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McLean County GOP's Facebook Post On Charlottesville Splits Local Republicans

Chuck Erickson closeup
Ralph Weisheit
McLean County Republican Party chair Chuck Erickson.

The McLean County Republican Party is facing criticism over a Facebook post that sided with President Donald Trump and his widely condemned “both sides” remarks in the wake of the Charlottesville violence.

The post was shared by local GOP chair Chuck Erickson around 7 p.m. Tuesday. By Wednesday morning it had attracted more than 100 comments, including many critical of the party.

“President Trump says the 'alt-left' bears some responsibility for violence in Charlottesville, 'nobody wants to say that.' Violence coming from the left, which also occurred in Charlottesville, or from the right, is wrong, regardless of the source,” the original Facebook post says. “A common sense to statement to most people, but not today's media, who only want to target the alt-right, and ignore any blame to the alt-left!”

Erickson, also a McLean County Board member, tried to clarify the post two hours later as comments began to roll in. He issued an additional clarifying statement Wednesday morning.

“The statement above condemns all violence, whether from the left or right, and when from the right, it is wrong! There is no defense of the alt-right above unless one wants to be offended! It is a critique of the media for not condemning it from all sides, not just one!” Erickson wrote.

Comments on the post included reaction from other local Republican officials.

“This is wrong,” wrote McLean County State’s Attorney Jason Chambers. “There is nothing about GOP values which should do anything short of condemning hate groups. It should not even be a political issue. No vote is worth your soul. Nazis are bad. The KKK is bad. If you can't say it unequivocally, then it is a problem.”

McLean County Board member Josh Barnett, a Republican from Bloomington’s southeast side, said he was disappointed in the Facebook post.

“Let me be crystal clear: Those comments do not represent me in any way,” wrote Barnett, a former member of the local GOP executive committee. “The yells of racists and hatemongers against African-Americans, Latinos, Jews, Catholics, LGBTQ community and countless others must not stand. It is our duty as Americans and humans to raise our voices in opposition to evil wherever it is found.”

“If I was party chairman. It certainly would give me pause to see the reaction from this post. It would make me reconsider a number of things. First and foremost the post itself. And secondly, whether or not my voice should be the voice that’s leading the party.

“One of the issues here is, does this post represent the party? Or does it represent Chuck Erickson?" Barnett said. "I think that’s where there is some fuzzy area there.”

Cheryl Gaines, a former Normal Town Council member who unsuccessfully ran for Normal Township supervisor last spring as a Republican, said she disagreed with the party’s post too.

“The neo-Nazis/Nazis are the issue in our country right now,” Gaines wrote. “Couching criticism of them in criticism of others lessens the awfulness of their message. This isn’t just about the violence that occurred the other day. It is about a crisis of our Constitution, our morals, ethics, and caring for all of our citizens.”

Normal Town Council member Scott Preston, who serves on the McLean County Republican Party's executive committee, said he was "horrified and sickened" by the events in Charlottesville.

"I perceived the initial Facebook post last night the same way many people did. I was quite disappointed to say the least by how I perceived it," Preston told GLT. "I do know Chuck and believe he certainly did not intend for it to come out how a lot of people perceived it."

Erickson issued a lengthy statement Wednesday to clarify the original Facebook post. Read the whole statement.

"We condemn violence in all its forms," Erickson wrote. "The McLean County Republican Party condemns anti-Semitism, racism, the KKK and the Nazi Party, and any other group which seeks to undermine or remove our constitutional republic form of government and/or seeks to eliminate a group of human beings."

Erickson said the original Facebook post was misrepresented by commenters. When asked if the Facebook post will hurt the Republican Party brand locally, here's what Erickson said:

"I always have to worry about the Republican Party brand is going to be hurt," Erickson told GLT. "I'm the chairman. That's my job is to worry about it. My job is also to protect the brand. I don't think the post would have done anything to hurt the brand, but the fact that some have construed it to potentially be hurtful to the brand, then I need to as chairman to exercise my responsibility to clarify the thoughts in which that original statement was made. And that's what I've done."

McLean County Board vice chair Jim Soeldner spoke out Wednesday on Trump's remarks.

"I am a proud Republican, but I can no longer sit silent, hoping our president will change and apologize for things he has said and done," Soeldner tweeted.

You can also listen to GLT's full Sound Ideas segment on the controversy.

GLT's Sound Ideas segment on the Facebook controversy.

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.
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