The melon trap 2

Adrian Jawort digs deeper into the Jennifer Olsen story. Lots of stuff here you haven’t seen elsewhere, from this week’s Outpost:


For The Outpost

The man who lit that match that started a wildfire over a racist joke allegedly posted online by the chairman of the Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee says he had no desire to feed a media frenzy.

Last week’s Outpost reported about the alleged online indiscretions of Jennifer Olsen, chairwoman of the YCRCC and a leader of the Yellowstone County Montana Shrugged Tea Party.

On her personal Facebook account, Olsen had allegedly re-posted a racially charged joke of a photo of a watermelon under a box that was to be used as bait in a plot to kidnap President Barack Obama. The stereotype of African-Americans only “interested only in such mindless pleasures” as indulging in watermelon has been “a staple of racism’s diet” since the slavery plantation days, wrote Keith M. Woods from the Poynter Institute.

Olsen denied she posted the photo, calling it a “fabrication” put forth by fellow Republican and Montanafesto blogger Nicole French.

Following the leads of the Montanafesto and Montana Cowgirl blogs, the Outpost and the nationally known liberal blog, Daily Kos, picked up the story.

After The Billings Gazette ran the story online later last week, national news outlets from the Associated Press to The Huffington Post (with 36.2 million readers a month) wrote about the controversy, demonstrating the power of stories spreading like wildfire in the internet era.

The person who started that wildfire, however, says he is “sick” about the way the story has developed.

Russ Hart was in class casually browsing through his Facebook page while waiting for his 11 a.m. class to start on the morning of Feb. 15.  The now infamous watermelon photo allegedly re-posted by Ms. Olsen caught his eye, and he was taken aback.

“I guess my initial reaction was I couldn’t believe that somebody in a leadership position like would be so careless to post something like that,” Hart said. “That was real surprising.”

He typed his shocked response to Olsen, “Are you kidding me?”

Hart said, “Then she typed something like, ‘I just couldn’t help myself. LOL’ – something to that effect.”

When Hart took a screenshot of the alleged indiscretion, Hart’s “Are you kidding me?” words could be seen. It was a spur of the moment decision.

“I really wasn’t preserving evidence,” he said. “I took a screenshot, sent it to a couple of people, and it was sort of a, ‘Can you believe she did this?’ scenario.”

A week later, the photo was plastered on national media sites.

Hart remained anonymous because he was in the middle of a job search, and didn’t want to be associated with any political fallout or bickering from the situation. After Montanafesto posted the screenshot picture, he was immediately taken off the Facebook friend list of Olsen.

The first screenshot image released by French’s Montanafesto blog was a close-up picture that featured just Olsen’s name and the racially charged anti-Obama image.

After the full screenshot was released later in the week, Hart’s “Are you kidding me?” comment could be seen. People commenting online inevitably asked why Russ Hart wasn’t coming forward after the YCRCC claimed that none of Olsen’s Facebook friends had seen the image. He knew he’d eventually be approached as he read online comment sections mentioning his name under articles.

As a Republican who’s been involved with volunteer political organizations like the YCRCC, Hart sympathized with the group even though it wrote a press release essentially stating his screenshot was possibly the job of a hacker or photo shopped.

The YRCC official press release on Feb. 22 read, “This alleged posting has not been corroborated by any of the over 1,000 friends following the chairwoman’s personal Facebook at the time or any other witnesses.”

Hart said of the press release, “They’re giving their chair the benefit of the doubt, and I can’t fault them for that. She told them something that wasn’t true, and that’s what they’re operating on. It would be really unfair for the party to come out looking bad for that.”

Since he was no longer a Facebook friend of Olsen’s, he couldn’t corroborate the story as a Facebook friend. Mark Higgins, also a former Facebook friend of Olsen’s, said he was immediately “unfriended” after he emailed the YCRCC Tuesday claiming he could verify seeing the racist post on Olsen’s Facebook page.

