On Monday, Nov. 8, officials from the Wilton Republican Town Committee announced they have definitively identified an RTC member as the individual who used the group’s Instagram account to post an emoji with a racist double meaning on State Rep. Stephanie Thomas‘ (D-143) Instagram account.
On Sunday, Oct. 31, Thomas reported that the RTC Instagram account had commented with an “OK” emoji on one of her Instagram posts. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has identified the symbol — a hand with the fingers in an “ok” sign — as something co-opted by white supremacists to symbolize “white power”.
Later that evening, after deleting the comment with the emoji, the RTC posted an Instagram story acknowledging “a hateful symbol was posted from our account,” and denied that anyone associated with the RTC was responsible for posting the emoji, before “strongly condemn[ing]” it.
At the time, RTC Chair Peter Wrampe expressed his outrage in a phone call with GMW. “I was absolutely beside myself, that such a posting, such an item would have been posted by anybody in Wilton, period. This is not who we are, or who we want to be, whether it’s on one side of the aisle or on the other side,” he said.
He also said he reached out to Rep. Thomas right away and disavowed the action. “I called Stephanie to express my utter dismay, shock, anger, emotion, and advised her that nobody from the RTC had posted such a hateful sign, period. This is not us.” Wrampe added, “I can’t apologize for something that I didn’t do, [but] I would apologize to her profusely if it was one of the RTC members. Absolutely.”
Wrampe also promised to investigate and identify who had posted the symbol. Two days later, on Election Day, the RTC issued another statement emailed to GMW, saying the leadership was “fairly certain that we know who was responsible for the post. Before saying anything further or taking any action, we need to verify that our information is correct. We will provide a further update when our information is confirmed.”
Now, one week after the original incident, the RTC has issued another statement — this time via a Facebook post — confirming the group had identified the member who was behind the emoji post, but without revealing the person’s name. The statement, credited to Wrampe, also offered the start of an explanation, and noted the individual would fully and publicly explain the incident himself.
Wilton RTC Statement, Monday, Nov. 8, 12:47 p.m.:
“We have identified the individual who posted the inappropriate emoji, meaning to direct it to the person in the foreground in the accompanying picture on State Representative Stephanie Thomas’ Instagram account on October 31st. (We removed the posting within minutes after the RTC became aware of it.)
“We have discussed the inappropriateness of posting the emoji with the individual and will revoke his ability to post any item on any of our social media sites and our website.
“He has called and apologized to Representative Thomas, who graciously has accepted his apology and explanation. In addition, he plans to make public that explanation.”
Monday at 5:30 p.m., GOOD Morning Wilton was unsuccessful in reaching Wrampe by phone and sent an email with questions. Wrampe responded by email with answers on Tuesday morning.
- Although the RTC did not name the individual responsible in its statement, multiple sources with first-hand knowledge of the situation told GMW that the person who posted the emoji was Phil Murphy, an RTC member responsible for updating the RTCs’ social media accounts and website. Wrampe confirmed this in his response to GMW.
- Wrampe included a link to a post on the Wilton Hamlet Hub news blog, which contained a letter from Murphy about the incident titled, “Emoji in Instagram Deserves Explaination [sic].” The time of publication is Monday, Nov. 8, 12:49 p.m. GOOD Morning Wilton emailed Murphy asking for comment, but has not received a response.
- Murphy’s letter of explanation includes his admission and states that the emoji was directed at State Sen. Bob Duff, who is in the original image Thomas had posted, and not at Thomas, who Murphy called “an innocent bystander.”
- Murphy’s explanation links the emoji to an earlier incident involving Duff and a Republican candidate from Darien and the purported use of a similar hand gesture.
- To our knowledge, we haven’t seen Murphy’s letter published in any other local news media. Murphy did not send it to GMW.
- In his initial statement about the emoji, RTC Chair Wrampe reacted strongly to the incident, saying of the person who posted the emoji at the time, “He is not one of us.” Has Wrampe’s sentiment changed now that the person was identified and was, in fact, an RTC member. “No, it has not [changed],” Wrampe told GMW. “At the time I made the statement, we were trying to determine the identity of the unknown individual. Now, we know better. Phil did not speak and will not for the RTC.”
- We asked Wrampe if directing the emoji at Duff rather than Thomas made using it okay. His answer: “No. As we said at work: perception trumps intent.”
- We asked Wrampe if there would be any additional consequences for Murphy aside from revoking his permission to post on behalf of the RTC on social media or on the RTC’s website. Wrampe replied with a two-word answer: “Being evaluated.”
- Wrampe declined to add any additional comment.
Thomas confirmed that Murphy called her personally. “I think it’s fair to say that I accepted his apology, although I hope it will be part of the RTCs process to avoid similar mishaps occurring in the future.”
Although Thomas didn’t want to speak to the explanation, she did relay what she told Murphy.
“I did explain that I have always enjoyed a good relationship with Wilton because I treat every person with respect and would expect others to treat me the same way. So I was very shocked to see the symbol on my Instagram, but appreciate the direct call and apology.”
As part of standard procedure, Thomas had to report the incident to the State Capitol Police, which opened an incident file. “I think most people don’t realize that we are encouraged to report all instances of hate threats, anything that makes us feel uncomfortable to the Capitol Police so that they can create a record and keep track of things in case they escalate. I will update them with the identity so that they can close that file,” she said.
As for how the incident was resolved and explained, Thomas was hesitant to say it satisfied her.
“Satisfy is not a term I would use. I am satisfied that It was addressed publicly in a way that these types of incidents often are not. But I’m still dismayed with, irrespective of the explanation, that it happened to begin with.”