Officials denounce anti-Semitic post by state Rep. Dawn Johnson

  • State Rep. Dawn M. Johnson —Courtesy

Laconia Daily Sun
Published: 12/15/2020 11:15:28 AM

Temple B'nai Israel Rabbi Dan Danson and Laconia School Board Chairperson Heather Lounsbury said local residents swamped them with emails and messages over the weekend demanding Republican State Rep. Dawn Johnson resign after posting a link on Twitter last week to an article with an anti-Semitic image from a neo-Nazi website.

Johnson, who was recently elected to her second term as a school board member, told Lounsbury that she has no intention of resigning, Lounsbury said.

Johnson apologized on her Facebook page for the source of the message – the Daily Stormer – but it was not clear that she disavowed the content of the post.

Danson described the objectionable image this way: “There's this picture with the word ‘Jews,’ trafficking in all the worst anti-Semitic tropes. It is literally a copy of the kind of art that was used in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, conveying this image because of the sign the person's holding.”

The word “Jews” appears above a cartoon image of a man wearing a Jewish skullcap. He is holding a sign announcing a rent increase, next to another cartoon man with the head of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp Photoshopped onto the  body. Above Kemp's photo is the term “Riggers,” a possible reference to Kemp's refusal to block certification of Georgia's electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden; President Donald Trump has stated that the outcome in Georgia and other swing states was “rigged.” Below both cartoon figures are the words, “Bad News.”

“All the messages they're conveying are horrible about the Jewish community, connecting us with the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes – uncompassion and avarice and all those kind of things,” Danson said. “That image is a slander and it's profoundly inaccurate about the Jewish community. So, does that represent what Rep. Johnson thinks?”

When Johnson's attempt to post the Daily Stormer link on Facebook was blocked because the social media site does not allow links to the neo-Nazi website, she complained on her Facebook page that "When you try to share truth FB says NOPE we will not allow it." 

The link promotes a discredited conspiracy theory that says Kemp refused to block the certification of Georgia's election for Biden after Kemp's "future son-in-law" died in a "mysterious car crash." 

Multiple attempts to reach Johnson by phone and text for comment were unsuccessful. Johnson – whose School Board district includes the Jewish synagogue – locked her Twitter account on Saturday so only approved followers can see her tweets. 

Danson said while he took Johnson's apology at face value, it also seemed to be lacking something: “An important element of this is it names what the problem is. The source (of Johnson's post) is the most virulent, prominent, anti-Semitic website in the country. For us in the Jewish community that's a really big deal, that that's being looked at and shared.”

Even taking her apology as sincere, Danson said, “it also feels to me like it doesn't quite grasp the gravity for what it means for us to see a state representative broadcasting that message.

“I'll take her at her word that it was inadvertent, but the gravity of that impact, having a state representative essentially sending out a message that says American Jews are in a conspiracy to destroy democracy – it's just a very upsetting and disturbing thing to be seen.”

Danson said he was not aware that Johnson had made an effort to reach out to the local Jewish community, but said it was important that people talk to one another. 

That's what Rep. Mike Bordes, a fellow Republican, said he was hoping to do.

Bordes said he was rattled by the posting. "It goes against everything I believe in," Bordes said Saturday. He said he was “blown away” and “shaken up” by Johnson's tweet, and heard from a lot of constituents who let him know they were upset with the posting.

“I think the image is what bothers me the most,” Bordes said, adding that he wanted to speak with Johnson and gather more information before forming an opinion.

School district gets an earful

Lounsbury and School Superintendent Steve Tucker said the emails and calls the school district received made it clear that Johnson's posting angered a lot of people.

“Most emails that I have gotten and, from what I've heard most of the voice mails, do express great displeasure with quotes she made and the majority of them are asking for her resignation from the board,” Lounsbury said.

Lounsbury called Johnson's posting of the link “racist, anti-Semitic posts,” and said “certainly we don't condone that.”

But, she said, there is also no state law that would allow the School Board to remove one of its members.

She said it was uncertain if Johnson could continue to function effectively as a School Board member or state representative.

“I can't speak to the state rep portion, but there's definitely a question among our community whether she could function as a board member properly,” Lounsbury said, noting the backlash Johnson's posting engendered and the district's commitment to nondiscrimination policies.

Lounsbury sent out a statement to district parents and staff on Sunday, letting them know that the board was aware of concerns about comments made by “a certain board member” on social media. The statement, which did not name Johnson, noted that the district has a broad policy of nondiscrimination in its educational programs and employment practices, among other areas.

The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday and several of the district's nondiscrimination policies are on the agenda for discussion, which Lounsbury said was an “ironic” coincidence.

The meeting will be held via Zoom because of COVID-19 concerns and restrictions, and Lounsbury said public comment will be taken at the meeting, “as they are at all of our meetings.”

Political reaction

Despite the widespread public criticism, Johnson also had supporters.

Laconia state Rep. Gregg Hough, a fellow Republican, said Johnson “did absolutely nothing wrong.”

Hough at first declined to comment when asked for his reaction to Johnson's post. When pressed on whether he thought the tweet was out of bounds, he blamed The Laconia Daily Sun for publishing an IndepthNH.com story about Johnson's tweet.

“It was a hack job designed to destroy somebody who absolutely did nothing wrong,” Hough said.

Rep. Norm Silber, R-Gilford, wrote in a letter to The Daily Sun that he is Jewish and is confident that Johnson is neither a racist nor an anti-Semite. “I know Dawn Johnson. She is my colleague and friend, and she is none of those.” There is no reason for Johnson to resign, Silber added.

Belknap County Republican Party Chairman Alan Glassman did not return several calls seeking comment.

Rep. Sherman Packard, the acting Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, said Monday morning that he had not yet had a chance to address the issue of Johnson's post, or a potential GOP call for her resignation. "I do not condone any type of racism or anit-Semitism whatsoever," said Packard, a Republican from Londonderry.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu issued a statement on the matter, saying, "Regardless of political party, we must condemn antisemitism and racism in all its forms. These comments are repugnant and appalling."

The controversy also echoed beyond the borders of the state. Andrew Anglin, the founder of the Daily Stormer, posted an article on his website titled, “The New Hampshire State Rep Who Shared a Daily Stormer Link Did Nothing Wrong.”

The Anti-Defamation League of New England had a different take, tweeting that they were “appalled to see# NewHampshire State Rep & #Laconia school board member disseminate #racist #antisemitic memes. #NH and #NHPolitics is no place to traffic in dangerous conspiracy theories that fuel #hate & violence”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org

 




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