Controversy and protest erupted in the small Northern Michigan village of Kalkaska last week, centering on anti-Muslim Facebook posts written and shared by village President Jeff Sieting.
Last Friday, about 100 protestors gathered to demand Sieting's resignation.
Across the street, about 150 of Sieting’s supporters showed up for an "open carry" rally.
Listen above to the conversation Stateside aired with Sieting, as he defends his controversial Facebook posts. For the unabridged version of the interview, listen below.
We transcribed and fact checked the full interview. You can read that below.
CYNTHIA CANTY: “So what do you say to those you represent in Kalkaska that believe you should step down?”
JEFF SIETING: “Let’s back up a little bit. In your introduction I heard some things that number one, are false. One being, 150 supporters. The number would be closer to about 600 supporters.* And there are many more that lie outside the community. I have received letters of support as far away as California, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Ohio, Indiana. So to say that there are 150 supporters or so, I think is a misconception.”
“And the other thing I heard was 'a community divided.' The actuality is the community is not divided. It’s not to say that everybody agrees with my posts. That would be a false statement because that is absolutely not true. However, there is a large segment of this community that does abide my right to my Second, my First Amendment, and my Second Amendment as far as that goes, but my First Amendment freedom of speech. You know, we talk about this hate speech.
“The thing that confuses me in this dialogue is that everybody else has the freedom to spew out what I consider hate speech. They want to kill our president. They make no bones about it. They talk about it openly and freely on national TV. We have Black Lives Matter making no bones about the fact that they want to kill not only Trump supporters, but any whites* which have been shown by the random acts of violence throughout the country. And so, my question would be, you know I’m a lowly little village president in a small little cow town in Northern Michigan that put something on my private Facebook page. I didn’t hang that on the front of my hotel. And so everybody else seemingly exercises their freedom of speech about killing people that have nothing to do with the situation, and I put something on there that historically is correct. Thomas Jefferson actually implemented exactly what I said. If anybody would go back and study their history they would find that we have been battling the Muslims since the inception of this country.”
*We think this is the incident to which Sieting is referring. It's unclear whether the speaker has an affiliation with Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter has repeatedly stated that it is neither anti-white nor anti-police.
CYNTHIA CANTY: "What I want to do is actually, to get everyone on the same page, Jeff, is that post that you shared last November was titled, “Kill them all, every last one.” I’m going to read just a little part of the post – you shared this post, and this is what it said: “Like a flesh-eating bacteria, Islam indiscriminately devours its host, killing it in the process. And in recognition of this plain, simple fact, the choice is simple: excise and incinerate the contaminated flesh at the very first opportunity…’ Why did you feel it was important to put that post on your Facebook page?”
JEFF SIETING: “Because historically that is the proven fact. Thomas Jefferson said those exact same words. Not only did he say it, he actually enacted it*. That was the formation of the Marine Corps to the shores of Tripoli. That was his objective after he had met and tried to, on a professional level, deal with these individuals. He found them to be a unique and odd race of people that were unyielding. And so when he returned to the United States, he formed the Marine Corps. And that was his objective: to annihilate the Muslims, period.”
*According to The Washington Post, Thomas Jefferson explicitly included Muslims when writing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which passed in 1786. According to Newsweek, Jefferson supported Muslims: “Despite his criticism of Islam, Jefferson supported the rights of its adherents."
CYNTHIA CANTY: “Well let’s talk about right now, in 2017. That post and others that you have on your page, for example in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement. You say it’s time to, quote, “Arm yourself and thin the herd.” These aren’t just expressing an opinion, they are calls for violence against specific groups. Why do you feel there is a need for violence against these groups of people who aren’t white?”
JEFF SIETING: “Well number one, that’s meant in a defensive tone. When you see people randomly being grouped out of the cars and beaten half to death by these individuals only because they are white* and only because they are there, and for no other reason, I think my response would be exactly what I said: Arm yourself and defend yourself. If these individuals go to jerk me out of my car, do you think I’m just going to lay down and let them take a piss out of me? I’m going to defend myself, and if that requires thinning the herd a little bit, then that is exactly what it requires. This isn’t a call for violence, this is a call for defending yourself.”
