STAFFORD – Not long after a township councilman’s social media shares made local headlines for their controversial content, residents took to the podium at a recent council meeting to chide him on the matter.
A few weeks back, Stafford Councilman George Williams posted a meme to The Real Parents of Stafford Twp NJ Facebook page that took a jab at the Facebook Community Standards Community. The meme was a photo of a group of young adults of various races, genders, and assumed sexual orientation.
Williams was later called out for replying to a comment on this meme. One resident posted “Where’s my sniper rifle.” Williams commented “you mean your semi fully automatic assault rifle?”
Some grew concerned over the comment, calling it racist, bigoted, or inappropriate.
The Real Parents of Stafford Twp NJ Facebook page describes itself as “The PC free page for our town.” The About This Group section of the page reads: “We don’t take life too seriously here. We’re on the planet for a good time not a long time!! I’ve been messaged in the past about people being offended. Let me get this clear, I am not your mother or your father. I am not going to censor anyone on this page and if you report anyone to Facebook that is the only way you will be booted off of this page. You don’t like it here? Leave!!”
Despite this, many residents still found the comments disturbing, especially coming from a township official.
Both residents in support of and in opposition to Councilman William’s comments had some points to make at the August 13 council meeting.
A regular at township meetings, Barbara Reynolds, said that she was “sad and disappointed” when she read about Williams’ online conduct in an article from The Sandpaper. After visiting the Facebook page herself, she said she was “deeply disturbed by what’s going on in our town…and I’m not the only one.”
And she isn’t. Another resident followed up Reynolds’ comments saying, “This behavior should not occur in our community and certainly not coming from a township leader.”
On the other hand, there were residents who stood up to defend Williams’ honor, namely the admins and some members of the Facebook page.
Stafford resident David Jeffries, who made the initial sniper rifle comment, said, “My comment was taken out of context, don’t be mad at George [Williams]…my shot was at the community standards.”
Jeffries, who served in the Marine Corps, noted that he does not have an issue with individuals of another race, gender, sexual orientation.
“It was a mistake and to anybody that I offended, I apologize,” he said.
Chris Molla, one of the page’s administrators, said that he established the page as a place where individuals could say anything, because too many people were being censored.
“It’s mostly Republicans and conservatives on Facebook that are being censored,” said Molla. “People want to take something that was meant as something humorous and…I think we have bigger problems in this town.”
Molla spoke in defense of himself, Williams, and other members of the page, stating that their beliefs do not make them a racist or bigot simply because they are different.
While pro-Williams individuals made their stance known, another Stafford resident left the building dramatically with a slam of the council meeting room door.
Stafford resident Lisa Edwards, acknowledging Jeffries’ apology, said “I think that’s all anyone is asking you to do,” to Williams.
When Williams finally spoke up in response, he said, “When I say something like that, and a paper takes my words and twists it, its unethical journalism and it’s reckless…that’s not fair to me.”
Williams refused to offer an apology to Edwards or any other residents during the public forum.
Concerns regarding Williams’ social media presence extend further than just this shared post to the Stafford page.
On his personal Facebook page, Williams has been known to post other memes, one of which makes a joke of the migrant crisis at the US border. This particular meme shows a photo of a border patrol van with the tagline “How to pick up Mexican girls.”
While Williams’ has not put forth a public apology of any kind since the original post stirred the pot, other members of the township council are not condoning these types of posts.
A statement from Business Administrator Matthew von der Hayden read “The Township does not endorse, support or comment in any private Facebook groups…The Mayor and Township Council do not condone the posting of offensive material.”
As the group dictates, Real Parents of Stafford Twp NJ Facebook page, like many others, is a place for members to exercise their freedom of speech. While Williams and others may post what some consider prejudiced memes or posts in poor taste, this is not technically a crime.
According to the American Library Association, “The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. To be clear, the First Amendment does not protect behavior that crosses the line into targeted harassment or threats, or that creates a pervasively hostile environment. But merely offensive or bigoted speech does not rise to that level, and determining when conduct crosses that line is a legal question that requires examination on a case-by-case basis.”