Ongoing protests in North Carolina have sparked national debate on how to bring an end to a spate of police killings of black people in the U.S., but one elected official representing the city of Charlotte in Congress may have set that conversation back a bit Thursday with some polarizing, race-based comments.

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger became a trending topic on Twitter this week after he shared his controversial thoughts with BBC News on what he believed was the actual inspiration behind this weeks violent protests in Charlotte. "They hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not," Pittenger said in part in reference to protesters, most of whom have been black. He issued an apology hours afterward.

Earlier this week, Pittenger invoked the name of one of the nation's most revered civil rights activists in response to the controversial shooting that killed 43-year-old black motorist Keith Lamont Scott at an apartment complex after police said he had a gun, setting off days of protests in Charlotte, Mediaite reported. The protests in Charlotte have seen at least one death and stores being looted as police deployed tear gas in an effort to control the crowds of angry demonstrators.

"Where is the spirit of Martin Luther King?" he asked CNN anchor Don Lemon in apparent reference to King's practice of nonviolent protests. 

Pittenger, 68, represents a portion of the city of Charlotte, which has a 35 percent population of black residents, according to the most recent Census data available.

The second-term congressman seeking re-election in the state's 9th District has been quite outspoken during his career on Capitol Hill, including in his support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his condemnation of both North Carolina's Employment Non-Discrimination Act — which prohibits varying degrees of hiring discrimination — and the so-called bathroom bill — which would have allowed transgender individuals to use restrooms that align with the gender they identify with.





Pittenger is a Texas native and a former North Carolina state senator. He is married and a father of four and a grandfather of seven, according to his official House Republicans web page. After winning his Republican primary earlier this year, he faces Democrat Christian Cano on Election Day 2016.