comment there.
The governor has struggled the past few months to retain the governorship. Embattled by his support for the anti-LGBT law — which has driven college sports games and the NBA to relocate championships out of the state — his polls numbers were weak in September and October. And his full-throated enthusiasm for Donald Trump, once a boon, became an unprecedented liability for Republicans everywhere after a 2005 recording surfaced on Friday in which Trump implies he has sexually assaulted women by grabbing “them by the pussy."
McCrory seemed to find a reprieve from those politics as he marshaled state and federal resources in the face of Hurricane Matthew. He canceled an out-of-state fundraiser earlier in the week.
“The immediate concern from Hurricane Matthew is life threatening rain accumulation," said McCrory in a statement at 5:51 pm Friday. He announced FEMA had accepted his request to declare a disaster most counties. "Our resources are in place and we are ready to respond," his statement continued. "Be prepared, be careful and be safe.”
But nine minutes later, at 6pm, the Family Research Council's event began with McCrory as the headline speaker.
“The silent majority has got to quit being silent and speak up,” he said. “You have four weeks to do it…The surveys are showing you are the minority.”
“You’re being purged because of your silence,” he continued. “The people who are speaking up are being purged and I’m seeing it every day...And so the purging is out there, the purging of norms, the purging of money, the purging of being embarrassed, the purging of being called a bigot. Which is an insult to me, because I’m the farthest thing from a bigot.”
“It’s almost like the George Orwell book 1984, where if you disagree with Big Brother, or you go against the thought police, if you remember that book, you will be purged and you will disappear,” he said. “My wife, for example, in Charlotte, she primarily stays in Charlotte. She’s been disinvited to charity events, and basically, they call her up and they say, ‘you know, you better not come. You better not come.’”
Likewise, McCrory has been rejected. “The head of Bank of America now, or some other companies that just this week told me they cannot support me, although you’ve been an outstanding governor, we still cannot support you because [the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign] will attack us. And I’ve had at least five this week tell me that.”
A PPP poll in August found voters in North Carolina have unfavorable views of anti-LGBT law, known as House Bill 2 or HB2, which bans local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances and prohibits transgender people from government restrooms that match their gender identity.
McCrory’s opponent, Democrat Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general, has made McCrroy’s outspoken support for the law a signature of his campaign. Since McCrory signed it into law in March, making it an instant campaign wedge, Real Clear Politics has found McCrory went from leading most polls to losing most polls. The polling average now shows McCrory trailing by 4.6%.
McCrory, however, attempted to downplay the relevance of HB2 in the race in his speech Friday.
“Most headlines are saying McCrory is either tied or losing because of HB2,” he said. “And I suppose if I lost, the national media will say governor, in fact the New York Times and the Washington Post were saying today, that the only reason McCrory’s in a tough race is because of HB2. I happen to disagree with that, I actually was catching grief through my whole tenure.”
He said that companies have been hypocritical by withdrawing business from the state while conducting transactions in countries hostile to human rights. “But they do have the media on their side, and they have a lot of voters on their side now too because the voters don’t understand the issue,” he said.
McCrory had similar sentiments for the college sports boards withdrawing their championship games in protest of the law.
“When you hear about the NCAA canceling things,” he said, “there is no NCAA really, the people who run the NCAA are the presidents of the universities. So the headlines don’t say presidents of the universities boycott North Carolina, it says the NCAA or the ACC. These are the presidents of our schools… So they made a decision to boycott the 9th largest state in a private meeting, with no public notice and yet the people they have are not-exempt, tax-pay supported presidents. And they see nothing wrong with it. It’s amazing, the hypocrisy.”
“My wife and I ,” he went on, “we’re being shunned for a political disagreement, a value disagreement…And it’s personal, it’s death threats. Last week I was verbally assaulted by a 21-year-old drunk student. And she was arrested. And those are tough. Everyone says, ‘Gosh you must have thick skin.’ I don’t have thick skin, I just hide it…It gets to me, I just hide it until I go home and sit in a room or walk a dog and I go, ‘Wow, this is depressing.’ So I need to let you know it’s not easy.”