Under fire for a pair of retweets related to the Black Lives Matter movement, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told FOX10 News on Friday that he had done nothing wrong.
One of the retweets shows a supporter of President Donald Trump getting hit from behind by a black person. A tweet that Merrill retweeted describes it as a “war on whites” by Black Lives Matter. A second tweet that Merrill retweeted states, “When patriots decide it’s time to fight back it’s gonna be ugly.”
A coalition of social justice organizations condemned the tweets in a letter and plan a news conference Tuesday in Montgomery.
Merrill dismissed his critics as “liberal, racist activists” who are distorting his views and sowing discord.
“They try to incite racism among people, and some of the worst ones email racists who are doing that to try to hurt people’s businesses, who are trying to hurt people’s careers,” he said. “And they’re trying to put people that disagree with them somewhere other than where they currently stand.”
The activists deny this. They said Merrill’s conduct is unbecoming of an elected official sworn to serve all of the people.
“I would like for all of our elected officials to be held accountable for their shortcomings when it pertains to the citizens and their constituents here in Alabama,” said Semmes resident Unique Dunston, who plans to be at next week’s news conference.
Dunston founded an organization called Reclaiming Our Time to fight for the removal of a Confederate flag on monument at the courthouse in Marshall County, where she grew up. She said Merrill was too quick to retweet the edited video of the assault. A longer version shows the victim earlier had kicked another person.
Merrill told FOX10 News that he deleted his retweets because they were causing consternation for a friend of his. But he did not back down from the sentiment, saying the violence against the Trump supporter cannot be justified by what he had done earlier.
“That’s never acceptable, It doesn’t matter who it is or what’s going on. And that’s what the people who wrote this letter promote,” he said. “These are people who are associates of those people who were involved in that video. Now, I do not condone that. I will never condone it. I do not condone racism in any form, whatsoever.”
But Camille Bennett, who founded a group called Project Say Something in Florence, said neither her group nor the other Alabama organizations are associated with the demonstrators depicted in the video. She said it’s Merrill who is promoting violence.
“The tweets were inappropriate. They were racially insensitive. They were dog whistles that incite violence,” she said. “And our goal is to make sure that our state understands how irresponsible the behavior is, and that we shine a light on it.”
Bennett said the fact that Merrill deleted the tweets suggests an admission they were wrong.
“I think if you take them down, then you’re hesitating and you’re kind of – you’re retracting them in some way,” she said. “But then, his comments haven’t reflected that. So I can’t say what he meant when he took them down.”
This is not the first time Merrill has drawn criticism of his Twitter account. Several state residents sued him in 2018 for blocking them on the social media site. That suit is pending in a federal court in Montgomery.
Updated on Nov. 21 to make it clear that the Alabama social justice organizations deny any affiliation wih the demonstrators depicted in the video.