BISMARCK – While a state representative from Minot faces criticism and an impeachment petition for repeatedly using offensive language in online posts, other elected officials in the state have also come under scrutiny.
On Twitter, Representative Roscoe Streyle, a Republican from District 3, which includes Minot, has been calling out those who disagree with him as “libtards,” and has used the name “Pocahontas” three times in a derogatory way, as responses to Tweets, since November 2017.
A frequent “liker” of Streyle’s posts, House Representative Jake G. Blum, a Republican of District 42, which includes Grand Forks, is also on the Justice Reinvestment Committee. Not only has he liked Streyle’s posts, he was photographed giving an “alt-right” hand sign, “the air pinch with thumb and forefinger,” or the “okay” signal, which has recently been adopted by white power groups.
Streyle used the word “libtard” at least 17 times from October until December 2017, and also used other insults, including calling people “pure scum,” “libtard looney liberals,” “arrogant prick,” “idiot,” and “moron.” The name-calling has raised the call for his impeachment, initiated by Linden Stave from Rolette, North Dakota on January 2, which quickly recruited 432 out of 500 supporters by Wednesday afternoon.
“This is not a politically motivated petition,” Stave said. “This is a petition created because I am sick of seeing North Dakota tainted by divisive and childish partisan politics.”Stave came across Streyle’s abusive language while browsing Twitter, he said.
“I started it to really bring attention to the words Representative Streyle used toward his constituents,” Stave said. “That language represents a mindset that he does not respect his constituents or the office he holds in any way, shape, or form.”
Stave has seen the word used by “trolls on Twitter,” but he “had never seen it used by a state representative,” Stave said.
“On Twitter, he [Streyle] has constantly attacked and bullied North Dakotans for not agreeing with him politically, repeatedly using the word ‘libtard’ (an amalgamation of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘retard.’”
Libtard, a noun, is a “contemptuous term for a person with left-wing political views” created in the early 21st century, a blend of liberal and retard, according to the Oxford Dictionary. Wiktionary agrees, adding that the word means a “stupid liberal or progressive,” and the Online Slang Library repeats the meaning, describing it as a new word.
Some online right-wing Quora users define the term as useful, and when said makes a speaker lose credibility. The word’s antonym is “repug,” indicating Republicans are repugnant. Such recent words like libtard, cuck, and snowflake, are intrinsic to the “alt-right’s” rise, according to The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Libtard is an outdated term, recently resurrected, and used to insult liberals, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The word libtard is primarily used on alt-right and racist platforms, and can frequently be seen on the online neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer.
Democratic-NPL Chairwoman Kylie Oversen said Streyle’s insults were primarily aimed at his constituents.
“The fact that Representative Streyle has repeatedly used this insult – nearly a dozen or more times in the last few months – and continues to defend its use on social media, is unacceptable. We deserve better than offensive insults from those who represent us. If we wouldn’t accept our children using this kind of hurtful, immature language, we shouldn’t accept it from our elected officials either.”
Streyle is a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights, and introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 4017 against the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, which effectively put the federal government on notice by stating it is the “first law of nature” for North Dakota residents to bear arms.
He’s also the introducer of a House Concurrent Resolution 3037 allowing the state to forward public moneys to individuals and nonpublic entities and institutions, including elementary and secondary educational institutions.
Streyle is an introducer of House Bill 1151 in its original form, that would have stopped the reporting of oil-produced water spills of 10 barrels or less.
One of the Minot residents Streyle argued with was Matthew Bieri.
"The other night, I saw the original tweet from Rep. Streyle that stated: 'go pound sand libtard,'" Bieri said. "This was a reply to someone that I follow on Twitter. I don't know Roscoe Streyle on any level whatsoever other than my awareness that he is a representative for the Minot community. I usually won't get too involved in Twitter back and forths, but I hate the use of that word. Not as someone that is liberal or a Democrat, but that it's just genuinely offensive. There is no way that anyone can use the word 'libtard' and not know the direct connection to the term 'tard' or 'retarded.' To deny that is nonsense."
The tweeting started off with Bieri sending a series of Tweets, asking Streyle not to add 'tard' to any word.
Tweet 1 - "Roscoe," Bieri wrote. "It’s just about 2018. How about you make a resolution to not add ‘tard’ to any word. I’m not saying this because I’m a liberal snowflake or a Hillarybot or a devotee of Soros that chokes on my liberal tears (all expressions you could have used)."
