A few people addressing the Flagler County Commission this morning called on the resignation of Joe Mullins for sponsoring the travels to and taking part in last week’s protest-turned-riot on the U.S. Capitol. Mullins had days earlier called for the beheading of liberals and used commission letterhead to repeat the false narrative of a fraudulent election and urge Florida’s congressional election to overturn the presidential vote.
County commissioners–who three times last year refused to discipline or censure Mullins for bigoted, racist, offensive or threatening language, including insults and threats against fellow-commissioners–again mostly declined to address their colleague’s acts or behavior, with one exception: newly-seated Commissioner Andy Dance recommended a commission “retreat” or something like it to discuss “commission norms, expectations and behavior or procedures.”
His colleagues’ reception was not enthusiastic. Commissioner Dave Sullivan asked if it would be open to the public. He was told it would be. “If that’s the case, I probably will not be in favor of it,” Sullivan said. In an interview later, he explained: “Just because I think we have plenty of times when the public can come in and discuss things. I didn’t want to turn this into just another session where we have people come in and vouch their opinions about Joe, we’ve had enough of that.” But he said he’d still think it over.
Commissioner Greg Hansen, who’s been the target of Mullins insults, was absent, being ill. Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien was “open to the discussion,” and suggested the commission’s procedures could guide it, but was withholding a commitment until Hansen returns.
Commissioners have been receiving emails and comments about Mullins’s recent acts. Dance defended him somewhat, but only up to a point. “Everybody is jumping on Commissioner Mullins, especially for that trip, but he has every right to go and protest,” he said. “I think we have to be aware of tone and I don’t agree with some of the comments he’s made, especially on his radio show, on the violence. So my comment is really about just trying to pull all this together. I would like to get a commitment from the board if we can to where we meet in a — and I’ve mentioned this before–but in a retreat. I think we need to hash out what our commission norms, expectations and behavior or procedures are for, just for normal behavior. People come up, they want to do a censure, they want to do this and that, but there’s nothing that I’ve seen to base even a censure on, because we haven’t put anything together on what our norms and expectations are. So I think as a group we need to have that discussion, and until we do, there’s really–the decision is of the voters. I think one of the comments was made about ultimately it relies in the hands of the voters as far as Mr. Mullins’s status, and that’s not for two years.”
Dance asked for consensus on a February or March retreat. He did not get it–for now, anyway.
An immediately defiant Mullins responded with conflicting statements. “My radio show is my personal business and my personal business will not be impacted by any decision made up here, I want to be very clear with that,” he said, referring to the half-hour infomercial he pays for on WNZF and describes as a “show.” Mullins seldom makes a distinction between his role as a commissioner and his private role on the commercial, the platform where he made his comment about beheading liberals, and where county officials have frequently appeared as “guests.”
Mullins did not back down from his most violent statement this morning, actually defending it as “an analogy” “and the analogy was not calling for an action.” (Mullins had said: “ I mean there are some liberals I’d like to see their heads cut off, you know, they couldn’t do that thinking crazy thing they do.” See the full context here.) He then went on to defend himself without a hint of apology or retreat: “We have five individual personalities, and my base is very strong, supportive of the president as I am and 59 percent of this county supported him, so if there’s a right way or a wrong way, I don’t know how to do it differently but be honest and be transparent.”
His only comment about Dance’s suggestion of a retreat was in the context of his occasional attempts to counter local media, which, following Trump’s playbook, he frequently slanders, (FlaglerLive especially, since it uncovered his land deal with County Administrator Jerry Cameron a little over a year ago): “I do agree maybe us getting together and getting on the same page would be good, because I think it’s time we start recognizing very strongly what media can do to this community and what media or even bloggers can do to this community damage-wise.”
Mullins then immediately, and apparently without recognizing the irony, bemoaned how “we’re seeing a lot of censorship right now. Everybody that went up there to that event has been kicked off social media.” (Either Facebook or Mullins himself scrubbed his Facebook page of numerous posts about and from the Washington events.) He claimed, falsely, that “anybody basically showing any support for the president has been removed from social media.” (Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have removed or banned users who advocated insurrection, violence, or outright false claims about the election.) “We’re well on our way to something I’m very concerned about, and that’s controlling the dialogue of the American people.”
O’Brien, the commission chairman, corrected him. “59 percent of the vote does not necessarily mean support. It means a vote. So just wanted to push back a little bit on that,” O’Brien said. O’Brien had to delay the start of the meeting because, as had been the case on some previous occasions, some people in attendance were not complying with the masking requirement to protect against the coronavirus.
Following several unrelated items, the public comment segment was dominated by the Mullins issue, with Flagler Beach Commissioner Ken Bryan, speaking as a private citizen, delivering an impassioned statement on what he described as “a very gloomy and a very dark time period in our country.” He called on Mullins to resign for what Bryan sees as a violation of the oath of office.
“It’s unfortunate that some of the same individuals who took the same oath of office like I did, and as you did, violated that oath to organize and led dozens of protesters to our nation’s capital, to participate in a heinous attack on our country,” Bryan said, referring to the attempt to overturn the presidential vote that then devolved into an assault on Congress. Mullins had advocated overturning the vote, but told the Observer he did not take part in the assault. “The individual who organized and led this group in prior days had also advocated on public airwaves and social media the beheading of fellow-citizens, has also berated, cursed and threatened fellow-elected officials in prior instances with absolutely no consequences,” Bryan continued. (See his full remarks here.)
Mike Cocchiola, a local Democratic Party leader who’s frequently called out Mullins’s behavior, said Mullins–who sponsored, but did not organize, the trip–went “to what was supposed to be a rally, but everybody knew it was going to lead to violence because it was being planned openly in social media,” a claim well documented since. “Nobody who went there to Washington could be unaware that this was going to lead to violence.” He called on Mullins to be held accountable, as well for his use of county letterhead to push fraudulent claims and for the way he “encouraged the decapitation of certain liberals. I’m pretty convinced that I’m one of those certain liberals, and I take it personally. That kind of behavior is egregious, it brings dishonor on Flagler before Florida and before the country.” Cocchiola called for the commissioner’s censure and resignation.
“Mr. Mullins, your fellow commissioner, has every right to organize buses for last week’s rally in Washington, D.C.,” Robin Polletta, a Flagler Beach resident, said, “but the irony of supporting and repeating misinformation about the November election is that it invalidates other elections such as those of Commissioner Sullivan and Commissioner Dance.” (Mullins has not questioned the vote in Florida, adopting the paradoxical view that where Trump won, the vote was legal, but in many states where he did not, the vote was fraudulent. The view, repeatedly proven false, repeats Trump’s own claims going back to 2016 that the only way he could lose was by fraud, though even then he never questioned the thinner razor margins that gave him the victory.)
Other than Mullins, those who spoke in his defense included Mark Phillips, the organizer of the Washington trip, who had nothing but praise for Mullins and glorification of last Wednesday’s “march” (he called it “an amazing, beautiful sight”), and Donna Kaylor, who said: “The protest in D.C. was about a million citizens exercising those same First Amendment rights. The few who breached the Capitol were not from our group and are not supported by us. To characterize our group as rioters flies in the face of what was done in cities like Minneapolis, Kenosha and Portland. Cities and businesses there were burned to the ground by violent-crazed anarchists of BLM and Antifa. Our group was peaceful from beginning to end.”
Helen McWilliams, who did not take the trip to the capital, also spoke in his defense, described Mullins opponents as “people up here who are wanting to oppress and suppress the voice of the people. The bottom line is, Mr. Mullins was elected by the people of this county.” Mullins’s term does not run out until 2022. He has filed for reelection.