On March 25, Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins appeared before a group he calls the “adorable deplorables” and presented a stump speech and list of grievances similar to those he discusses at “town halls” advertised for him by the county administration.
The presentation was attended by School Board member Janet McDonald, recorded on video and posted to Mullins’s Facebook page, though he took it down days later after School Board member Colleen Conklin and Flagler Beach City Commissioner Eric Cooley lambasted him for its falsehoods, inaccuracies, bigoted slurs and various attacks, including attacks on local Republicans. (See the full article here: “Calling Mullins ‘Pied Piper of Hate, Deception and Fraud,’ School Board’s Conklin Rips His Latest Attack on LGBTQ and GOP.“)
Mullins discussed numerous issues, including the local school board’s non-discrimination policies, which he mischaracterized, immigration, the Atlanta massage-parlor murders, and so on. Mullins’s problem with facts is not new, pre-dating his election. We fact-checked his latest statements from that March 25 appearance.
Mullins claim: “Just recently the [Flagler County] school board approved a transgender–in Flagler County, approved the transgender act. It was voted 3-2.”
False. There is no “transgender act.” In mid-December, the board voted to add the words “gender identity” to the list of explicit protections in the school’s anti-discrimination policy, in line with a Supreme Court and 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decisions forbidding sex discrimination, which includes gender discrimination under any guise. Absent the district’s change, the district could have exposed itself to costly litigation.
The next Mullins claim was paired with a claim by Janet McDonald, who was in the audience. Mullins prompted McDonald about what led to the district’s policy change regarding transgender students. McDonald said: “One parent because of one child in a very confusing situation that was evaluated and researched and studied and found that there was no disparagement at all. It was confusion on the part of the child.” Mullins said: “One kid out of 13,000,”
Mostly false or misleading: McDonald was referring to the case of Randall Bertrand’s son, the transgender student who with his parents would eventually galvanise the local movement that led to the district’s policy changes. (His and the Bertrands’ names are used here since they have all openly and repeatedly spoken about the case and the policy.) The student had begun identifying as male in the 2018-19 school year, changing his name to Elliott. All his teachers at Matanzas High School were supportive, adapting to his chosen name and pronouns, with one exception: Jens Oliva in his choir class. Who’d call him four different names or nicknames of Oliva’s own choosing, itself an added presumption at the students’ expense–but not Elliott, claiming that name was identical to some of his own family members’ names. He never explained why that would pose a problem: students’ names often and inevitably are the same as a teacher’s family members’.
There was never any “confusion” on the student’s or Oliva’s part about the “situation,” as McDonald described it. There were other related issues in Oliva’s behavior toward Elliott and another transgender student in class that caused problems and where Oliva’s intentions were less clear, but not regarding the name, when there was no question that the student had felt disparaged. Contrary to McDonald’s categorical claim, the situation was by no means “evaluated and researched and studied.” An independent inquiry was never conducted. The assistant principal who supervises Oliva alone conducted an inquiry, accepting Oliva’s explanation that he had not intended disparagement. But that inquiry was conducted only after Randall Bertrand took the case to the school board, having failed to gain satisfaction at the school level. The inquiry’s papering over of the issue left the Bertrands uneasy and they transferred their son to Flagler Palm Coast High School, where then-principal Tom Russell immediately ensured that Elliott’s wishes and dignity were respected throughout.
The Bertrands’ advocacy for a policy more explicitly protective of transgender students continued through numerous school board meetings, where in some cases the Bertrands and others in the LGBTQ community endured open insults and disparagement, specifically from a person who described herself as a minister and former lesbian. The meetings revealed that, contrary to McDonald’s claim that the issue revolved around one student, it affected numerous students, several of whom addressed the board. The school board resisted the calls for a change until the Supreme Court ruled on the decision about gender equality including transgender students. In context and given the history of the issue, McDonald’s description of the original issue as “confusion on the part of the child” and Mullins’s claims about one student are knowingly disingenuous and again disparages the student.
Mullins Claim: He asked McDonald to name the three school board members who voted for the policy change: Trevor Tucker, Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro. Mullins then claimed: “Two of them claim to be Republicans,” implying that, as McDonald said in the background, “to get voted into office” only.
