The meme, which showed a cartoon of a car hitting people, had been shared from another Facebook group called “Libtards; ya gotta love ’em!” The person who posted it to the county Facebook page added a message: “I don’t wish harm on anyone … but protesters don’t belong in the road!”
It’s unclear exactly how long the post remained publicly visible before it was removed. On Monday afternoon, Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett released a statement apologizing for the “inappropriate” post. The apology noted that the meme had been shared to the emergency management page by a “non-commissioned employee” who had received it on a personal account first.
Burnett stressed that the post did not reflect the views of the sheriff’s office.
“Staff at Chelan County Emergency Management feel terrible that this inappropriate and hurtful post made it onto the Facebook page,” Burnett wrote. “The posting was removed as soon as staff realized the error. Changes have already been made in procedure to assure nothing like this will occur in the future.”
The statement did not address whether the employee who shared the meme would face any discipline. The sheriff’s office told The Washington Post on Tuesday that most noncommissioned employees work in an office setting and do not have arrest powers, drive a patrol car, carry a gun, make arrests or issue citations. The sheriff did not respond to a request for further comment.
The meme called to mind the racially charged protests that took place last month in Charlottesville, where hundreds of people carrying Confederate flags and neo-Nazi paraphernalia gathered to stage a rally to “take America back.” After a clash with counterprotesters, a car plowed into a crowd, killing one person and injuring 19 others. Police later arrested 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., of Ohio, who was identified by a former teacher as a longtime Nazi sympathizer.
Even after the meme was removed, people continued posting to the Chelan County Emergency Management Facebook page, calling it “disgusting and offensive” and demanding that the employee be fired. A few noted the additional irony of posting a meme that seemed to advocate violence on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“You’ve incurred the wrath of so many people, myself included, with a post that ridiculed the murder of a woman and the felonious assault of 19 others,” one Facebook user wrote. “The very least you should do is inform the public (many of whom spend time in Chelan County) that you will discipline the employee who posted the offensive meme and inform him or her that any future infractions of this sort will result in termination. Anything else is tacit support.”
Others downplayed the post as an accident that was getting blown out of proportion.
“My god people, it was an accident. I know I’m far from perfect. The next time you error I hope you get publicity ridiculed,” another Facebook user wrote. “Do you truly believe the county or the employee involved would purposely do this. Put on your grown up cloths, take it for what it is and move on. Stop being butt hurt at every opportunity. Our country has bigger issues than a misplaced post.”
On Monday afternoon, the employee who posted the meme appeared to continue explaining how it came to be posted on the Chelan County Emergency Management page — while apparently logged in as an administrator of the account. It had originally been intended to be shared with a cousin, the person wrote.
“I was on my personal page, went to share….must have hit share to a page you manage rather than just the share….I didn’t see that I had done this until I got a phone call — it was meant to be shared with a cousin of mine….now I’m trying to figure out how to unlink my personal and work facebook pages….so it will never happen again,” the county account wrote in a reply to a Facebook user.
Minutes later, the same account replied to another Facebook comment: “I must have hit share to a page which is what I use all the time to share to EM … rather than share….and I didn’t catch it before I hit post….did it too fast, made a horrible mistake. I have all the various sites I monitor on my personal page to make local information easier to find….then I just share it —- all I can think of is I hit the share to page rather than just the share….that is the only thing that makes sense to me. So I’ve unfollowed all the public pages that I usually use for information….and will do more with cut and paste so that I won’t be so stupid again. Unless the boss assigns the page to someone else, which could happen.”
Chelan County is located in the north-central region of Washington, about 100 miles east of Seattle, and encompasses a large portion of the Wenatchee National Forest. The county’s emergency management page has mostly been posting updates related to the wildfires that have broken out in that part of the state this summer.
“We trust the public will continue to follow us during emergency situations on our Chelan County Emergency Management Facebook page,” the sheriff wrote Monday.