Originally published for The Sun Chronicle on Feb. 7, 2017.
NORTH ATTLEBORO – A candidate for selectman quit the campaign Tuesday after bigoted posts about Muslims came to light on his Facebook page.
James Lang, 60, abandoned the race after a batch of images anonymously sent to The Sun Chronicle showed numerous Islamophobic comments on Facebook, including a batch of political memes alluding to the jihadist actions of Islamic State soldiers.
The incident comes a year after another town official was driven from office following his disparaging online posts about Muslims and another comparing then-first lady Michelle Obama to a gorilla.
Lang, who was seeking one of two selectmen seats among a field of five other candidates in the April 4 town election, said Tuesday the postings were the result of “thoughtlessness” and were not representative of his views of Muslims.
“It doesn’t make me feel good,” he said.
“You go on there and you read something and repost it, and then you go onto something else. You don’t think.”
In March, Lang shared a meme of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old Texas boy arrested last year for bringing a homemade clock to school that initially was mistaken for a bomb.
The meme shows Mohamed next to his clock with the text: “This Sunday, don’t forget to turn your bombs back one hour.”
An October 2015 posting of the same boy referred to him as a “Muzzie runt.”
In June, another meme on Lang’s page reads: “Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you.”
In other posts, Lang refers to Muslims as “muzzies,” “animals,” “pedophiles” and “dirty old men who do not take showers and believe it’s ok to rape young girls as young as 12.”
He called them “a bunch of goat butt sniffin, ragity headed filthy boy ignaramuses” and in one post liked a comment that called for violence against the “towelheads.”
The postings follow a year-old controversy surrounding former Representative Town Meeting member Paul Couturier, who was under fire last March after sharing Facebook posts against Muslims and African Americans.
The posts sparked an uproar from town residents who said the views did not represent North Attleboro, and Couturier resigned a week later.
Lang acknowledged Tuesday that social media has gotten others in trouble, noting he mainly uses it to connect with family and friends.
Knowing he would be under public scrutiny as a town official, Lang said he tried to remove the postings from his Facebook page before his run for selectmen.
“Obviously, I didn’t do a good enough job,” he said.
In a formal statement, Lang said he was solely at fault for his comments.
“Although I have a number of friends, co-workers and associates that are of all faiths, backgrounds and parts of the world, it is without a doubt a strike against me for alluding to something that could and has been inappropriately conveyed as being who I am,” he said.
Now, Lang said he plans to shut down his Facebook page to get rid of the posts once and for all.
Nonetheless, the posts have drawn comments from other selectmen candidates who said town officials should be welcoming of all residents of North Attleboro – regardless of race, gender or religion.
“My initial reaction is that I’m disgusted and appalled by that,” said selectmen Chairman Patrick Reynolds, who is running for re-election. “Anyone who runs for public office has to represent everyone in town, 100 percent, from every race, religion or creed.”
Reynolds was the only selectman to initially denounce Couturier’s comments last March.
“On issues like this, unity has to start at the top,” he said. “So, it’s troubling to me to think that someone could be representing our town with these beliefs. Whether or not they meant them, having views like that is concerning to me.”
Reynolds called for Lang to meet with members of the local Islamic community to learn more about their faith.
Former selectman Michael Thompson who is seeking to return to the board also said acceptance and respect is important.
“Those comments certainly are not representative of me,” Thompson said.
“We are a country of immigrants – that’s who we are – and everyone should be treated equally. We need to respect that and respect people, regardless of what their religious beliefs are,” he said.
Candidate Keith Lapointe spoke to the impact of words, and said town officials especially need to be careful of what they say.
“First of all, I’m not familiar with the specifics of the comments, as I have not seen them,” Lapointe said. “But we all need to take accountability for our words – our words matter. That is especially true for those of us seeking public office and representing all members of our community.”
Mark Williamson, another former selectman, called for Lang to take responsibility for his comments, and said the town needs unity rather than divisiveness.
“For me, it’s quite simple. The problem we have with the current leadership in this town is divisiveness. What voters need to focus on are candidates who have the potential to unify the newly formed board of selectmen,” Williamson said. “Comments like that create more divisiveness when what our town needs is unity.”
Selectwoman Anne Lonzo, who is also up for re-election in April, declined to comment directly on Lang’s postings, but said the board is working toward a new social media policy for town officials.
Although Lang says he has quit the race for selectman, his name will appear on the ballot in next Tuesday’s preliminary election to reduce the field of candidates to four. That ballot has already been printed.
This article spurred a series of follow up articles, including:
- North selectmen candidates weigh in on need for social media policy
- Bigoted posts found on North Attleboro official’s Facebook page
- Resident promises protests if North Attleboro selectman doesn’t resign
- Hacking of Facebook pages possible, but not probable, experts say
- Public officials should be on notice about their public postings
- North Attleboro selectman admits to protesters he was responsible for bigoted posts
- North Attleboro selectmen take step toward social media policy