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Magnolia Mayor Calls for Alderman to Resign for ‘Racist Rhetoric’ About Protests

Magnolia Mayor Anthony Witherspoon says he will formally call for Alderman Cornacchione to design this evening. Photo courtesy Anthony Witherspoon.

The African American mayor of Magnolia, Miss., will formally call for a white alderman to resign tonight after the official made a Facebook post calling on law enforcement to “Clear the Streets” of anti-racism protesters with “Snow Plows for Snow Flakes.” Mayor Anthony Witherspoon said that the alderman, Joe Cornacchione, also liked subsequent comments from his Facebook friends who suggested police ought to use “fire hoses” and “buck shots.”

“I thought it was very insensitive, and I thought the focus at this point in time for those of us in office should be one that is focused on a message of healing and bringing the communities in this country together, and not to regurgitate dog-whistle politics or racist rhetoric,” Witherspoon, whose southwest Mississippi town is in Pike County, told the Mississippi Free Press today.

The mayor posted screenshots of Cornacchione’s since-deleted post on Monday night, and highlighted the comments he said the alderman had liked.

“Fire hoses works good (sic) and they get a free bath,” the first commenter, Harvey Jones, wrote. 

“Buck shot works better,” read another from commenter Sharon Lang Ard.

‘He Engages in Dog-Whistle Politics’

Witherspoon called Cornacchione’s post and the comments he said he engaged with “dog-whistle politics,” noting their 1960s resonances. Famous civil rights-era photographs captured Birmingham, Ala., firemen violently blasting peaceful black protesters with firehoses.

Under his own Facebook post, Witherspoon commented with one of those photographs and his own message: “Alderman Cornacchione, I  be damn if this history repeats itself,” he wrote.

Still, the mayor told the Mississippi Free Press that he could not say the Facebook post “was shocking to me coming from Alderman Cornacchione.” 

“He engages in dog-whistle politics quite frequently by sharing divisive posts since the day that President Obama was sworn into office,” Witherspoon said. “So this is not really unexpected behavior for Alderman Cornacchione, but I think this time he’s crossed a line.”

Cornacchione, who did not respond to a request for comment this afternoon, is also an instructor at nearby Southwest Community College in Summit, Miss., where he is the program director for residential carpentry.

His Facebook page includes a number of inflammatory posts. Last night, he posted a photoshopped image of billionaire George Soros, a Jewish philanthropist and Holocaust survivor, with his smiling face surrounded by flames.

“As Riots Continue and America Burns, This Man Smiles,” the photo reads. Soros has been the subject of countless false right-wing conspiracy theories over the years, which often baselessly blame him for stoking social unrest. Those conspiracy theories are part of a long history of anti-Semitic tropes in the United States and around the world that paint Jews as secretly controlling or manipulating world events for their own “global” aspirations.

The official’s Facebook page also includes a scan of what he claims is his mother’s official 1974 United Daughters of the Confederacy membership certificate. The Daughters were a key driver of the post-Civil War effort to rebrand the Confederacy’s fight to preserve slavery as a fight for “state’s rights,” and are responsible for many of the towering Confederate monuments in towns and cities across Mississippi and other Southern states. 

Cornacchione is among several Mississippi officials whose comments on the current protests have drawn scrutiny. In Petal, Miss., all six members of the board of aldermen called for Mayor Hal Marx to resign after he defended the police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck in the minutes leading up to his death in Minneapolis, Minn. 

Activists called on Petal, Miss., Mayor Hal Marx to resign over remarks he made about George Floyd’s death. Photo by Ashton Pittman.

Madison County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Hancock also drew the ire of some Mississippians for a Facebook post in which she said she hoped the “deadly strain” of COVID-19 infects the protesters, later calling it a joke.

‘This County is in Dire Need of Leadership’

Mayor Witherspoon said he has already spoken to two other town aldermen, who both agreed with his decision to bring a resolution at a 5:30 p.m. town meeting tonight calling for Cornacchione’s resignation.

“As an elected official, this country is in dire need of leadership,” Witherspoon said. “Not only tonight will I be calling for the resignation of Alderman Cornacchione by resolution, but also the resignation of President Donald J. Trump, for his lack of leadership and for his reckless behavior in the Oval Office, fanning the flames of racism and reminding my community of a turbulent time in America from the ‘60s—in fact, from the time of our arrival.”

In recent days, Trump has called for violent action against demonstrators across the country, and invoked the possibility of using the military to attack them.

Yesterday, Trump used law enforcement to clear out a throng of peaceful protesters near the White House by shooting them rubber bullets and tear gas so that he could march over to the St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he later posed for a photo-op while holding up a Bible. Church clergy were among those hit in the attacks and removed by law enforcement. Church leaders later condemned the move.

While some Republicans in Congress defended Trump, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, condemned his actions in a statement today.

“There is no right to riot, no right to destroy others’ property, and no right to throw rocks at police. But there is a fundamental — a Constitutional — right to protest, and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop,” Sasse’s statement reads. “Every public servant in America should be lowering the temperature and that means saying two basic truths over and over: (1) police injustice — like the evil murder of George Floyd — is repugnant and merits peaceful protest aimed at change; (2) riots are abhorrent acts of violence that hurt the innocent. Say both things loudly and repeatedly, as Americans work to end the violence and injustice.”


Officials ordered the use of high-pressure firehoses on high school protesters in a 1963 civil rights protest in Birmingham, Ala. Photo by George Moore/Life.

Trump and his allies justify their extreme stances against protesters by pointing to burned buildings in a number of cities, smashed windows, and theft. But videos on social media also show numerous incidents in which peaceful protests devolved after law enforcement appeared to attack non-violent demonstrators. In Louisville, Ky., officials say police shot and killed David McAtee, a black man, while he was inside his own business as protests raged outside. Law enforcement officials have also attacked numerous journalists; one Guardian freelance reporter is blind after an officer shot a rubber bullet into her eye.

‘Fanning the Flames of Racism … Won’t Be Tolerated’

Magnolia’s mayor says he condemns any “rioting” or “looting,” but that “the majority of people” protesting are doing so peacefully and seeking to end police brutality against black people, like George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.

“I’m prepared, first of all tonight, to ask our community to pray for the family of George Floyd and for our law-enforcement officers here and this country at large so that community trust can be brokered between police forces nationwide by establishing police protocols and practices and training so that black men, just by the color of their skin, are not viewed as a lethal weapon,” Witherspoon told the Mississippi Free Press. “The only way we’re going to change that is by the establishment of policy that dismantles institutional and systemic racism.”

Then, the mayor said, he will make clear that Magnolia rejects Cornacchione’s rhetoric.

“We are doing what we have to do in Magnolia to to keep our community intact and to let everyone else know we are not going to stand for dividing our city or fanning the flames of racism,” Witherspoon said. “It won’t be tolerated.”

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