VOICES: Hayes' social posts painted false picture of racial justice march

Category:  Opinions
Friday, October 16th, 2020 at 12:26 PM

The day before French Creek Indivisible used Edinboro as the location for their August "Racism Has No Home Here" march, the campaign page for Greg Hayes, a Republican who will be facing off with Democrat State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro this November (3rd District), posted the following:

This post led to a long comment thread complete with panic, calls to protect the town from “the carnage BLM protests so often bring” and, of course, “all lives matter.” Basically, several commentors believed this small protest in a local area could grow dangerous. 

The first Hayes post felt like and came off as fear mongering, which can add to misconceptions about these often peaceful protests. One specific misconception utilized by those in opposition of these marches is the idea of bussing in protestors who may cause harm or stir up violence. The Hayes campaign jumped on this idea in a later post that same day:

Again, this has been a common misconception. In July, the Associated Press reported on one such misunderstanding. It was in Fort Lauderdale that busses with the wrapping “Black Lives Matter” were assumed to be carrying “Antifa Rioters.” The busses actually belonged to the Toronto Raptors NBA team. Before corrected, one social media post pointing out the busses had over 6,000 retweets.

A piece from The Verge, titled “’Antifa bus’ hoaxes are spreading panic through small-town America,” covers many instances of this misinformation. In one case, in Idaho, law enforcement had to inform citizens multiple times of false information concerning the bussing in of protestors and "ANTIFA." You can see one of the corrections below (Payette County is right outside Boise):

Another case detailed by The Verge had protesting misinformation actually originating with a county sheriff. Also, The Associated Press kept record of five rural counties that had these warnings, and none came true. A commonality are that these rumors spread rapidly through social media.

The Anti-Defamation League touched on these rumors via their website, stating: “Despite widespread rumors about busloads of antifa protesters traveling the country, there is no evidence this is happening.”

Potential elected officials like Hayes need to keep in mind that this misinformation is very dangerous to spread, whether posted by him, his campaign, or otherwise. Beyond the bussing misinformation, this march wasn’t really tied to Black Lives Matter anyways, and was a separate event by a separate organization. The Hayes campaign's social media did not clarify this fact, and one of the replies to these posts read, “It will not be peaceful as they are bussing them in [from] very expensive buses all over America.”

Several replies to these posts also mentioned the right to carry, including one woman who said, “I will show up...and I will be exercising my RIGHT to carry...” 

Another man said, “Thanks for the heads up we all need to get ready.”

After the march ended, the Hayes campaign admitted in the comment thread: “They ran their mouths but kept the violence out.” Rude, but at least they were being truthful. However, they failed to acknowledge that the counter protestors had guns. In this situation, who could have more easily caused unnecessary harm? Protestors held signs, marched and there were no weapons in sight on their side. There was another reply to the posts where the Hayes campaign acknowledged the gun owners. Instead of pointing out the harm they could have caused, they instead explained: “As these folks have the right to protest so do others who carry. It is not one sided."

There's this contradiction the Hayes campaign demonstrated: first, they’re concerned about something likely safe that they don’t agree with; then misinformation ends up in calls for open carry; they then introduce danger to the situation where they were initially worried about town safety. In a situation where you want things to not turn into a riot, it is best to remove weapons entirely. Then, people will only march, chant, and go home. The Hayes campaign, perhaps indirectly, is introducing a situation where weapons are on Edinboro streets. 

This approach and reaction to a march — immediately reacting with worry and fear — feels irresponsible. Non-profit group The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), per Time Magazine, studied more than 7,750 protests in all 50 states. Their data showed that 93% of the protests for racial injustice have been peaceful. Also, the group hosting the march in Edinboro posted several times regarding their peaceful intentions.

“REMINDER: We are PEACEFULLY marching tomorrow,” the organization wrote. “We will stay peaceful no matter what.” Another post from French Creek Indivisible read: “I want to emphasize that this is a peaceful event — if anyone should try to engage with participants in a negative way, I strongly urge people to ignore it or walk away.” 

It's quite worrying that the Hayes campaign can pray for things to go well, while then not batting an eye at those open carrying firearms in the streets of Edinboro. They’re exercising their Second Amendment right, sure. But one side had guns; the other didn’t. 

Actions like these can cause harm. When people are scared enough to believe their town is being invaded, it can lead to violence. We’ve seen clashes between protestors and counter-protestors throughout the country, and we’ve seen issues with open carry in these situations. It is best to remove weapons of violence from the situation entirely.

Not taking accountability for the fact that they painted a false picture makes the biases quite visible and troubling. As someone who is voting this year, this concerns me and may worry other voters as well. I do not feel comfortable with someone who acts as fear monger in situations of peaceful protest. After all, that’s also a Constitutionally-given right (just like open carry).  

If Hayes wants to be for the people and get their votes, he needs to actually care about the people, not paint them as rioters and ignore the fact that they were met with counter protestors with guns. Social media posts matter. Confirming information before spreading it to your political base matters.

Emma McNeeley is the News Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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