False. Tucker has been a life-long Republican, he told FlaglerLive. Massaro said: “I’ve been a Republican before I moved here, I was a Republican in Pennsylvania, so that was 18, 19 years ago, in that ballpark, then I stayed a Republican here.” She said she briefly changed her registration to the Democratic Party when she could not abide the Trump administration’s policy toward children of undocumented immigrants at the border, but switched back within a matter of days. “The majority of my life I’ve been a Republican, a big majority.”
Mullins claim: “These guys that are doing this are not voting for their community. I can tell you, the majority of this community doesn’t want that. They don’t want those problems here in Flagler County.”
Mostly false: Massaro, who was vocal and active on behalf of transgender rights during the campaign, was elected with 56 percent of the vote, Conklin with 52 percent in a three-way race. With a single exception, Conklin, the lone Democrat on a countywide board in Flagler, has not lost a precinct in any of her elections going back to 2000.
Mullins claim, about an unnamed federal official: “Her comments, ‘we’re going to send them to agriculture areas to get jobs.’ Well, Flagler County is a major agriculture. We don’t want that here, and I don’t have a problem publicly saying that I don’t want it here, they can call me racist, they can call me whatever, but I don’t want illegal people coming here, sucking out of the county, the life of the county, something that you guys worked hard for to contribute.”
False. On March 18 the Democratic-majority House of Representatives voted with 30 Republicans joining Democrats to open a path to legal status to some 1 million undocumented farmworkers and their families. The measure says nothing about relocating farmworkers. Mullins is misinformed about the Flagler and Volusia counties’ farm communities, such as the fern-growing community in Pierson. Undocumented immigrants have been living in those communities for years.
Mullins claim: “Since I have been in office I have promoted a conservative, prayer community, a Christian community, conservative, Christian community to such an extreme.
This claim is true.
Mullins claim: I’ve had over 40 conservatives move here in the last three months, that have moved here because they’ve seen some of the posts on the arguing and they go, we don’t want to live there, we don’t want to live in California or New York anymore. They’re coming to this area because they want to escape that.”
Misleading and misinformed: Conceding Mullins’s point that 40 conservatives have moved to Flagler in three months, the county has been attracting some 150 to 175 new residents a month on average, contributing to making Florida as a whole the top destination of Americans moving from one state to another, according to a recent analysis of 25,000 moves by HireAHelper. But they are moving to Florida from conservative and liberal states alike, including from states more conservative than Florida, such as South and North Dakota, Tennessee, Wyoming and Indiana, suggesting, if anything, that they may be looking for a more purple state than their own. Three of the 10 cities that attracted the most Americans from other states are in Florida: Jacksonville, Sarasota and Orlando. Jacksonville and Orlando voted heavily for Biden. Sarasota County voted for Trump (the top city in the United States was Scottsdale, Az., in a county that voted for Biden). But political preferences are not on movers’ lists of priorities, the study found. The top reason for movers to come to Florida are affordability, getting nearer to family, and work. Politics did not rate.
Mullins claim: “I just got picked up in syndicating now in St. Johns and Duvall County,” he said of his radio infomercial. “It’s going to be at WSOO, WSOLS in St. Johns, and it’s going to be on at 10 o’clock.”
Misleading. Mullins pays for a weekly infomercial on Flagler Broadcasting’s WNZF. He has bought a time slot on St. Augustine radio station WSOS, owned by Kevin Geddings, which will broadcast the WNZF commercial whole, for between $100 and $200 a slot. Geddings sells such time slots to any entity willing to pay for it, even though the station’s format is classic oldies. The station’s coverage extends to Duval only in the most “distant” or “fringe” ways, according to a coverage map.
Mullins claim: “I can guarantee you, Kamala Harris has already said, she’s going to go after guns, that they don’t need to be in the hands of people.”
