The superintendent of New Jerusalem School District is facing a backlash over a social media post that commenters say aggravates political tensions in the community.
On Thursday, Traci M. Serpa Thoming, wife of New Jerusalem Superintendent David Thoming, shared a meme on her Facebook page that reads: “So rioters you say country boys are next. You do realize country boys will sit 30 feet up on a tree all day just to kill something.” She introduced the meme with the words “Just sayin’” and three laughing-crying emojis.
What followed was a mix of reactions in the comments — some appalled at the meme, others supportive. Among them was a graphic of a man with a blazing machine gun, posted by David Thoming, with the statement, “It’s what we’ve been prepping for...”
An online petition to call for Thoming’s removal from his job followed, but the link to that petition was no longer active as of Friday morning. As more parents shared screen captures of the post, demands grew for Thoming’s resignation or firing. Some parents said they would reconsider whether to enroll their children at New Jerusalem School or Delta Charter High School.
Thoming said on Friday that he had no intention of resigning. He said the post was not shared publicly and was intended for a private audience, which included a couple of the parents who later shared screenshots of the meme and the following conversation. He added that to the extent it appeared threatening, the graphic was an expression of his intention to act in self-defense in response to threats of violence.
Thoming said there had been no direct threat that prompted posting of the meme, but the nature of some social media conversations appeared menacing enough that he didn’t believe it was out of line.
“There had been multiple threats on various social media pages regarding, like, the antifa folks coming out into the country and going after people in the rural areas, over the past three or four weeks,” Thoming said. “That’s what her meme was about. She reposted it. Somebody else had posted it.”
“What my response was, is that if you’re going to come out to my home and attack my family, I’m going to defend myself,” he added.
Black Lives Matters demonstrations have swept across the nation since the death of George Floyd when Minneapolis police detained him a month ago. Protests in Tracy have been made up mostly of young people marching with signs and chanting, and there have been no reports of violence related to those protests. However, television and internet images have shown scenes of vandalism and looting and other outbreaks of violence linked to protests in other cities.
Thoming said that his and his wife’s posts made no racist remarks and were not directed at all activists.
“It had nothing to do with protesters. It had everything to do with the reaction to rioters — and there’s a big difference between rioters and protesters — and the rioters threatening to come out to the country and attack my family,” he said.
He added that he would not give in to “cancel culture.”
“I’ve been superintendent for 14 years, and this is the most vile and vicious attack that that has ever been laid against me. In my opinion it is the result of the political place we find ourselves in the country at the moment. It’s no secret that I’m a conservative and I support the president, and someone was going to use that opportunity to come after me,” he said.
“Here’s the irony of this: Now that all of this has happened, we have received direct death threats, in more than one format.”
Amanda Ribeiro was among the New Jerusalem parents to repost the series of screenshots after she became aware of it through a Facebook group of local mothers. She felt it was inappropriate for a school superintendent to post such a message, but was not among those calling for Thoming’s resignation or removal.
She’s more concerned about how students at the school might interpret and react to the message.
“It’s not the type of thing I’m comfortable having around my kid,” she said. “I’m not aware of any incidents of rioting that has occurred in our town, or looting or violence associated with protests, so I’m not quite sure why out of nowhere it’s like, ‘They’re coming for us,’ because I haven’t seen any indication.”
She added that she monitors her own child’s social media use, but knows that other kids have unrestricted access to the internet without parental involvement.
“Now I’m in a position where I have to have a conversation with my 9-year-old,” she said. “By the time it gets talked about on the playground, actual facts probably aren’t in there. It’s important for parents to be aware so they can have those conversations.”
Thoming said he’s aware of how parents might react, but he’s also received messages assuring him that most people in the New Jerusalem community would support him.
“The outpouring of support that we’ve been getting, via email, and text, and people on Facebook, has been tremendous,” he said. “We have people out there that are sending us screenshots of people having conversations about this, and the overwhelming majority of the comments were in support of me.”