Iron County Commissioner Paul Cozzens posted a meme on Facebook that suggested violence against Black Lives Matter protesters or members of Antifa would be justified in the wake of the “defund the police” movement.
The online discussion began with Salt Lake County Council member Aimee Winder Newton’s Facebook thread theorizing the calls to defund the police precipitated a run on ammunition and firearms.
“If people don’t believe that law enforcement will be able to protect them, they will find a way to protect their families and properties,” wrote Winder Newton. "Did you know that AR-15′s have been selling out the day they ship in for the past few months?
“I believe having a police department is the best way to ensure public safety ... Let’s be careful what we wish for.”
In response, Cozzens posted a meme showing what appears to be a soldier with a gun in his lap with the caption, “Warning to BLM & Antifa. Once you’ve managed to defund & eliminate the police, there’s nobody protecting you from us. Remember that.”
Cozzens' post was flagged by Iron County resident Jesse Harris on Twitter, who said “An Iron County commissioner spreading his murder fantasies on Facebook like it’s no big deal.”
Cozzens says he did not post the meme as a threat against Black Lives Matter or Antifa.
“It was meant to point out the lunacy of those that continue to push to defund our law enforcement,” said Cozzens in an email. “It reinforces how backing our law enforcement is our only sensible option to keep the peace.”
Cozzens says he has since deleted the post.
Protesters, including in Utah, have called to “defund the police." While different people may mean different things when they call for that, it generally has meant shifting police funding to social programs in an attempt to reduce inequality. The Salt Lake City Council approved a modest police budget cut in response to such calls.
“It’s deeply disturbing that an elected official would even insinuate without the presence of police they would happily murder their political opponents in the street,” Harris told The Salt Lake Tribune. “There’s no room in a free society for such threats of violence no matter how deeply the disagreement runs.”
Cozzens pointed out the meme was not something he created. He came across it online and then shared it.
So where did it come from?
The meme appears to have originated with far-right militia groups, including the one that may have led an Illinois teen to drive to Kenosha, Wis., where he is accused of shooting and killing two Black Lives Matter protesters and wounded a third.
A reverse image search online shows the meme was posted in the “Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property” Facebook group that was started by a local Wisconsin militia group known as the “Kenosha Guard.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the Kenosha Guard post on Facebook was promoted by the far-right website Infowars but has since been taken down. The post was a call to arms for armed citizens to come to Kenosha in response to protests following an incident in which a police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back seven times.
Cozzens says he did not mean to threaten violence against the Black Lives Matter movement. “We’ve adopted two kids who are Chinese. All lives matter in my book,” he said.