"From there, things only went off the rails," Bieri said. "I don't know if I would call it an argument, I have taken no personal issue with Roscoe Streyle, but it was clear through his replies that this wasn't a discussion as much as it was an 'I'm right/you're wrong' discussion - which isn't a discussion. One of the things that he tweeted was something to the extent that the only people he dislikes are liberals. Now, that seems so completely against everything I have ever believed the North Dakota way is. Civility. An open an honest discourse. The ability to disagree with your neighbor but to love them as well.
"Through his social media presence, it appears that Roscoe Streyle has been emboldened by the election of President Trump. That he can say whatever he wants, that it's winner take all. That the politics of destruction - of total annihilation of the opposition - is what the tone for an ND State Rep. should be. To me, as a North Dakotan, as a member of the Minot community, I think that set of beliefs is garbage. We are better than that."
Another recent alt-right expression, a simple hand gesture, is the age-old “okay” sign. Historically, the okay hand signal is a metaphor for precision in the USA. In Naples, Italy, for example, the gesture symbolizes truth or authority, and in other countries it connotes a negative or vulgar symbol, according to information from the Center for Gesture and Speech Research at the University of Chicago. The okay sign’s most recent meaning however can be traced to “Smug Pepe,” a meme in which the alt-right’s green frog caricature, the god of chaos and darkness drawn as a cartoon-like deity, throws the okay sign.
The meme first began to appear on 4chan’s politics boards while depicting Trump-like depictions of Pepe in 2015. Since then, Trump himself has repeatedly thrown the hand signal, as well as White House interns, Hollywood movie stars, “internet supervillain” Milo Yiannopoulos; and white supremacy icon Richard Spencer, who has also thrown Nazi salutes -- and now, seemingly, Representative Jake G. Blum.
The okay hand signal was also used in “Operation O-KKK” in 2014 by the hacking group Anonymous against the Ku Klux Klan, in an effort to “flood Twitter and other social media websites” with posts claiming the signal was a “symbol of white supremacy.” The three upturned fingers were meant as a symbol for W and the thumb-and-forefinger circle as a symbol for P, which together stand for white power.
The Ku Klux Klan historically has a similar symbol with the thumb and pinkie tucked into the belt with three fingers protruding.
Both Streyle and Blum did not reply directly to requests for comment on Wednesday. On Thursday, Blum used Twitter to respond, and then later responded by email.
"The author’s allegations are absurd and plainly false," Blum said. "Fake controversies like this distract from the much needed conversation we must have as a nation to confront racism and other morally-repugnant views."
One person who came to Blum's defense on Facebook and on Twitter was Nick Bata, who said on Facebook last year after running unsuccessfully for North Dakota Insurance Commissioner as a Libertarian that diversity is code for anti-white. Bata, a Fargoan is also the candidate who used the phrase, “Make America Rape Again,” in a public Facebook thread in 2016.
Blum is listed as an introducer for such bills, including the legislature’s congratulations of the Red River Valley’s commitment to rebuilding after the flood of 1997, and for congratulating the University of North Dakota hockey team in 2016. Among other House and Senate bills, Blum also was behind reenacting police jurisdiction boundaries, conducting a raffle using a random number generator, and for allowing restaurants that serve alcohol to hire staff of 18 years of age.
On Facebook, Blum has joined the group UND Young Americans for Liberty, which lists 11 members. Young Americans for Liberty is a group that rose from the ashes of Young Americans for Freedom and declared a hate group in 2006 by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Young Americans for Liberty is listed as a hate group because of its sponsorship of right-wing extremist lectures, on the “perils of multiculturalism.”
UND’s Young Americans for Liberty Facebook page declares itself as a libertarian and conservative association that believes in the Second Amendment, pro-life, pro-Israel, pro-limited government, among other beliefs. Blum also supports President Donald Trump, and is a member of Facebook’s “The Deplorables Army,” a group only for “those of you supporting Donald J. Trump’s Presidency.”
Linden Stave created the petition to oust Streyle because “It seems more and more that actions and words like these by people in power are becoming a trend.” Quoting an article in the Fargo Forum, Stave said Streyle’s response was “Donald Trump does it, he’s president.”
“I created this petition because I have a hope that we, as a nation, can stand up to this toxic attitude and demand more from our leaders,” Stave said. “I hope North Dakota can be a leader in that. I believe North Dakota can point to this moment and make the right decision and we will be able to say that we as a state do not tolerate this in our legislature.
“We can have rational discourse and not lean on disrespect and childish name calling.”
More of Roscoe Streyle's Twitter and Facebook posts:
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