He’d just been in contact with Olsen that same day, and according to a screenshot taken by Higgins, she’d written about the controversy surrounding herself:

“People should be given a way to fact check … . It is clear the news media only reports one side. That has been a battle for conservatives for many years. So we will never be able to get out the truth.”

Higgins replied, “Jennifer, I did also see the watermelon under a box repost come from your updates. How is that lying?”

According to Higgins, Olsen had also posted Montanafesto blogger Nicole French’s personal contact information to presumably call and harass her.

“I said to her, ‘Is it really necessary to act so immature that you need to post this information? People see you as a leader, and is that what you want to teach them?’ I didn’t think that was very appropriate.”

He’s baffled the story has spread so far, but defends French as an honest person. “We need people like Nicole in our community calling people out for being hypocrites. That’s important,” he said. “It might help keep some of these politicians honest.”

Higgins noted about Olsen’s continued denials, “People start to get defensive, and then they start to lie about things. It’s just so much easier to come out with the truth. Otherwise you rapidly start forgetting all the lies you’ve told, and you’re stuck with that story.”

As far as Olsen claiming she may have been hacked, or that someone created an fake Facebook profile to discredit her, Higgins said, “This came from her Facebook page, and it’s not like I was friends with any of these supposed fake aliases, I was friends with her account. She posted pictures of her place, and it was all her stuff. I know what I saw.”

As far as Hart’s role in coming forward, he sent an email to the YCRCC, and has been contacted in the committee’s ongoing investigation.

“They’re in a tough spot,” he said. “They don’t want to throw their chairwoman under the bus when she says it didn’t happen.”

Even though Hart simply wished Olsen hadn’t denied posting the joke, “I don’t think she’s a bad person,” he said. “I would’ve liked to talk her about it, but that’s not going to happen now.”

Hart says part of him feels remorse about the events that have transpired since he took the now infamous screenshot on a whim.

“Part of me wished I would’ve reached out to the party first, but I don’t know if that would’ve gotten me anywhere,” he said. “It’s making me sick the way it’s all going down, but I guess that’s the world these days.”

19 thoughts on “The melon trap 2

  1. It’s forgiveable to make an error in judgement. It’s how one responds to ones misbehaviors that truly reveals ones character.
    My parents taught me to own up to my misdeeds, acknowledge them, understand why they were wrong, and learn to not repeat them. Apparently Ms. Olsen wasn’t raised in a disciplined household. If so, her parents must be ashamed.
    The fact that the MT Republican Party continues to coddle these miscreants (remember the bullet riddled outhouse at your state convention–that was hilarious , amIright?!), AND place them in positions of authority is also revealing, and for REAL Republicans, embarassing. Maybe if people of character rose to the top of the MT Republican Party, instead of being the ones who are outcast…

  2. I can empathize with the idea that in this day and age the speed of the media can sometimes feel overwhelming. That being said, I can not understand how a community leader could mindfully compromise the position of those who look to her as a spokesperson for their values. Community leaders are not part-time personnel… they are the people their community has chosen to represent the ideas they value. If one is not absolutely certain they can represent those values on a consistent basis, in a manner that demonstrates his or her commitment to service, then that person needs to decline that leadership position and take responsibility for her, or his, own views and actions.

  3. Oops…. forgot one point I wanted to make. I know the whirlwind speed of media responses to public indignation can leave one breathless, but here’s the thing; It only took a moment for Olson to share her thoughtless, but conscious, viewpoint. I can’t imagine why she, or anyone else, is aghast that it took an entire week for it to hit the nation?!

  4. I want to make one clarification, and it is in response to my own poor wording of an answer. When I said that I wasn’t sure that reaching out to the party would “get me anywhere,” I only meant that they don’t know me, and given the flat denial that we now know would have followed it is not unreasonable to assume that they would give more weight to what their chairman had to say. They are in a really tough spot, and they have only had all of the information for a few days. I hope everybody gives them a chance to do the right thing before making assumptions.

