An attempt by Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano to turn a 9/11 remembrance into a political statement blew up into a social media firestorm last week.
Mariano shared to his Facebook account a meme showing the moment United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The attacks from Al-Qaeda in New York, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and aboard United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pa., left nearly 3,000 dead.
The meme included the statement, “‘Never forget’ - you said..,’’ above the photograph showing a fireball from the exploding jet. But below that picture, it says, “I am the proof you have forgotten,’’ across an image of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a Somali-American and a Muslim.
Mariano offered no commentary or explanation at the time for the social media post. But it attracted a blizzard of critical commentary from the public. Some called Mariano’s post racist and xenophobic and asked for his resignation. Several Twitter posts included the hashtag #DemandJackResign.
“Stuff like this only comes from ultra right wing hate groups,’’ David TK Hayes of Zephyrhills said on his own Facebook account, “but sadly gets promoted by the representatives that are supposed to be working for everyone. This is vile.’’
“This kind of hateful rhetoric not only fuels violence against folks that may worship differently or look differently than us, but it labels Pasco as a backwards, hateful county. We are not, we are better than that,’’ Kelly Smith of Wesley Chapel said on Twitter. She was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the commission in 2018 and for the state House earlier this year.
In an interview, Mariano, the father of Florida Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, acknowledged that he shared the post, but removed it “when I saw people were upset.’’
“It had nothing to do with race or religion,’’ he said.
Mariano said he shared the meme because of Omar’s comments in March, when she referenced the 9/11 attacks as “some people did some things.’’
“It always bothered me, and when I saw that post I shared it,’’ Mariano said. Omar’s description of the terrorist attacks were divisive, he said, and “hid who did it.’’
Over the weekend, Omar appeared on the CBS news show “Face the Nation’’ and answered people who had criticized her, including the son of a 9/11 victim.
“So 9/11 was an attack on all Americans. It was an attack on all of us, and I certainly could not understand the weight of the pain that the victims of the families of 9/11 must feel, but I think it is really important for us to make sure that we are not forgetting the aftermath of what happened after 9/11,” Omar said.
“Many Americans found themselves now having their civil rights stripped from them, and so what I was speaking to was the fact that as a Muslim, not only was I suffering as an American who was attacked on that day, but the next day I woke up as my fellow Americans were now treating me as a suspect.”
On Sept. 12, Mariano added a second post to his Facebook account showing a video from NBC News of U.S. Rep. Daniel Crenshaw, R-Texas, a former U.S. Navy Seal, defending the criticism of Omar. That, too, drew strong disapproval of Mariano, and the post can now only be viewed by his Facebook friends.
“Further proof that he didn’t take that post down because it was wrong, but because people were calling him out on it,’’ said Smith.