UPDATE, TUESDAY, NOV. 2: The Wilton Republican Town Committee said they have identified the person they believe is responsible, but the are not yet making the name public.
“As per its commitment, RTC leadership has continued to investigate the source of yesterday’s post on the RTC’s Instagram account. As of now, we are 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.”
The statement was signed by Peter Wrampe, RTC Chair; Jake Lubel, RTC Vice-Chair; and Bill Lalor, the RTC former chair.
ORIGINAL STORY: Sometime on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 31, a symbol often associated with a racist meaning was posted as a comment on the Instagram account of State Representative Stephanie Thomas (D-143). According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the symbol — a hand with the fingers in an “ok” sign — is frequently used as a racist gesture to symbolize “white power” by white supremacists.
The symbol was posted on Thomas’ account as an emoji from the Wilton Republican Town Committee (WRTC) Instagram account.
Between 8:30 and 9 p.m. Sunday evening, the comment with the emoji was deleted and the WRTC uploaded an Instagram story acknowledging the symbol had been posted by the account, but denied responsibility for the comment.
“It has just come to our attention that earlier today a hateful symbol was posted from our account. As soon as it came to our attention, we immediately removed it,” the acknowledgement read.
The RTC statement denied that anyone associated with the group was responsible for posting the emoji, and “strongly condemned” it.
“No one from our organization posted such a symbol and we strongly condemn this type of hateful sentiment and regret that our account was used for something like this,” it read.
The RTC posted the same message in a comment on Thomas’ Instagram account. In response, Thomas wrote that she expects the RTC would investigate further to find out exactly who had made the “unsettling” and “disturbing” comment.
“It was very unsettling and disturbing to see such a post. I appreciate your quick attention to this matter and look forward to learning more following your investigation,” she wrote.
According to the ADL, the gesture, which most frequently is used for benign reasons, took on a different meaning starting around five years ago after members of the website 4chan claimed that the gesture showed the fingers in the shape of the letters “w p” for “white power,” as a hoax.
“The ‘okay’ gesture hoax was merely the latest in a series of similar 4chan hoaxes using various innocuous symbols; in each case, the hoaxers hoped that the media and liberals would overreact by condemning a common image as white supremacist,” the ADL website explained.
But just two years later, according to the ADL, some white supremacists became more sincere using the symbol to genuinely express white supremacy.
The online statement by WRTC officials that the symbol posted from the account was offensive seems to acknowledge the interpretation isn’t ambiguous in this situation.
RTC Chair: “I was so furious.”
Peter Wrampe is the Wilton RTC chairman. He spoke to GOOD Morning Wilton early Monday morning to provide the RTC’s statement and account.
Wrampe said he was alerted around 8:15 p.m. Sunday about the RTC’s Instagram account comment on Thomas’ post. He said he was shocked to learn that the account had been used to post the symbol.
“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.
Wrampe referenced his own personal history to make the point. “This was the absolute disgusting thing that anybody could do. In particular, even I, who came out of Nazi Germany, understand the symbolism of hate, and I abhor that, period,” he said, adding, “I was so furious. I could have cried, I was so mad about this.”
Wrampe said the comment was removed within minutes of learning about it. He then reached out to Tom Dubin, chair of the Wilton Democratic Town Committee and then called Thomas, at around 9 p.m. Sunday evening.
“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. This is not who we are. This is not who we want to be. And we stand by that for the time being,” Wrampe said.
He said that the RTC is trying to find out what happened.
“We’ll be investigating as to who might have been able to get into our account and post and do such a thing. And once we find out who it is, I will advise Stephanie exactly, and I promise to do that. … And then we would take appropriate action, whatever that might be at this time. I don’t know until I see what the outcome of that is.”
Wrampe said he doesn’t know how many people have administrative access to the Wilton RTC’s social media accounts but that he repudiates whoever it was.
“That [person] may be a Republican in name or by party affiliation, but he is not one of us. And I’m talking about the vast majority of Rs in Wilton. And I would say that the vast majority of the Ds in Wilton would agree with me, that if it had been one of their approved people posting such a thing, they would exactly say, he is not one of us. Period,” he said.
The DTC’s Dubin echoed Wrampe’s sentiments and account. “RTC Chairman Peter Wrampe called me Sunday night to discuss the incident. I believe his assurance that he was unaware of the RTC post and that he was furious when he learned of it. I appreciate his call and I understand that he is speaking with others at the RTC to learn who created the post and to ensure nothing like it happens again. Peter and I agree that this is not Wilton.”
While he said the RTC will be investigating to find out who the individual is who made the comment, Wrampe wanted to publicly reiterate his message now to Stephanie.
“To Stephanie, that she has been exposed to such a bad symbol of hate, I totally empathize with her. And I embrace that empathy, her disgust at that,” he said, adding, “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.”
Thomas: Comment was “Unsettling, Fearful, Insulting”
Shock is probably the best word to describe Thomas’ reaction to the day’s events.
Her original Instagram post showed pictures from a day of campaigning on behalf of Norwalk Democrats. She and other volunteers were standing alongside a Norwalk road holding campaign signs.
View this post on Instagram
“This began as the most blasé, bland social media post one could ever write. What did it say? ‘Honk, wave, And don’t forget to vote. Polls are open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., right?’ I’m in Norwalk holding a [Norwalk Mayor] Harry Rilling sign with [Norwalk] Sen. Bob Duff. So there was really no reason for Wilton [RTC] to chime in. And to see such a vile response to such an innocuous post was the most troubling thing. I find it personally insulting because anyone who knows me knows that (and I say it all the time) my number one goal is for all eligible residents to vote. And I always say, ‘I don’t care who you vote for, I just want people voting and engaging in democracy.’ So to be out volunteering, waving a sign on the side of the road and to get that vile response was unsettling, it was fearful. I found it so shocking. I was a bit dazed and speechless,” Thomas told GMW.
She was so stunned that she said she didn’t do anything until other people saw it on social media and started reaching out to see if she was okay.
“I’ve got thick skin. I’m used to people making hateful statements on social media or via email, but what I found most compelling about this as it was being made by a mainstream organization, and that seemed reckless, callous, and more troubling, because to me, it’s a sign that our civil society is crumbling versus just an individual grievance,” Thomas said.
The response from the RTC thus far isn’t yet sufficient for Thomas.
“While I appreciate it, that once it was made known to the RTC, they removed it, [and] they issued an apology, but I do believe it’s too convenient that no one knows how the post got there. And my hope is that the town and the RTC will pursue a full investigation into how it did get there, just for its own peace of mind. And so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Thomas is going to want to hear what the RTC finds out.
“The onus is on them to explain how this happened and I do hope that town wants an explanation,” she added.