An Ohio GOP leader faces calls to resign after he shared a Facebook meme calling deadly wildfires “God’s punishment to liberal California.”
Columbiana County Republican Party chairman Dave Johnson posted the image Sunday, the Youngstown Vindicator reports. One photo in the meme shows a person standing in front of a fiery landscape labeled “hell on earth.” A second photo in the upper left corner shows a highway with an overhead sign reading: “Welcome to hell!” The meme was later deleted.
Local Democrats accused Johnson of making “demented comments” after they noticed the image he’d shared, and called on Johnson to resign.
“Johnson owes the victims, their families, and the heroes who fought the fire and participated in rescue efforts an apology,” Mahoning County Democratic Party Chair David Betras said in a statement posted to Facebook on Monday. “In addition, I think his demented comments disqualify him from holding positions of public trust.”
Ohio Democrats compared Johnson’s comments to religious leaders who in the past have said God’s wrath was responsible for Hurricane Katrina, AIDS, the 9/11 terror attacks and other calamitous events.
The Camp Fire, which has ripped through Northern California, has killed 79 people, according to CAL FIRE. It is now 70 percent contained. Southern California is also beset with blazes, which tore through Malibu and other Los Angeles-area communities.
Johnson has resisted calls to resign and defended himself, the Vindicator reports.
“Look, that’s a meme. And it’s how I feel about liberals, but did I mean that God is going to punish everyone who lives in California? No,” Johnson said, according to Cleveland.com. “It’s a figure of speech, and I probably shouldn’t have done it. But I did, and it doesn’t change how I feel about what’s happened in California.”
Johnson said his comments had nothing to do with those killed in the blazes, or with the firefighters who continue to battle fires across the West.
“I in no way meant to disparage the firefighters or the people who have been killed. My heart goes out to the people that have been affected by this,” Johnson said, according to the Vindicator. “It wasn’t one of the better memes I’ve posted.”
Johnson doubled down on his criticism of California, though.
He said the state “has been overtaken by liberals who have taxed and over-regulated the state,” according to WFMJ. “There are changes that could have been made which would have helped prevent the deadly fires had there been proper management of forests, but the timber industry is not allowed. The firefighters and people’s lives should never have been put in jeopardy. They did not have to die …”
That language recalls claims President Trump has made on Twitter about California bringing disaster upon itself through mismanagement — claims that California firefighters, fire scientists and leaders have vocally questioned and debunked.
The Democrats who called on Johnson to step down from his position suggested the meme’s rhetoric is part of a broader shift in American politics.
“Johnson’s post is symptomatic of the depravity that has engulfed the Republican Party in the age of Trump,” Betras said in the Facebook post. “I would say that Johnson should be ashamed of himself, but as he and the president he worships have proved time and again, they have no shame.”