False. Mullins is recycling a long-discredited Facebook post, based on a wholly fabricated quote, that Vice President Kamala Harris would dispatch law enforcement officers to confiscate guns. When she was running for president, she said: “”Upon being elected (president), I will give the United States Congress 100 days to get their act together and have the courage to pass reasonable gun safety laws. And if they fail to do it, then I will take executive action.” The gun-safety laws she would seek, she said, would include background checks for anyone who sells more than five guns a year and more rigorous enforcement of existing laws by the ATF. She has also supported ensuring that those found to be a danger to themselves and others by court order or from previous felonies not have access to guns–measures Flagler County’s judges impose, at times more broadly (generally, those arrested for felony domestic violence must surrender their weapons until a disposition of their case), and that Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly routinely enforces. Mullins in the last few days recycled a picture of himself with Staly on his Facebook page, to say he fully supports the sheriff. The picture is old because the sheriff has been keeping his distance from the commissioner.
Mullins claim about the murder of eight individuals at three Atlanta-area massage parlors two weeks ago: “It was a massage parlor, Chinese massage parlors that are noted or known to have extra-curricular activities going on. … They’re illegal. We’re turning around–now, granted, I hate that there was murder happen there, I hate that there was victims that were killed. But you cannot, that’s like God says, don’t do illegal act like that, or don’t do a sinful act, you will get punishment from it. There [are] repercussions, that kind of stuff draws some of the lowest life. Most of them are child-trafficked in there. They’re trafficking. But yet we turn it around to a race thing, where our president came to it. Is that saying that that kind of action is OK?”
False on almost every count. The massage parlors are not “Chinese massage parlors,” a statement Mullins may have intended to echo the slur of the “Chinese virus” even as he claimed to ridicule the possibility that the murders were racially motivated. There are no indications that the parlors are either owned or staffed by Chinese personnel, though there may have been Chinese workers among them. There are clear indications that some of the workers and victims were Korean, for example. The massage parlors are not illegal: many like them operate in Palm Coast. The claim that “most of them are child-trafficked in there” is false and defamatory. Mullins provided no evidence for any of his statements.
Mullins claim: “Three nations, Sodom and Gomorrah, Babylon, and Judea, they all fell because of stuff like this, all this is being replayed and it was played many thousands of years ago.”
Misinformed. Mullins did not specify what he meant by “stuff like this,” but he was speaking in the context of transgender issues at the school board. Sodom and Gomorrah were not nations but mythical cities whose historicity has never been proven, though they are part of the Bible’s rich trove of metaphorical stories. The two cities are usually associated negatively with homosexuality, the word sodomite fiunding its origin in the name of Sodom. Babylon fell to conquest in 539 BC, the sexuality or gender preferences of its inhabitants having nothing to do with it anymore than, say, Atlanta’s fall to Gen. Sherman in 1864. Judea is the region known today as the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and has thrived and fallen under various kingdoms or empires over the centuries.
Mullins claim: “We’re losing our right to speak, we’re losing our right to have God in things, we’re losing our right to have guns, we’re losing every right we have as conservatives. What built this country is all of a sudden not right anymore.”
Unsubstantiated. It’s not clear what Mullins is referring to. His Facebook page was shut down earlier this year, for violating Facebook’s terms of service, which usually means it pureyed falsehoods (Mullins described it as being in “Facebook jail”). The account was shut down shortly after Mullins returned from the trip he sponsored to Washington, D.C., where he joined the pro-Trump rally claiming the election was a fraud. The rally devolved into an armed insurrection and storming of Congress in an attempt to overturn the election. There is zero evidence of Mullins or anyone else having their right to speak, “to have God in things” to to have guns abrogated.
Mullins claim: “But the Democrats don’t play the game fair anymore, as we saw with the illegal votes, as we saw with a president that’s right now that’s not our voted in president. This president wasn’t elected by this country.”
False. Joe Biden was elected with 81.3 million votes to Trump’s 74.2 million, a 7.1 million margin, and 306 electoral votes. More than 50 court cases refuted claims of fraud or irregularities, including the U.S. Supreme Court. State election officials and Trump’s own attorney general, Bill Barr, refuted claims of fraud or irregularities. Fox News faces a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit from Smartmatic for disparaging its election technology, and a $1.6 billion lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems for the same reason.
Mullins’s warning to liberals: “You can come here, but if you’re going to come here and try to change it, you’re going to be miserable, and as I’ve said to many liberals, I’ll happily send you out on a bus, which has been in the paper a few times, but–or we’ll chain and muzzle you.”
The claim that Mullins has repeatedly said that is true.