NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s campaign-style address to the Boy Scouts of America touched off a firestorm of criticism on Tuesday as parents and former Scouts decried a speech peppered with partisan attacks and ridicule of “fake media.”
The youth organization’s Facebook page filled with complaints from former Scouts and parents of Scouts that Trump’s remarks in West Virginia on Monday evening were out of keeping with the values of the Boy Scouts. About 40,000 people including tens of thousands of boys ages 12 to 18 attended the event.
A minority of those who commented on the speech, delivered at the organization’s National Jamboree, argued that exposure to politics is an important part of a Scout’s community engagement.
“I’m another American offended and disturbed by Trump’s breath-takingly inappropriate campaign rally yesterday,” wrote Jim Schakenbach, who described himself as a former Scout leader.
“No simple words of encouragement or inspiration, no call to leadership or community service, just yet another pathological campaign rehashing.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the criticism.
In the past, presidents who have addressed the Scouts at the Jamboree, held every four years, have tended to deliver homilies to the Scout Law, which describes 12 virtues including trustworthiness, loyalty, thriftiness and bravery.
Although many called on the Boy Scouts of America to condemn the president’s speech and to apologize for exposing their sons to it, the organization stopped well short of that, describing itself in a statement as “wholly non-partisan.”
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America “does not promote any one position, product, service, political candidate or philosophy,” the organization said.
“The invitation to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition and is in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies,” read the statement, provided to NBC News. The U.S. president serves as its honorary president.
A Boy Scouts spokesman did not respond to questions.
While Trump praised Scouts as having “character and integrity” and lauded the virtues of “hard work and perseverance,” his speech also touched on politically loaded themes.
He decried the healthcare law championed by his predecessor, President Barack Obama and regaled the crowd of cheering boys with his take on the “incredible night with the maps” when he was elected in November.
A large part of Trump’s speech consisted of a long story about a cocktail party he went to decades ago filled with “the hottest people in New York.”
Trump, who was never a Scout himself, also tweaked Obama for not attending a jamboree, although he addressed the event by video in 2010. Trump drew an enthusiastic chorus of boos at the mention of the former president and decried “fake media.” He suggested the Washington political scene was best described as a “sewer.”
But not everyone was critical of the president’s remarks.
James Oates, a 44-year-old assistant Scoutmaster on New York’s Long Island and a father of two teen-aged Scouts, said exposure to political speech in all its diversity was a necessary part of advancing up the Scout hierarchy.
“The Boy Scouts of America is about growing strong, independent, entrepreneurial young men,” Oates, who voted for Trump last year, said in a telephone interview. “Without giving them an experience, with watering down life experiences, you’re not allowing them the ability to make an informed decision.”
Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Cynthia Osterman