Protesters lining up for, against Toms River official who wished Omar dead
The Toms River Regional School District school board's meeting on Wednesday night will be a showdown between supporters of board member Dan Leonard and those who want him to step down over controversial Facebook posts.
Leonard first came under pressure to step down after posting a link on his Facebook page to an article that said U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., called "for hunger strikes to end ICE" and added the caption, "My life would be complete if she/they die ..."
A separate April post by Leonard shared a video featuring U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a Muslim immigrant, with Leonard's caption: "Terrorist....... 100%."
The post he shared referred to her controversial quote from a speech regarding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. At a March banquet for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Omar said “CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” The quote has frequently been criticized as dismissive of the attacks.
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.
CAIR New Jersey, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Gov. Phil Murphy, and Board of Education President Joseph Nardini have all called for Leonard to quit over those posts and others they say are hostile to Muslims or otherwise inappropriate. Leonard said he will remain in office until the end of his term on Dec. 31 -- that he won't run again, but not resign.
"I think everyone's well aware I'm not resigning because what they're saying I did never happened," he said in a video video posted Monday on his Team Leonard Facebook page. "I never called for Congresswoman Tlaib's death and the way they're portraying it, and the things I said about Congresswoman's Omar are based on facts."
He said Ilhan Omar's district in Minnesota is the "No. 1 terror-recruiting district in the country" and wasn't sorry if anyone is offended by his calling the freshman Democrat a "terrorist."
"It's not illegal to make anyone offended, last I checked," Leonard said.
He said Tlib calling for a hunger strike against ICE is "irresponsible."
Leonard also accused the district of "folding like a cheap suit" when a representative from CAIR New Jersey came to the last board meeting. He apologized for the board being drawn into the spotlight over his comments.
"My rights do not stop where other people's feelings start," Leonard said.
He said Wednesday's "peaceful demonstration" would be a "show of support" and said there "wouldn't be anything crazy."
Leonard warned his supporters that his detractors would "lie at the podium" and appreciated anyone who would speak on his behalf because he cannot in his capacity as a board member.
He urged people to research CAIR and accused them of being involved with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and funding terrorism.
In another post Monday, he included an image from The Sound of Music with the words over it: "Here is Dan Leonard still not giving a f--k if a Congress member dies while starving themselves during a politically motivated hunger strike in protest of a federal agency of the government (ICE)." He wrote on the post "T-48 Hours ... Still don't CAIR ... We are a nation of laws!"
Tuesday, he shared a video critical of CAIR titled "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West." He also shared New Jersey 101.5 host Bill Spadea's Tuesday Facebook Live video arguing Leonard is entitled to his views and speech.
He's shared other posts critical of CAIR, Tlaib, Omar, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Antifa. Several past posts allege connections between CAIR and terrorist groups, or describe CAIR as part of Hamas. Other posts criticize Democrats, saying they haven't condemned antisemitism and accusing the Congresswomen of promoting it.
Some recent posts share images making jokes out of Mexican accents such as one Aug. 16 that reads "Mexican word of the day: Bodywash. No bodywash CNN because they are fake news." One on Aug. 17 following the same basic format: "Mexican word of the day: Beheading. Omar & Tlaib won't beheading to Israel anytime soon."
An online petition posted by supporters of Leonard saying he was the target of "a coordinated international campaign to disparage his integrity and fitness for his position on the school board by a group which government organizations have tied to known terrorists" had more than 700 signatures by this week.
Earlier this summer, an attorney who represents the Board of Education released a statement distancing the district and the board from Leonard's online comments.
"The Toms River Board of Education has been advised of allegations regarding comments posted on Facebook by a member of the Board, Dan Leonard, who was operating solely in his personal capacity," the statement reads.
It continues: Accordingly, the Board had no part in such posting and those statements do not represent the opinions and positions of the Board. The Board will investigate and confer with the Board attorney as to any possible violations of the school board code of ethics and other applicable statutory provisions, and determine any appropriate course of action with regard to the Board member. The Board does not endorse, support or comment on any private social media page or group, and will not tolerate racist, incendiary or offensive language on its official platforms."
In July 2017, Leonard faced a civil harassment complaint filed by then-school board member Robert Onofrietti Jr., who claimed that Leonard parked his truck outside Onofrietti's home for half an hour.
The charges were dropped about a month later by Onofrietti.
In 2018, an ethics complaint was filed with the state against Leonard by former school board member Christopher Raimann. The complaint said Leonard used his Facebook page to "repeatedly posted 'confidential matters' which should not be known to the public."
Leonard's 2016 Toyota Tundra had to be towed from the scene of the two-vehicle accident on July 6 on Hooper Ave. The driver of the other vehicle, a white Audi sedan, said to officers that he "feared for his life" during the encounter, while three witnesses said that Leonard was traveling at a high rate of speed and at one point began chasing the sedan.
Leonard repeatedly has denied the police report findings and has countered by saying he was "brake checked" and almost died, while sharing crude comments on his Facebook page about the other driver, whom he said was "an Illegal Gay Male Escort."
Police said that Leonard's statement changed multiple times when they were speaking with him, and said that he was "agitated and uncooperative" during the crash investigation.
— With past reporting by Erin Vogt
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