SNOHOMISH — The mayor of Snohomish shared a mocking image of protesters being run over by a car on his personal Facebook page late Thursday.
Mayor John Kartak, a Republican running for the state House in District 44, deleted the post and said in an interview Friday that he misunderstood the meme and shared it by mistake. The image shows a toy car hitting four people, with bold white all-caps text, “Coming this Christmas new Hasbro ‘Peaceful Protest’ action set.” It was on Kartak’s page for about 10 minutes Thursday before he deleted it.
“I never intended to post anything about people being hit by cars, I thought it was just about violence and riots that happen in streets where cars are parked,” said Kartak, who is running against incumbent Democrat John Lovick. “I thought it depicted a riot that spilled over on top of a car.”
Kartak said he misinterpreted the meme on his small cell phone screen and did not see the person underneath the car before sharing the image. He said his goal was to condemn violence and that the people spilling over the car looked like they were attacking each other.
Linda Redmon, president of Snohomish City Council, said in an email that the image left her speechless, and that it was not representative of Snohomish as whole.
“Our city is full of people who respect the First Amendment and the right to peacefully protest that is enshrined therein,” Redmon said Friday. “A post depicting as humorous a car running into protesters is condoning the senseless murder of people practicing their Constitutionally protected rights. I can’t begin to express how disappointed I am to see this.”
Earlier this year, Kartak faced hours of heated criticism at city council meetings by citizens accusing him of a tone-deaf, welcoming response to armed vigilantes who showed up to “protect” the city in late May, during what was supposed to be a Black Lives Matter protest. People carrying rifles responded to the city as rumors spread about a supposed anti-fascist threat to damage historic downtown businesses.
At the time there was real violence at protests in major cities across the country, including Seattle, about 30 miles south. However, like in many other small cities that were duped, the Snohomish threat turned out to be a hoax.
Nearly identical bogus threats in other towns were later tied to a white nationalist group.
An estimated 100 armed vigilantes swarmed downtown streets in Snohomish, many drinking, at least two of them flaunting a Confederate flag and some bearing emblems of far-right hate groups, according to photos and witnesses. Kartak went on conservative radio shows, saying the alt-right contingent was small, and that even if their views were distasteful, they had a right to be there. He accused critics, specifically naming local teachers, of showing “ignorance and hubris” regarding freedom of speech.
The city saw weeks of protests calling for Kartak to resign.
Over the past months, dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters have been killed or injured by cars.
At another Snohomish protest around the same time, a pickup truck driver recklessly fishtailed past a group of students holding signs at 2nd Street and Avenue D.
In July, Summer Taylor, 24, was struck and killed by a car during a protest on I-5 in Seattle. Hours later, a King County detective posted an “All Lives Splatter” meme on his Facebook page, showing a person being hit by a truck.
That detective was placed on leave.
In September, an SUV drove into a group of protesters who were blocking traffic near downtown Everett, leaving two people clinging to its hood. Nobody was hurt.
Back in August 2017, protester Heather Heyer was killed and several others were injured at a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a man with well documented far-right beliefs drove into a crowd rallying against racism. The model of car used in the Charlottesville attack, a Dodge Challenger, appeared similar to the toy car in the meme shared by Kartak.
“I want to deeply apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended, that was not my intention,” the mayor said Friday, adding that he thinks it’s important that he is being held accountable.
Kartak said he has always supported the right to peacefully protest. Asked if protesters in Snohomish need to be concerned for their safety, Kartak said, “Not that I’m aware of,” but that everyone should always be careful.
“There is tension and you never know who may come in to a city,” Kartak said. “There are people who are violent and we are in difficult times right now.”
It’s the second time in a week that a Snohomish County official has come under fire for a controversial meme on a personal Facebook page. Snohomish County Councilwoman Megan Dunn, a Democrat, received widespread criticism for a post showing a cross-stitched Molotov cocktail — which an Everett police union interpreted as an anti-cop message. Dunn said the meaning of the post had been misconstrued, but apologized for it at a County Council meeting.
Herald reporter Caleb Hutton contributed to this story.
Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.
Ian Davis-Leonard reports on working class issues through Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. To support Ian’s work at The Daily Herald with a tax-deductible donation, go to www.heraldnet.com/support.