Bigoted posts found on North Attleboro official’s Facebook page

Originally posted for The Sun Chronicle on Feb. 9, 2017.

NORTH ATTLEBORO – Bigoted posts have been uncovered on another town official’s Facebook page.

Images on Selectman Paul Belham’s Facebook page dating back years include posts insinuating then-President Barack Obama was a Muslim and mocking the way Mexicans speak.

Belham, 59, said Thursday those posts almost certainly were the result of online hackers.

“I got a Facebook message yesterday saying my page had been hacked, so I cleaned it up,” Belham said.

But, some of the posts stretch back over the past two years.

A May 2014 image shows Obama kissing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the cheek with the text: “The only time you’ll ever see a Muslim kiss a pig.”

Another meme from July 2015 shows an image of Obama at an presidential inaugural swearing-in, with the text: “So help me Allah,” instead of “So help me God.”

Other posts from February 2016 mock the way Mexicans might pronounce English phrases.

“Mexican word of the day: Cheapest. I told Maria a funny joke, and cheapest her pants,” one post reads.

Another says: “Why couldn’t the Mexican hunt deer during archery season?? He didn’t habanero.”

Each post is printed on a meme featuring a Mexican man wearing a sombrero.

Belham says his Facebook page gets hacked several times a year, adding that a hacker might be responsible for the postings.

He said he changes his password and cleans up his page after every incident, but still is hacked repeatedly.

“I can’t catch everything,” he said.

But when asked if there was any way he could be responsible for the posts, Belham said he wasn’t sure.

“I don’t have any idea,” he said. “I don’t remember what I did yesterday, nevertheless two years ago.”

The selectman deleted his Facebook page Thursday, shortly after a call from The Sun Chronicle.

The incident comes just two days after another prospective town official was driven from the selectmen’s race in the April 4 town election for similar postings.

Selectmen candidate James Lang, 60, dropped out of the race Tuesday after bigoted posts calling Muslims “muzzies,” “animals” and “pedophiles” and alluding to jihadist actions of Islamic State soliders came to light on his Facebook page.

Lang called the comments “thoughtlessness,” and apologized for them.

Last March, the town saw another social media fire when then-Representative Town Meeting member Paul Couturier compared former first lady Michelle Obama to a gorilla and shared a meme on his Facebook page calling for violence against Muslims.

Couturier resigned from RTM a week later, following public outrage at the posts.

Initially, at that time, Belham, who was then chairman of selectmen, was reluctant to criticize Couturier, citing his First Amendment right to free speech.

The Rev. Gretchen Weis of Murray Unitarian Universalist Church in Attleboro, who was highly critical of Couturier’s posts last year, said Thursday it is disheartening to see such views displayed by local elected officials.

Weis and Murray Church helped organize a unity rally following Couturier’s comments last spring.

“To see this happen again is heartbreaking,” she said. “I think the key for people to understand is that our community is better than this and we deserve better than this from our elected officials. People who hold public office are called to respect all people in our district with respect. (They’re) elected to represent all people of the community, regardless of their race and religion.”

Weis echoed many selectmen candidates who said Tuesday after Lang’s posts came to light that North Attleboro should be welcoming to all, and said even in their private lives, selectmen represent the town and its residents.

“I think it’s incumbent for our elected officials to rethink their Facebook postings because they are our leaders,” Weis said. “There is a fine line between free speech and hate speech. I hope that we will call upon our public officials to be their best and highest selves in service to our communities.

“I have faith and hope in the people of this area that we can do better.”

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