Police memes are white nationalist, anti-government

Police memes are white nationalist, anti-government

As the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and City Hall scramble to contain the fallout from racist and violent Facebook posts by current and former officers, first revealed from a national database by The Northsider/Southsider on Sunday, a deeper analysis of the 416 St. Louis posts compiled as part of a national study by the Plain View Project from Philadelphia reveals that a group of current and former St. Louis police officers have posted memes and statements associated with white nationalist and anti-government “militia” groups.

The posts are associated with current or former officers in the SLMPD, including one who continued his career in law enforcement after leaving the St. Louis police by working as a sheriff’s deputy in Gasconade County and as police chief of a rural Missouri town. The posts feature pictures, symbols and statements that researchers into right-wing extremist organizations have long associated with white supremacy and various militia movements.

These revelations come as St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards says that all members of the SLMPD will begin “sensitivity training” starting next week as a result of the Facebook posts that contain, racist, bigoted and violent images and statements. The police department also says it has launched an Internal Affairs investigation into the officers involved.

At the same time, the Ethical Society of Police, an African-American police organization, has filed a separate internal police complaint against 13 officers identified by the Plain View Project and revealed by The Northsider/Southsider in a pair of articles Sunday and Monday.

The Plain View Project, founded by Philadelphia attorney Emily Baker-White, analyzed several years’ worth of Facebook posts from 2,900 current and 600 former police officers from eight police departments, including St. Louis, using an algorithm to flag racist, bigoted and violent content.

The relatively low-key response in St. Louis is in marked contrast to the reaction to similar posts by Philadelphia police officers. In addition to an Internal Affairs investigation, Philadelphia’s police commissioner forcefully condemned the posts, and Philadelphia’s district attorney has said all cases involving the Philadelphia officers who posted violent or racist material on Facebook are under review and may be tossed out.

In St. Louis, a deeper analysis of the St. Louis posts highlighted by the Plain View Project reveals that some go beyond individual expressions of racism or bigotry. Posts by several current and former city officers often use symbols or phrases associated by researchers with the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center with organized hate groups trafficking in white supremacy and “militia” preparations for armed conflict.

St. Louis police Officer Michael Niethe, posting under the Facebook name “Mike James,” posted calls for armed uprisings against the government using the logo of the “Three Percenters,” a group described by anti-domestic terrorism researchers at both the ADL and SPLC as part of the violent, anti-government militia movement. 

In October 2016, Neithe posted: “The day is fast approaching when fence-sitting will no longer be possible. You will either stand with the resistance or take a knee and willingly accept the yoke of tyranny and oppression.” Next to it is the Roman numeral III, symbol of the Three Percenters. In November 2016, Neithe posted the “III” as his Facebook profile photo. In June 2015, ten days after white supremacist Dylan Roof murdered nine African-American worshipers at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., Neithe posted a picture of the Confederate flag on his Facebook page.

Current St. Louis Officers Steven Landers and Brian Demettis have used the stylized skull logo from “The Punisher” comic book character. According to the ADL, the Punisher skull logo, while popular among police and the military, has been co-opted by several violent white supremacist groups. The logo was seen on the shirts of several white nationalist marchers during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, at which a white nationalist drove over and killed counter-protestor Heather Heyer. Artist Gerry Conway, creator of “The Punisher,” said in an interview criticizing the “alt-right” and its use of the logo in January, “Using the Punisher logo is the same as wearing a Confederate flag patch.”

Tommy Dodson, a former St. Louis police officer, posted memes of the Confederate flag. Dodson went on to become a Gasconade County sheriff’s deputy and, eventually police chief of Bland, Mo., population 529, 75 miles southwest of St. Louis.  Dodson claimed in his post with the Confederate flag: “The red stands for the blood of Christ, the white border for the protection of God…thus, the message of the Confederate battle flag is, Through the blood of Christ, with the protection of God…we are united in our Christian fight for Liberty.”

According to the SPLC, this interpretation of the Confederate flag is widely used by so-called “neo-Confederate” racist groups such as the League of the South and Identity Dixie. Four members of the League of the South were charged in the pipe-and-baseball-bat beating of a black man in a Charlottesville at the 2017 Unite the Right rally.

Others of the Facebook posters include:

Shane Coats, who posted a picture of Ferguson unrest in 2014 with the caption, “Ha, ha, ha! Here’s an idea. Bring your own medical services to the riot.”  Coats also reportedly posted a story of Ferguson protesters working with Palestinians in 2015 with the caption, “God! Where’s a suicide bomber when you need one?”

And in 2015 Coats posted a story about a woman shot dead while protecting her infant with the caption,“Somehow this is gonna be whitey’s fault.” Coats is currently assigned to Police District 4.

Coats generated controversy in 2014 and 2015 by wearing a plastic bracelet that said “I am Darren Wilson” while on duty. Darren Wilson was the Ferguson police officer whose killing of Michael Brown in 2014 ignited the Ferguson unrest.

Scott Weidler, who posted a meme making fun of Mexicans in 2017. Weidler is a St. Louis officer serving in Police District 4.

Michael Joseph, who posted several gun-rights posts, as well as a photo of a suspect (not from St. Louis) who had been beaten by police, and a 2013 post showing a police officer punching a suspect with the caption, “I’m going to serve and protect the s**t out of you.”  He has been identified by police sources as St. Louis Officer Michael Joseph Calcaterra, who works in the Traffic Division.

Sgt. Thomas Mabrey, whose Facebook page says he is “Supervisor in charge of patrol officers on the night watch” and claims he has been a St. Louis police officer since 1987. Mabrey is one of the most prolific Facebook posters according to the group.

His posts include numerous statements attacking Muslims and Islam, including a 2015 post saying “Pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam”; a 2016 post reading “’White privilege’ is a myth perpetrated by those who hate white people”; and another 2016 post saying “F the Muslim turd goat humpers.”  There is a  2014 post reading “Ah, another Black History Month…or should I say Annual Bash America Month”; and in a 2016 post he says, “If the KKK is a hate group, isn’t about time we start to be honest in America and admit that #BlackLivesMatter is a hate group as well?”

Sgt. Ron Hasty, identified by the Plain View Project as Ronald E. Hasty, going by the name “Ron Nighthawk” in a flurry of white nationalist messages. The person behind the account is identified by the Plain View Project as Ronald E. Hasty. Hasty is in charge of the city’s anti-illegal dumping task force and regularly works with top City Hall officials to combat illegal dumping of trash and debris.

Hasty’s “Nighthawk” Facebook account includes a 2017 post reading, “The joke’s on the looters. On my way out of the shoe store, I put work boots in all the Air Jordan boxes.”

There is another 2017 post with video of demonstrators protesting the acquittal of then-police Officer Jason Stockley in the shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith. The video of protesters being attacked by police has the caption, “I personally loved seeing this.” Another post asks how many “likes” he could get by posting a photo of the Confederate flag.

Roger Murphey, who posted about Stockley protesters in 2017, saying, “So now they’re protesting for a lying thug by breaking the law and Lyin’ Lyda (Mayor Lyda Krewson) and kimmy g (St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner) are backing them.” Murphey is a St. Louis police officer working in the Homicide Division.

Patti Rice, a retired detective whose post in 2013 shows a poster of stick-figure police officers with batons beating a suspect on the ground, with the caption “The 3rd District: Protecting and Serving the S**t Out of You.”

To see the Plain View project’s website, go here.

To look at the specific posts associated by the study with St. Louis police officers, go here.