*We believe this is the incident to which Sieting refers.
CYNTHIA CANTY: “'Kill them all every last one,’ that is not a call for violence?”
JEFF SIETING: “Well let’s look at Paris. Let’s look at France. Let’s look at Germany. Let’s look at every country, every city, that they have infiltrated — and I use the word infiltrated accurately — has fallen under the weight of their destructive presence. Every one of them. There are rapes, murders, and the list goes on. And so these don’t seem to me to be individuals that assimilate into a society. They seem as though they are a force looking to come in, dominate and overthrow and exterminate, as opposed to assimilate.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “Have you ever had the chance to sit down and actually talked with Muslims? And learn a little about them?”
JEFF SIETING: “Yes.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “How so? When?”
JEFF SIETING: “I was in the Air Force, and not only did I sit and talk to them, I made friends with a lot of them. Saudi Arabia fighter pilots were — I was on Luke Air Force Base, was one of the largest fighter training bases, second I think in the world. And I trained a lot of foreign fighter pilots, and so being stationed on that base, I had the opportunity to hang out with a lot of these individuals.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “And did they feel like the threat that you characterized in that post you shared?”
JEFF SIETING: “Absolutely not.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “So how does ‘Kill them all every last one’ fit? How do you sync that up?”
JEFF SIETING: “Well, I guess I would ask those dead people that had befriended the young couple that lived in their neighborhood. And I apologize not knowing the names. They were invited to a barbeque because they were assimilated into the community, supposedly. Came to the barbeque and wound up killing everybody at it. So what would you call that? Are you familiar with that situation? They were moved into a neighborhood, a husband and wife, both Muslims, welcomed into that small community, invited to all the functions…”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “Are you talking about San Bernardino? The county party?
JEFF SIETING: "Yes."
CYNTHIA CANTY: “OK. For purpose of your argument that all Muslims are a danger, based on what we have seen from fringe extremists, let me put some names out there: Timothy McVeigh, Oklahoma City Bombing. James Holmes, mass shooting at the movie theater in Aurora. Adam Lanza, Sandy Hook. Dylann Roof, Charleston Emanuel AME Church. Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Columbine High School. If you take that argument, then what about white, Christian men who have guns? Why shouldn’t Americans fear people like you too? What would be the difference?”
JEFF SIETING: “I think that is a very good question. But my response to that would be, percentage wise, look at the difference in percentages*. You don’t see us, as white, Christian, gun-owning Americans infiltrating foreign countries and overthrowing these cities. You know, every race has their lunatic fringe, and I would probably consider all of those individuals to be part of that lunatic fringe. But I don’t know if I would equate them into one particular race of people or a particular religion of people. These people are pretty sporadic and spread out and not in concentrated form. The things I’m discussing when referring to the Muslims is in a very concentrated form. And quite widespread, I mean, its global. Timothy McVeigh didn’t fly over to Paris with a, you know, 30,000 other Timothy McVeighs and completely destroy an entire city.”
*According to a report from the GAO this April looking at number of far-right extremist attacks and terrorist attacks by Muslims in the U.S., since the September 11 terror attacks there have been 62 attacks by far-right extremists, totaling 106 deaths. There have been 23 attacks by people affiliated with Islamic terrorist organizations, totaling 119 deaths.
CYNTHIA CANTY: “Well, Paris is still standing, we’ll say that…”
JEFF SIETING: “Well, barely.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “You maintain this as an issue of freedom of speech, as do your supporters."
JEFF SIETING: “Absolutely.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: "There is a misconception that people have about freedom of speech and the First Amendment. The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee anybody free speech, it doesn’t confer rights. It says Congress may not pass a law that steps on those five rights: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. But with a post actually that says “Kill them all, every last one” aimed at Muslims, in fact, you could be violating the First Amendment by interfering with and threatening people based on their religion.”
