Facing an angry backlash from parents and former members, the chief executive of the Boy Scouts of America apologized on Thursday for political remarks made by President Donald Trump at the organization's national jamboree this week, during which the commander-in-chief crowed over his election victory, attacked the news media and criticized Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama.
Michael Surbaugh, the organization's chief, said in a statement Thursday that it was "never our intent" for the national jamboree to become a venue for partisan political attacks.
"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," he wrote. He added, "We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program."
"Do you remember that incredible night with the maps?" he asked the crowd of mostly under-voting-age attendees. "And that map was so red it was unbelievable, and they didn't know what to say."
Trump mocked Clinton for losing Michigan in the election, and many in the crowd booed her name. He regaled the Scouts with stories from a New York cocktail party. And he drew attention to the fact that Obama had declined to attended the National Jamboree during his years in office. (Obama stayed away from the event over the Boy Scouts' ban on gay and transgender Scouts and scoutmasters, which has since changed.)
At one point, the crowd erupted into chants of "We love Trump!" and booed Obama.
Trump's remarks prompted an immediate and scathing backlash against the Boy Scouts, which are suffering from a steep decline in membership and cultural relevance after a yearslong period in which it drew national headlines mainly for its hostility to the prospect of openly gay or transgender members.
Brian Alexander, who earned the Eagle rank as a teenager in Ohio, told the New York Times in an interview this week that he considered Trump's remarks on Monday "a disgrace."
"Based on my experience with Scouting, the point is you're supposed to grow up to be someone not like Donald Trump," he said. "You're supposed to grow up to be someone like John McCain or Barack Obama."
In his statement on Thursday, Surbaugh said the Boy Scouts have invited sitting U.S. presidents to address the national jamboree regularly since 1937. Such invitations should not be construed as "an endorsement of any person, party or policies," he said.
"While we live in a challenging time in a country divided along political lines, the focus of Scouting remains the same today as every day," he wrote. "In a time when differences seem to separate our country, we hope the true spirit of Scouting will empower our next generation of leaders to bring people together to do good in the world."