by ROCCO MAGLIO
WMNF 88.5 an non-commercial, community station which carries NPR in Tampa wrote an article and shared screenshots of posts to a private Facebook group called 'Defend Hernando County' that they categorized as "overtly racist and incendiary calls for violence."
They only shared the partial posts and all usernames were blocked out.
The first partial post started with:
“Start shooting them. Give them a warning then start”
A reply to that post said:
I like lets shoot first then if there(sic) alive we will warn them for next time”
Another reply said:
“No warning shots, that’s a waste of ammo.”
A different post said:
“Let them riot, and very well could become the hanging tree.
(Note, I am NOT advocating violence… just blowing off steam)”
Another user replied:
“Ok so what lets just say there was some sort of hanging apparatus… what 10 hanged. They need to stop with BS…. should we be big mad”
The angle that the writer used to cover these partial posts on this Facebook group is that Republican Hernando County Commissioner Steve Champion and candidate Joe Swilley were among the administrators of the group. The author did not allege that the posts were written by either candidate or that they were aware of the posts. Both men stated that they were not aware of the posts.
The Hernando Sun was able to access the group after the controversy and it appears that all offensive posts had been deleted. Neither Joe Swilley nor Steve Champion were among the administrators at that time.
The Hernando Sun spoke to Sandra, one of the current administrators of the group. The Hernando Sun knew Sandra, because she is active in the community helping those less fortunate.
Sandra stated, "The group was formed as a last minute thing. No rules were really put into place. Anyone could join. Rumors were out there that a radical group was coming to Brooksville, again, to tear down the confederate memorial monument and cut down the tree. Hence the name Defend Hernando. I was not an admin in the beginning. I was added after I let admins know that some local white supremacists joined and were posting really crazy, scary stuff, frightening people. I became an admin and blocked them, set new rules..... I don't know about Swilley but Champion was added by someone without his knowledge."
The Hernando Sun spoke to Joe Swilley who provided comment. He confirmed that he was not the creator of the group, but he was added as an administrator. He works full time and only has time to monitor posts at night. He estimates that he removed around 35 people from the group and deleted comments when he found objectionable comments. He still believes that the group was a good idea with the rioting and looting as it was a place for people who were interested in Defending Hernando County. He stated that "I served in the military, a lot of my family served in the military. We fought to protect our country and I still believe in protecting this country and this county."
Steve Champion who is a current county commissioner responded to the issue on Facebook stating, "The far left liberals are hard at work again trying to trash me and people on the page Defend Hernando County. Originally I proudly joined this page based on the premise that people of Hernando County will join together to protect our HOME against violent criminals (like the ones in Tampa Looting and burning buildings ) No one had any intention of violence or racial comments.
"Since the page grew and someone added me as an administrator ( without my permission ) I was never active in administrating the page. Then a few inappropriate comments were made and I left the page. I'm sure the leadership will clean up the few bad apples on the page.
"What I take offense to is these Liberals stating I'm proposing violence and I support the racist comments.
"1. Let me be clear... I will always encourage people to take the peaceful approach however if attacked I will defend myself and I would encourage ALL to do the same... Here in Hernando County we are READY.. Trust That!! The constitution gives us the RIGHT to DEFEND ourselves!
"2. I'm not racist in fact my KIDS are biracial! These idiots that say these things are despicable. Of course this is the typical LEFT response to everything..
"Anyone has a question for me just ask.. I'm always available!"
The Hernando Sun also spoke to Commissioner Champion and confirmed that he was not aware that he had been made an administrator of the group. He stated that when he heard that there were offensive posts he left the group. He also wondered why the screen names of the posters were blocked, since they were the people who actually made the comments.
This story was also picked up by Creative Loafing, another Tampa publication. Creative Loafing used the story as a chance to paint Brooksville and Hernando as racist.
It does not appear that Steve Champion or Joe Swilley wrote the posts that the authors of these stories found offensive. The posts were deleted from the group by some of the administrators that were monitoring the group. Only partial posts were shared and no context was given for any of the posts. The full posts no longer exist and therefore it is not possible to judge what was said in context. It is important to keep all this in mind as you decide what to make of this news.