Burns Says Terrorists Drive Taxis by Day

Conrad Burns can’t seem to keep his foot out of his mouth.

Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, whose recent comments have stirred controversy, says the United States is up against a faceless enemy of terrorists who “drive taxi cabs in the daytime and kill at night.”

During a fundraiser Wednesday with first lady Laura Bush, the three- term Montana senator talked about terrorism, tax cuts and the money he has brought to his state. Burns is one of the more vulnerable Senate incumbents, facing a tough challenge from Democrat Jon Tester.

He has drawn criticism in recent weeks for calling his house painter a “nice little Guatemalan man” during a June speech. Burns, whose re- election campaign is pressing for tighter immigration controls, also suggested that the man might be an illegal immigrant. The campaign later said the worker is legal.

Burns, 71, also had to apologize after confronting members of a firefighting team at the Billings airport and telling them they had done a “piss-poor job,” according to a state report. In July, the Hotshot crew had traveled 2,000 miles from Staunton, Va., to help dig fire lines for about a week around a 143-square-mile wildfire east of Billings.

At the campaign event with Bush, Burns talked about the war on terrorism, saying a “faceless enemy” of terrorists “drive taxi cabs in the daytime and kill at night.” The campaign said Thursday that the senator was simply pointing out terrorists can be anywhere. “The point is there are terrorists that live amongst us. Not only here, but in Britain and the entire world,” said spokesman Jason Klindt. “Whether they are taxi drivers or investment bankers, the fact remains that this is a new type of enemy.”

Aside from the firefighter comments, which were just assinine and mean spirited, the rest could all be explained away as harmless in isolation. Together, though, they give reason to question his judgment.

Responding to Democratic complaints about Burns’ verbal gaffes, Republicans argued that a Tester comment earlier this week was derogatory toward American Indians. In an interview with The Seattle Times, Tester talked about the faith he has in his staff, and said, “Nobody has done anything to make me think they’re trying to tomahawk me.” Brock Lowrance, spokesman for the Montana Republican Party, said American Indians have long found “tomahawk” a derogatory term. American Indians are the state’s largest minority group.

That’s perhaps the saddest excuse for a rebuttal I’ve seen in some time. Using the verb “tomahawk” in a non-racial context is really supposed to counterbalance a series of stupid, racially charged gaffes? Given how badly the Republicans need to hold onto this seat, it’d sure be nice if Burns’ handlers were a little more savvy. Of course, given what they have to work with, it’s hard to put too much blame on the staff.

FILED UNDER: 2006 Election, Race and Politics, Terrorism, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Actually, those who drive taxis by day kill by day too, if the taxi driving I’ve seen is any indicator.

  2. legion says:

    Does Montana even _have_ that many taxi drivers? I live in Idaho, and even _I_ think of Montana as entirely too rural.

    Speaking of jihadi terrorists, perhaps someone should introduce Sen Burns to a guy named Ted Kaczynski…

  3. LJD says:

    This guy suffers from chronic foot-in-mouth disease.

    But it’s obvious that the tomahawk comment implies that his staff works for whiskey and blankets.