  5. Pingback: Oh, but she's still a good person, right? | Hamm On Wry

  6. I don’t know if it helps the credibility of Montanafesto any, but in 2011, in response to a column I wrote, that blog described me as a “Tea Party/liberty hater.” So she was clearly one of the fringe-party faithful fairly recently, and can’t be brushed off as a mole or a Democratic plant. And just for the record, I do not hate liberty.

  7. Pingback: UPDATED: Busted! Student comes forward, fingers Olsen |

  8. I haven’t been posting much – as there is no money in blogging – (apologies David – that’s your line)

    But the picture Jennifer shared has been posted around the internet as far back as 2008, and guess what, it’s kind of funny.

    Mainly funny because To think a would-be kidnapper would be so dumb as to think that trap would actually work.

    Second, to use a watermelon, which as we know is an old stereotype – all blacks like watermelon, right? And the kidnappers believed this ?

    It’s much ado about nothing – the picture would be just as funny if it was baited with a handful of cash, a pack of cigarettes, or a beer.

    As far as the YCRCC is concerned, Jennifers facebook page doesn’t claim to be a page for the GOP.

    And much as liberals dislike Eric & Jennifer, the Yellowstone GOP has been very effective. If all the other counties could do as well the GOP wouldn’t just have the House & Senate, we’d have all the higher elected positions too.

    BTW – disclaimer – even though I consider the Olsens friends, I would feel the same way about anybody else in this spot.

    • Wait, do you think this offended people because somebody actually tried to trap Barack Obama with a racist bugs bunny trap? I read your post; that is the only interpretation that even begins to make sense. Either way, you are just as dumb as they come…

  9. Eric,

    Way back at the dawn of Montana blogging, your cluelessness was almost endearing. All these years later, it has worn so thin that I begin to believe you are not clueless at all, and are only pretending not to know things that an elementary-age kid ought to be aware of. I know you are busy, but you should try to read a book from time to time, or even a newspaper.

  10. Eric, Is Ed onto something here? You can’t really be as ignorant as you sound in this post, can you? At some level, even you must understand that the joke is funny only if you buy into the racial stereotype. It doesn’t work any other way.

  11. Why do Republicans lie on autopilot? Maybe if they told the truth and were honest once in a while, they wouldn’t be so disliked.

  12. One has to think, Eric is either as naive as a 3-year-old, or that’s about the most disingenuous excuse ever.

    -”It’s much ado about nothing – the picture would be just as funny if it was baited with a handful of cash, a pack of cigarettes, or a beer.”

    They could’ve used any of those, but they didn’t. The chose to use a watermelon because in your words, “a watermelon, which as we know is an old stereotype.”

    -”And much as liberals dislike Eric & Jennifer, the Yellowstone GOP has been very effective. If all the other counties could do as well the GOP wouldn’t just have the House & Senate, we’d have all the higher elected positions too.”

    And do you agree the way they handled this incident says a lot about the “Moral values” the GOP espouses? That the rest of the GOP needs to be more like them and prove the negative stereotypes about the Tea Party are all absolutely correct?
    (That’s a rhetorical question, which I feel I must explain based on my perceived naivety of you.)

  13. First – Schmidt – the story really didn’t offend anybody – it was just an excuse to attack Jennifer Olsen.

    Second – It could have been handled better.

    Third – Ed – I read the Gazoo everyday, and then I take it apart and put it under the electric griddle I cook my breakfast on, and consider that a good use for it –

    Much ado about nothing.

    I could start pointing out the double standard here, that a liberal can say anything they want, about anybody, and get a pass for it, but these things, should be known by elementary age kids also – right Ed? – LOL

    • Eric- By, “didn’t offend anybody,” do you mean your little circle of like-minded redneck buddies?

      You honestly don’t think that no other republicans are ashamed their party is being represented by this type of racist behavior? That’s not even to mention the local blacks in Montana who are already leery of how the local GOP patronizingly views them.

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