JEFF SIETING: “I don’t know if I ever did that at all.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “That post you didn’t feel was a threat to a group of people based on their religion?”
JEFF SIETING: “I think that that’s making a comment reposting something that carried a much deeper narrative than just that particular facet of it. And part of that post was the link to go to that story. It was about five pages long, and all of it kind of pertained to that. It was written by a gentleman that had engaged the Muslim hordes in battle and was making what I think to be, having been there and fought them, probably a very educated analysis of the situation.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “Words have consequences. So when you, Jeff, as an elected village president of Kalkaska, and a community leader, when you put up a post on your Facebook wall calling for violence against a specific group of people, there is a risk that someone might just take you up on that call. Does that concern you?”
JEFF SIETING: “Well it concerns me just as much as it concerns me when you have Hollywood actors and actresses getting on national TV and calling for the death of our president. I don’t see any legal action being taken against these individuals. They carry a much larger audience. In fact that is probably a global audience, let alone a little Facebook page on a private…. You know and like I had said before, I’m not that interesting of an individual. It’s not like somebody came along and decided, 'Hey, this guy is really interesting, I think I’ll see what he has to say on his Facebook page. I think I’ll go back a year and see what he has on his Facebook page.
“You know this all started, so let’s not get sidetracked off where this all originally started, and that’s that I had a sign on the front of my building that said “Trump," and that obviously rubbed someone the wrong way and they incessantly demanded that I take that sign down because it was in violation of the sign ordinance, when in fact it was not. And so the sign remained. And when I refused to take it down, they decided that I was all of the sudden interesting enough to go dig back in my personal Facebook page, a year-ish, roughly, and find something that really didn’t sit well with them. And so then they took it and pasted it all over the place. I didn’t hang that comment on the front of my hotel. I put it on my personal Facebook page. The article truly was very interesting and worth posting.”
*According to 9 & 10 News the protests were a direct response to both Sieting’s Trump sign and his Facebook posts.
CYNTHIA CANTY: “But as a public official you have been elected to represent everybody, you can’t choose to say, 'I represent some and not others.' You take on that job and you consent to give up certain freedoms. For example, a judge would have to refrain from making personal posts and statements because a case could come up that involved that and they have to be very clear about being fair and neutral, and so do the elected head of a community. You represent everyone.”
JEFF SIETING: “Well I would agree with that to a certain degree. You know, I have said this before. My being elected into this position doesn’t negate my right as a citizen of the United States, number one.* And number two, you can sit and dissect this any way you want, I made this comment before. I would rather be elected for the person I truly am, or unelected, then to be elected for the person I'm truly not. I think if more people would speak their peace truthfully instead of pandering to their church congregation or their constituency, I think this country would be a lot further ahead today. I doubt we would be suffering the ills we are suffering.
*According to the The Washington Post, it is true that as an elected official you do not give up freedom of speech rights, however, only to the extent that a supervisor cannot fire you for your political views; it does not protect you from other consequences of speech.
The Post writes, “For these reasons, the Court has set up the following test for government disciplinary actions (firing, demotion, and the like); this probably also applies for government refusals to hire or promote, though litigation over that is rarer:
Government retaliation against government employee speech violates the First Amendment if:
1. the speech is on a matter of public concern, and
2. the speech is not said by the employee as part of the employee’s job duties, Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), and
3. the damage caused by the speech to the efficiency of the government agency’s operation does not outweigh the value of the speech to the employee and the public (the so-called Pickering balance). Connick v. Myers (1983) (p. 567).
Thus, if the speech is on a matter of private concern, or the speech is said as part of the employee’s duties, the government can do what it pleases. Likewise, if the government prevails on the Pickering balance, it can do what it pleases.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “How is the economy in Kalkaska? How are people doing with their options to be able to support their families there?”
