The mayor of Blackduck, Minn., resigned Monday after posting a Facebook meme that appeared to support running over protesters.
Rudy Patch issued a resignation letter and deleted his post. It showed what was apparently a bloody Jeep with the caption, “I don’t know what you mean by protesters on the freeway. I came through no problem.”
On Sunday night, a tanker truck drove into a large crowd of marchers on Interstate 35W near downtown Minneapolis protesting the death of George Floyd. Nobody was seriously injured, but witnesses described it as a terrifying event. Officials have said they don’t believe the truck driver was intentionally attempting to drive over protesters.
He was released from jail on Tuesday without charges.
Blackduck, a town of about 850 residents, is in Beltrami County about 25 miles northeast of Bemidji.
In his resignation letter, Patch said his sharing of the meme was a misguided attempt to show how dangerous it could be to protest on a highway.
“I have made a mistake by sharing a post without the correct context behind it,” Patch wrote. “It is not and never has been my intention to support running over protesters.
“Social media can be used as a good tool for people to spread their messages,” he wrote. “In this instance, it is a life lesson for me about how things put on social media can be mistaken without a context to back it up.”
In Sauk Rapids, Minn., two volunteer firefighters were fired on Monday for offensive social media posts.
“Threats of violence and racism are unacceptable and will not be tolerated by the city of Sauk Rapids,” officials said in a news release signed by the city’s mayor, city administrator, fire chief and police chief.
According to screen captures shared by UniteCloud, a social justice organization in the St. Cloud area, one of the firefighters, Tyler Heinen, called for deadly violence against protesters in at least two Facebook posts.
The other ousted firefighter, Tom Muehlbauer, shared a post similar to Patch’s, showing a semitrailer truck with a bloody, damaged front end that referred to protesters.
Muehlbauer is remorseful and has been communicating with UniteCloud, said Natalie Ringsmuth, the group’s founder and director.
“We are actually in contact with Tom, talking back and forth with him,” she said. “He just said to me, ‘I don’t know why I did this. I’ve lost everything I love.’ ”
Ringsmuth said Heinen hasn’t been in contact with her group, adding that Heinen’s primary employer, the owner of a small construction company, made an angry social media post, “doubling down” on the sentiments Heinen expressed. That post has since been deleted.
It’s important to have dialogue in situations such as this, Ringsmuth added.
“My organization hopes that we can provide a path to get back into relationships with these folks, because they’re part of our community,” she said. “Just because they’re not firefighters any more, they’re still members of our community. And some people won’t want to have relationships with them, and that’s OK, too.”