The post was not an isolated incident for the Army veteran and supporter of President Trump. Earlier that month, Leonard had posted a video of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who joined Tlaib as the first Muslim women in Congress, with the caption, “Terrorist . . . 100%.” Later in April, he published a meme about “Sharia Barbie,” a brown-skinned doll in a hijab with a black eye and a purple bottom lip. “Comes with jihab [sic], bruises, & Quran,” the text read.
Now, the Toms River Regional Board of Education has announced that Leonard faces a potential ethics investigation over his anti-Muslim posts, as officials including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver (D) urge Leonard to resign.
Stephan R. Leone, the attorney for the New Jersey regional school board, condemned Leonard’s comments on Tuesday, calling them “totally inappropriate, not condoned by the Board of Education,” and adding they “do not reflect the board’s attitude or opinions,” the Asbury Park Press reported. He added that the group “will determine what school board ethics violations may have occurred, and we are going to take appropriate action.”
A board meeting was held Wednesday night to discuss whether ethics violations took place and what action is needed if any, NJ.com reported. While it was unclear on Thursday morning whether there was any resolution, Leonard refused to step down amid calls from concerned residents at the meeting, Patch reported.
“That was a threat to me,” said one mother in reference to the post about Tlaib. “My daughters wear hijabs in school. How are they supposed to feel safe?”
The backlash comes less than two weeks after the president said in a racist statement that four minority congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Days later, Trump supporters chanted “Send her back!” at Omar during a North Carolina rally. Three of the lawmakers Trump attacked — Tlaib and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) — were born in the United States. Omar, a Somali refugee, became a U.S. citizen when she was 17.
Trump’s vitriol has been echoed in other social media posts from public officials. Last week, a Louisiana police officer was fired for suggesting in a since-deleted Facebook post that Ocasio-Cortez should be shot. (Another officer was fired for “liking” the post.) On Sunday, the Illinois Republican County Chairmen’s Association apologized for sharing a meme to its Facebook page calling the Democratic congresswomen “The Jihad Squad.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Leonard rejected the notion that he was anti-Muslim, calling the situation, “Total Nonsense.” Describing himself as “Anti-Sharia Law,” Leonard said his post was not about the congresswoman being Muslim but about him not caring whether people died during a hunger strike protesting ICE.
"This false narrative is because of Trump and politics. Sad,” he said over Facebook Messenger. “It was on my personal page and taken out of context to fit the narrative . . . that any statement against a Muslim is BECAUSE they are Muslim. Not true.”
He added: “I speak out against Radical Islam . . . Not Muslims.”
Requests for comment to Tlaib, Leone and the Toms River Regional school board were not returned late Wednesday.
The New Jersey chapter of CAIR called for Leonard’s resignation this week for his “racist and Islamophobic posts.”
"The bigoted, hateful and threatening social media posts shared by this elected board of education official serve to disqualify him for any position that has responsibility for the safety, security and well-being of New Jersey’s diverse student body,” said James Sues, the executive director of CAIR’s New Jersey chapter, in a statement. “This is just a painful reminder of the extreme divisiveness that characterizes the current political climate at the national level.”
Muslim Advocates, another national civil rights organization, also called for the board member to step aside.
“The harmful, ugly content that Daniel Patrick Leonard regularly posts to Facebook exposes him as someone wholly unfit to work with the diverse school children in Toms River and the state of New Jersey,” said Madihha Ahussain, a special counsel at Muslim Advocates, in a statement to NJ.com.
In New Jersey, the education commissioner can remove a board member if the ethics commission finds they violated the law, according to the Press. Leone, the school board’s attorney, praised Leonard for his service to the community but emphasized the damaging nature of his posts.
“It’s reflective of the board, it’s not a good leadership attribute for our school children,” Leone said to the Press. “We regret that Dan, who has otherwise served well, has found himself in these kinds of situations.”
A 23-year combat veteran who was a paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and served in Afghanistan, Leonard was elected to represent Beachwood, located in south New Jersey, on the school board in 2016. Both his personal and professional Facebook pages regularly feature posts directed at Muslims, an approach he calls “Discussion Provoking.” Leonard acknowledged after the Wednesday night meeting that his posts on Tlaib, Omar and “Sharia Barbie” have “impacted the district” and vowed to “be more cautious going forward.”
“I will never back down, but I vow to be more articulate in my approach so that the message I am trying to convey as a private citizen is clear and precise and in no way reflects the position of the Board,” Leonard wrote in a post.
Still, Leonard, who is seeking reelection in November, reiterated that his intention was not to suggest he was wishing for the congresswoman’s death based on her faith.
“I’m passionate,” he told The Post, “but I am not a Racist.”
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