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Concerns raised over Ron Christianson’s Facebook account activity; Professor: Elected officials are rightly held to a higher standard

Tribune file photo Willmar City Council member Ron Christianson participates in a regular meeting at the Municipal Utilities building auditorium. Concerns have been raised about his supposed Facebook account's likes and comments.1 / 2
Tribune file photo Ben Larson talking about the goals for the MNyou Youth Garden Wednesday, May 31, at The Goodness Coffee House. Larson is one of the individuals raising concerns about supposed likes and comments from Willmar City Council member Ron Christianson’s Facebook account.2 / 2

WILLMAR - Community members have raised concerns about the supposed likes and comments from Willmar City Council member Ron Christianson’s Facebook account, specifically on the page of a Willmar woman whose posts are frequently critical of Muslims.

Christianson’s Facebook profile is shown to have “liked” an Oct. 14 post on the woman’s Facebook page that includes this passage: “We need to get these people out of our country and back to other Muslim hell holes where they will fit in because they don’t fit in here and never will.”

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Dec. 5: Video of the Public Forum portion of Willmar City Council's Dec. 4, 2017, meeting

Dec. 5: Public speaks about Willmar City Councilor Christianson's social media activity

Other posts on the woman’s Facebook page with which Christianson is shown to have apparently interacted in some way include references to “illiterate, uneducable people with the average IQ of 68,” and “diseases, crime and filth.”

The Tribune is not identifying the woman because she is not a public official.

The Willmar City Council does not have a social media policy, and the matter has not been in front of the council, but it is expected on Monday to hear from Ben Larson, an appointed member of Willmar’s Human Rights Commission, who said he thinks Christianson should resign his seat.

“I think he should resign. He is showing he doesn’t support his constituents,” Larson said in an interview with the West Central Tribune. “He shouldn’t be representing this city. There are a lot of people in this city that want to move this city in a more progressive manner and this guy is holding us back. He is a dead weight.”

When contacted for comment on Thursday, Christianson said those bringing up concerns “are going to accuse me of anything. There is such a thing as the First Amendment.”

He refused to comment further, saying he didn’t have the time.

“I’m a busy man,” Christianson said.

The Tribune reached out to Christianson again on Friday and left a voicemail. Christianson did not respond.

Larson does not dispute Christianson’s right to free speech, but questions whether Christianson should be representing a diverse city such as Willmar if he is supporting such comments.

The United States Census Bureau, in its 2015 American Community Survey, estimated Willmar had a population of approximately 19,685. While Willmar is still significantly white, 70.7 percent, the survey said about 6 percent of Willmar’s residents were black or African American and 21 percent Hispanic or Latino. Other races living in Willmar include American Indian and Asian.

Larson raised his concerns to fellow members of the Human Rights Commission during that body’s last regular meeting on Nov. 21. The commission – whose mission is “to facilitate equal opportunity and improve human relations for all citizens,” according to the city website – ultimately took no position on the matter, but members encouraged Larson to speak out as he saw fit.

City Council member Shawn Mueske sits on the Human Rights Commission and participated in the Nov. 21 discussion, saying an elected official should know better.

“It is completely hurtful and divisive and no one should be doing that who is supposed to be representing the constituents of the city. It is not acceptable,” Mueske said.

Larson said he intends to speak during the open forum portion of Monday’s City Council meeting. Members of the public are given three minutes to address any topic. The council does not typically address each topic at that time.

After Larson and others in the community first raised concerns, the Tribune reviewed posts on the woman’s Facebook page from October through November and found Christianson, via his own Facebook account, appears to have “liked” several of them and commented on others. Depending on the privacy setting of a Facebook profile page, people can read and comment on posts, as well as react to posts by simply using the “like button” at the bottom of a post.

After the Tribune contacted Christianson Thursday to ask him about his Facebook likes and comments on the woman’s posts, her Facebook  page was changed and the posts are no longer public.

A post on the woman’s Facebook page dated Oct. 3 began with the author relating her advice to a student to get out of Willmar as soon as the student obtained his degree. One passage states, “There are more and more people leaving when it’s possible for them because our town has been given away to the most illiterate, uneducable people with the average IQ of 68, and the most brutal, the most evil and the most disgusting culture in the world.”

Christianson’s account appears to have liked the post.

Another of the woman’s posts on her Facebook page, dated Oct. 14, includes the following excerpt:

“Now we are flooded with illiterate Mexicans and Muslims. These people have exceedingly low IQs and bring diseases, crime and filth into our country that our forefathers sacrificed so much for. Is that our fate to end up with no longer a culture worth a damn just a bunch of mongrels gnawing on a bone?”

The post goes on to say “If you believe in Sharia law, abuse of women, child marriages, sex with animals and the dead, sex mutilation of little girls, pedophilia, lying, stealing, public pooping and peeing then you will fit right in with your Muslim friends.”

Facebook shows Christianson’s account liked that post too.

Larson had made note of that particular language.

“Ron is an elected official and he is supposed to represent his constituents. When he shows support for comments like Somalis and Mexicans have lower IQs and they bring crime and filth to our community, he is not representing those people in his ward. He should be held accountable and he should have to respond about why he supports those comments,” Larson told the Tribune.

Larry Jacobs, the director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Hubert H. Humphrey School and Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota, said that elected officials are rightly held to a higher standard because they represent all citizens of the city and certain speech can divide the community.

“That cuts to the appropriateness of him holding a public office,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs added that speech such as what Christianson apparently is reacting to is no different than disparaging remarks about women or blacks.

“This isn’t about political correctness but being a community,” Jacobs said.

Christianson’s account is shown to have commented on a post on the woman’s Facebook page dated Nov. 12 in which the author says she is under attack “about my reaction to the unchecked Muslim invasions of the cities of the world. In not one instance have these invasions been a positive thing.”

The comment from Christianson’s account said, “Your antagonists are ill-educated and really don’t know sh_ _” and in a reply to other commenters, “Best to ignore their ill conceived replies. They’re definitely walking around with blinders on and very confused.”

As recently as Thursday the woman’s Facebook page showed a new post that included statements about the rise in hate crimes against Muslims.

“Could it be because Islam wants us and the Jews dead and are determined to destroy our country as well as Europe?” the post said.

Christianson’s account is shown to have commented: “You speak for many more people than you’ll ever know. You have blessed us with your ability to put into words exactly what we are thinking, but don’t know how to express in writing.”

The Willmar City Charter has specific provisions regarding the forfeiture of office or recall of a council person, and Larson doesn’t believe Christianson’s apparent actions rise to that level. However, when he speaks in front of the council Monday, Larson hopes other councilors will respond.

“I would like the other council members to respond in a public way,” Larson said. “I think they should denounce him showing support for these kind of views. And I think most will.”

Larson said he believes Christianson should resign, but he also wants to make sure the city’s voters know the kind of language and beliefs Christianson has seemingly supported on Facebook.

“I just think his constituents should know he is only representing his white, far right, Christian constituents,” Larson said during the Nov. 21 Human Rights Commission meeting. Christianson’s seat on the council is up for election in November 2018.

Larson also wants to stand up for all the people in Willmar, no matter their religion or ethnic background.

“We want to move our community forward. This community is diverse. We should fight for representation for all,” Larson said on Thursday.

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