Mark Burns, a Donald Trump surrogate, is grabbing more headlines than his boss, and that is not a good thing. Mr. Burns is an Evangelical Christian televangelist and pastor of The Harvest Praise & Worship Center in South Carolina.
The religious man delivered a rousing speech at the Republican National Convention and was later picked by the campaign to conduct interviews as Trump launched his outreach to minority voters. He gave several fiery interviews on CNN, FOX, and MSNBC, but on social media, he took things a step further.
He shared a racist cartoon that depicted Hillary Clinton in blackface as she was pandering to black voters (see tweet below). He declined to apologize, and instead reposted the picture of Clinton minus the blackface and called out the media for overlooking her scandals.
As Burns profile rose, the media decided to focus its attention on his background and found several lies. In an interview with Victor Blackwell on CNN’s New Day Weekend, Burns was asked about his online bio, which falsely claimed that he graduated from North Greenville University, that he served in the Army Reserves, and was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, a historic African-American fraternity.
The web page also stated that he earned a Bachelor of Science degree from North Greenville University. The university said that Burns was only there for one semester. Here is a portion of the interview:
DAMON DAVIS, KAPPA ALPHA PSI MEMBER: He just came out of the blue.
BLACKWELL: Virginia Beach Navy veteran Damon Davis says he’s a Republican but had never heard of the fiery southern pastor. Neither had his friends.
DAVIS: So they looked him up. He had webpages up, and they saw one of the claims he was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi.
BLACKWELL: David, who is a member of the predominantly African- American fraternity, says he first saw the claim in Pastor Burns’ bio on his church’s website. Davis says he captured this screen grab in July just day after Burns spoke at the RNC. Then he started investigating.
What did you find?
DAVIS: There is no person named Mark Burns, John Mark Burns, or any variation thereof in the fraternity ever.
BLACKWELL: Davis says he contacted Pastor Burns. Soon after Davis says the webpage disappeared. CNN Called Kappa headquarters too. They have no record of him. So when we sat down with Burns we asked about that.
BURNS: I did without question said I had started the process of being a part of that organization, but that’s the furthest I’ve gotten.
BLACKWELL: Is that the bio from your website.
BURNS: It is but it is the — it is the bio, but this is not an accurate depiction of the bio. Information has obviously been added. I’m pretty — I own up to any mistakes I made like I did with my tweet. Obviously, in this case that’s not —
BLACKWELL: So this is not from your page.
BURNS: No, this is from my page, but what I’m saying is, obviously, this has been manipulated or either hacked or added.
BLACKWELL: CNN asked the site’s host, Wix, about the possibility someone could have tampered with the church’s website. The company tells CNN there is no evidence of a hack. And CNN obtained the pastor’s full bio from the church’s website through an Internet archive.
You also claimed you served six years in the Army Reserves. Is that accurate?
BURNS: Yes, it is.
BLACKWELL: OK, we called the Army and they said that you had no active army or —
BURNS: I was never — I was part of the South Carolina National Guard.
BLACKWELL: I asked you’d about Army reserves. That was my question, you in this bio claim six years in the army reserves.
BURNS: Which is — it is reserves, it’s the army South Carolina National Guard is reserves.
BLACKWELL: In a statement to CNN, the U.S. Army says Burns served in the South Carolina National Guard for 2001 to 2005, was discharged in 2008. He has no active Army or Army Reserve service time.
Did you attend North Greenville University?
BURNS: I did attend North Greenville University.
BLACKWELL: Did you graduate from North Greenville University? BURNS: No, I didn’t complete the degree.
BLACKWELL: In fact the university tells CNN he was here one semester.
After the embarrassing interview, Burns issued an apology:
“As a young man starting my church in Greenville, South Carolina, I overstated several details of my biography because I was worried wouldn’t be taken seriously as a new pastor.This was wrong, I wasn’t truthful then and I have to take full responsibility for my actions. Since that time I should have taken steps to correct any misrepresentations of my background. We all make mistakes, and I hope that the measure of my character and the quality of my works speak for what kind of person I am.”
He also took the opportunity to bash those, who called him out on his false claims. He stated:
“I do also want to set the record straight about why this attack is happening — because I am a black man supporting Donald Trump for President. For too long, African-American votes have been taken for granted by Democratic politicians, and enough is enough Instead, I’m going to tell people that there is another option — an option that represents a position vision that will unify our country. That’s why I have and will continue to tirelessly support Mr. Trump.”
Some experts believe that Trump surrogates often try to push their own brand.
— Pastor Mark Burns (@pastormarkburns) August 30, 2016
— Pastor Mark Burns (@pastormarkburns) September 1, 2016