Justin Spiehs’ profane tirade about Kansas Reflector editor in chief Sherman Smith was removed from the Legislature’s online video of Saturday’s testimony before a special committee on government overreach. By Thursday, it was restored. (Screen capture from YouTube by Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — The 28 seconds of profane commentary by Justin Spiehs during a special legislative committee hearing on COVID-19 government overreach was cut from the publicly available video of oral testimony on the Legislature’s website and posted to YouTube.
Spiehs, who railed against Lawrence public school officials requiring students to wear face coverings, said he had conducted a daily anti-mask protest for the past four months at the district’s headquarters. Spiehs, who referred to himself as a doctor and has taught family and human services classes at Washburn University, said he was tired of being treated like a “second-class citizen” by public officials not willing to listen to his insights into the pandemic.
“We need to ask ourselves: What are we going to do about this? This is not the time to talk,” Spiehs told House and Senate members Saturday. “A lot of people might not like what I have to offer for standing up. We’ve got to bully them out of our lives. It’s not pretty and it doesn’t look good. It feels good.”
Near the end of his three-minutes at the microphone before the Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates, he transitioned to his irritation with Kansas Reflector editor in chief Sherman Smith. Spiehs previously had sent emails asking Smith for news coverage of complaints with Lawrence public school officials, which Smith declined to provide.
Spiehs concluded his testimony by calling Smith a “little bitch” and “snarky motherf***er,” but that audio doesn’t exist on the recordings of the meeting available to the pubic.
Sen. Renee Erickson, Wichita Republican and chairwoman of special committee, silenced Spiehs’ microphone during the hearing. On Saturday, audio and video of his tirade was available on the Kansas Legislature’s live feed of the hearing. Anyone reviewing the hearing Monday hears 28 seconds of silence, with statements by Spiehs and Erickson deleted. The audio returns for Erickson’s admonition to the audience.
“I want to remind everybody that we will be respectful in spite of our passionate views,” Erickson said. “We will not tolerate that type of language or behavior.”
As Spiehs exited the third-floor committee room at the Statehouse, he was followed out by an officer of the Capitol Police.
He had already come to the attention of Rep. John Carmichael, a member of the special committee and a Democrat from Wichita. In part, Carmichael took notice because Spiehs had entered and exited the committee room by a back door used primarily by legislators.
“He had been loitering outside that door watching people coming in and out,” Carmichael said.
Carmichael, who is an attorney, said the full audio and visual record of the special committee’s meeting ought to be available to the public. He said he would have less concern about the chairwoman muting Spiehs’ microphone and consequently preventing the recording of his obscene remarks from the YouTube version, but would object if legislators or legislative staff were instructed to edit Spiehs’ remarks out.
“Where does it stop?” Carmichael said. “It should be part of the public record.”
Staff with Legislative Administrative Services and other departments declined to say who made the decision the edit the video after the profane remarks initially appeared online or why the decision was made. Kansas Reflector has filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act for the unaltered video.
Spiehs’ testimony came at the end of the two-day meeting in which about 100 people testified against government mandates regarding vaccinations, masks, social distancing and other restrictions to deter spread of coronavirus.
The Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates didn’t allow in-person testimony from people supportive of President Joe Biden’s vaccination order applicable to federal employees and contractors. The written testimony from supporters of vaccinations hasn’t been posted to the Kansas Legislature’s website, but written testimony from opponents of vaccination was posted Friday or Saturday.
Patrick Early, a spokesman for Washburn University in Topeka, said Spiehs remained an employee of the university but wasn’t assigned to teach courses at this time. Early said there was no WU prohibition hindering Spiehs from speaking his mind.
“We certainly respect the rights of faculty members to express their opinions,” Early said.
Correction: This story has been updated to remove a reference to Spiehs saying, “F*** Sherman Smith.” Spiehs contends he only told Smith to “f*** yourself.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.