JEFF SIETING: “Well, you know that is an issue that has been taking place here for about 30 years. I actually had a fairly stern discussion with a state representative that attended a gathering here in our community, and he made a comment that I found to be quite derogatory, and that was that the median income here in Kalkaska was below $40,000 and he doubted that would ever change. I took great offense to that comment. Because it ravels everybody into this way of thinking that I think has been the problem with this community for a long time.
“The economy in Kalkaska for the last six years has improved drastically. Houses on average are in high demand and sit on our market for less than two weeks. The average time for a house on the market in this community is 10 days or less. Jobs, that has been a hurdle right from the beginning, but those are improving. So I’d say that the economy in this community has been consistently improving over the last five to six years.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “I’m wondering, as I’ve been thinking about what you have been posting on Facebook, how does focusing on people who live nowhere near Kalkaska help solve the problems of the people you were elected to serve?”
JEFF SIETING: “I’m not sure I understand that question. Ask it again.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “How does focusing on 'Pure evil Muslims threaten petrified child at gunpoint,' 'Angry citizen sees what Muslim welfare queen does after leaving Walmart and starts recording in shock,' 'Pizzagate pedophile’s mom speaks out Nancy Pelosi,' is connected. That Pizzgate has been completely proven to be a hoax. How does focusing on that solve the problems of Kalkaska?”
JEFF SIETING: “Well now let’s back up a second. You could sit and pick away at that and say that Pizzagate has been proven to be a complete hoax. Well, so has Trump-Russian affiliations proven to be a complete hoax, and yet I see people consistently running with this crap.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “Well the investigation, it’s not proven one way or the other because there are many investigations going on into Russian connections.”
JEFF SIETING: “Well I could say the same thing about Pizzagate too. It’s my understanding they just arrested about, I think it was what, 140 more people indirectly affiliated with Pizzagate in a pedophile ring.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “These are from unreliable sources that peddle fake news. Do you ever wonder if you are being manipulated to spread fake news?
JEFF SIETING: “Well I’m certain we are all being manipulated to spread, to some degree, fake news. Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind. Good luck getting any truth out of any level of media these days it seems.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “Are you thinking of having a group called 'Great Lakes 3 Percenters' provide some private security for you?”
JEFF SIETING: “I don’t even know who they are, I don’t believe.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “Michigan Wayne Jenkins?”
JEFF SIETING: “Mm, mm. I don’t know the name.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “He had been talking on Facebook about perhaps a breakfast with you and providing some private security for you.”
JEFF SIETING: “I don’t know what security I would need. I’m a village president. I’ve got a police department that protects this community just fine. I don’t know that I would need any extra protection from anything.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “Jeff, have you any plans at all to change the kinds of things you post on Facebook?”
JEFF SIETING: “Well, you know, I don’t know that I would say that I would change what I’m posting on there. You know, you point out those posts that I put on there as though they were one right after the other. These are intermittent things I come across that I think are interesting. I think they are conversations that should be had. I think they are things that should seriously be looked at. We know these problems exist, like I said, this isn’t a mystery. Let’s look at the news and again what is true and what is not. I think some of these things they put on the news are false flags. I think we can all agree on that. I think some are blown out of proportion. But you look around the world, and I see a world not getting better. I see a world getting worse. I’m not one to sit and diss on elected officials. People say because I disliked Obama, I liked Bush. I disliked Bush and the entire Bush family for their politics. I think they are as dirty as anybody possibly could be.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “I think there are many who would feel that the world is getting worse through the kind of discourse and social media action that you represent on your page.”
JEFF SIETING: “Well, and I would agree with that. I’d say that you are probably correct in assuming that. I think you could say that goes in many different directions and it just baffles me that the outcry for what you referred to as hate speech on my personal Facebook is such big news, when all the real hate groups that have national platforms get no press coverage.”
CYNTHIA CANTY: “When do you next stand for election, Jeff?”
JEFF SIETING: “I got about another year and a half. November will be the end of the first year of a two-year term on this reelection.”