LaDawn Jones is a black Democrat from Atlanta. For four years, her seatmate in the Georgia House of Representatives was Jason Spencer, a white Republican from the southern tip of the state. They see the world differently and, she concedes, there were many conversations where “we’ve had to walk away from each other because the debate was so intense.”
Those debates didn’t end when Jones left the legislature to resume practicing law last year — they were still frenemies on social media. And this week, the pair got into an online scuffle in which some say Spencer made a violent, racist threat.
It involved two of the most emotionally volatile issues in the American South: Confederate monuments and lynching.
The discussion started when Spencer posted a picture of himself next to a memorial of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Jones, who has advocated for removing Confederate memorials from the state’s most vaunted places, posted a comment warning her former colleague that he should “get it in … before it is torn down.”
It soured from there.
The lowest point was when Spencer told her that if she and others kept up their fight to rid the state of Confederate monuments, “I cant guarantee you won’t be met with torches but something a lot more definitive.”
Later, removing any doubt, he said the people who want the statues gone “will go missing in the Okefenokee,” referring to a swamp and national wildlife refuge near his home town. “To many necks they are red around here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The entire thread (it has some profanity, harsh language and an epic “Game of Thrones” reference) was posted online by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
At one point, Jones told Spencer to “put your hoods and your tiki torches away. We are no longer afraid. We will not let you hide behind your heritage … Lock those photos in your memory because we are about tear that s— down! #byefelicia #byeStonewall #byeLee”
Spencer replied “Hate for others and American history (good and bad) drives your quixotic journey to erase history like the Bolsheviks. Looks like you are afflicted with the same poison you claim to fight against.”
Spencer’s office did not immediately respond to an email message from The Washington Post seeking comment.
He told the Journal-Constitution that his words weren’t a threat, but a “warning to of how people can behave about this issue.”
“She is from Atlanta — and the rest of Georgia sees this issue very differently,” Spencer told the newspaper. “Just trying to keep her safe if she decided to come down and raise hell about the memorial in the back yards of folks who will see this as an unwelcome aggression from the left.”
According to the Journal-Constitution, Spencer asked that the newspaper include a picture in the story of him standing next to a monument of Martin Luther King Jr. that was unveiled on the Georgia capitol grounds.
Jones said that while she thinks her former colleague’s comments “absolutely and completely crossed the line, I personally did not feel threatened.”
There may be people in the state willing to get violent over Confederate monuments, she said, but she doesn’t think her former seatmate is one of them, even if they are diametrically opposed when it comes to the statues and memorials.
Anti-Confederate sentiment intensified after nine black churchgoers were killed on June 17, 2015, at a church in Charleston, S.C., in a racially motivated massacre.
The killer, Dylann Roof, was seen on one website holding a gun in one hand and a Confederate flag in the other. The tragedy mobilized once-hesitant Southern cities to get rid of polarizing Civil War statuary.
The debate intensified after violent, deadly protests in Charlottesville, which began with a protest of authorities’ decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park.
The debate is playing out across the American south, including in Georgia, a state that has a bas-relief image of Confederate luminaries carved into the side of a mountain.
The Peach State, and Spencer, have been at the center of other controversial debates.
As The Post’s Lindsey Bever reported, Spencer was the author of an ultimately unsuccessful bill that would have prevented Muslim women from wearing religious garb in public places in Georgia.
— bmaggiemay (@bmaggiemay) August 30, 2017
Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director for CAIR-Georgia, told Bever his group “suspects motivated by a desire to discriminate against Georgia Muslims,” and added that the bill was “a bad solution to a nonexistent problem.”
Citing the reaction to the legislation, Spencer ultimately decided to withdraw the bill, saying it “would withstand legal scrutiny, but not political scrutiny.”
Nine months later, Spencer was again being scrutinized for words that offended minorities.
Jones said her former colleague called her to let her know he wasn’t making a personal threat against her, but he stopped short of apologizing.
Jones said she’s disappointed he didn’t renounce his comments. She worries they encouraged racial violence, instead of promoting a rational, civil debate about where Confederate memorials fit in 21st century America.
“I think his comfort with the fact that people in the south of Georgia would believe the right action still does make me uncomfortable,” she said. “Who would want to murder someone over some statues?”