By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The head of the Boy Scouts of America apologized to members of the youth organization on Thursday for the “political rhetoric that was inserted” into its national gathering this week by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree,” Michael Surbaugh wrote in an open letter published on the Scouts’ website. “That was never our intent.”
He said that every U.S. president, who serves as the Scouts’ honorary president, has been invited to speak at the national jamborees held every four years since 1937, but that the Scouts were nonetheless “steadfastly” non-partisan.
“We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program,” Surbaugh wrote.
He said there were 40,000 participants, including Boy Scouts, volunteers, staff and visitors.
Trump, a Republican, started his speech before thousands of boys aged 12 to 18 in a West Virginia field on Monday evening lauding hard work and perseverance, then quickly turned to partisan attacks and ridicule of “fake media”.
He attacked Democratic rivals, lambasted the current healthcare law and reminisced about a cocktail party he went to decades ago filled with “the hottest people in New York.”
Trump’s speech drew intense criticism from former Scouts, parents of Scouts and others, with many saying the speech was not in keeping with Scout values and inappropriate.
While many Scouting families expressed outrage, a few said the reaction was overblown, arguing that exposure to political speech in all forms was an important part of a Scout’s development.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said she had not seen Surbaugh’s letter of apology, and said she attended the event.
“I saw nothing but roughly 40,000 to 45,000 Boy Scouts cheering the president on throughout his remarks and I think they were pretty excited that he was there,” Sanders said.
(Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe in Washington; Editing by Toni Reinhold)