NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A city councilor who called Black Lives Matter a terrorist group on his public access show and said he didn't understand systemic racism is getting plenty of pushback on social media.
He also downplayed the novel coronavirus pandemic that's killed more than 140,000 Americans and more than 600,000 worldwide as miniscule and overblown.
Robert Moulton Jr., who was returned to the City Council last year and while also winning a seat on the School Committee, was speaking on his long-running show "Let's Talk About It" on Northern Berkshire Community Television that aired live on Tuesday night with guest co-host Edward Morandi.
Referring to neighbors who have Black Lives Matter signs on their lawns, Moulton said he didn't think they understood what it was.
"I don't agree with it, I don't think people know what it is. It seems like that it's this month's flavor," the former mayoral candidate said "It's a terrorist organization. They want to get rid of the family, as it is."
Shortly after the show aired, his fellow Councilors Jason LaForest and Benjamin Lamb posted their support for Black Lives Matter on their Facebook feeds.
"Call me a moron. Call me a phony. Call me a 'snowflake' or some other immature catch phrase. Call me whatever you so choose. It doesn't matter. You know what does? Black Lives Matter," wrote Lamb.
LaForest said, "There is no room for uninformed and hate-filled rhetoric in our society and public discourse. In 2020, we continue to shout 'BLACK LIVES MATTER!'"
Black Lives Matter was founded by three women after George Zimmerman was acquited in the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013. The grassroots movement gained more supporters after a series of high-profile police brutality incidents and has become a leading voice for addressing police accountability and systemic racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd's death sparked global protests that have been largely peaceful although some early protests saw vandalism and destruction of private property.
There have been a number of rallies in the Berkshires for Black Lives Matter and calls for the mostly white population to consider the experience of the county's people of color. Local and state officials have attended several of these protests and have vowed to help create more inclusive and responsive communities.
"I still really haven't had systemic racism explained to me," Moulton said. "But, in my opinion, they've hijacked the word racism because I don't believe any of this is racism ("No, it's prejudice," said Morandi, with which Moulton agreed.) but they kind of use that word racism, you know, that would be like, I guess the Vegetable Growers of America saying everybody kind of like all the vegetables, and well I don't like asparagus well, you're gonna like it, but you can't make a law to make me like it."
"But," he added, "you have to be compassionate and we all have to get along. We're all the same race."
Moulton also, talking about "Pine Cobble College" and Pine Cobble University" in apparent reference to Williams College, noted that the founder, Ephraim Williams, owned slaves and wondered what if they would change the name.
"How many people are gonna say you're right. Black Lives Matter," he said. "You know how they take down statues of Christopher Columbus and want to put Chef Boyardee up. ... "
Morandi also claimed that the donations to Black Lives Matter were going to the "top 10" congressional Democrats, all of whom are white. Black Lives Matter uses the nonprofit fundraising platform ActBlue, which supports progressive and Democratic causes including political campaigns and charities. It acts as a conduit for small-donation campaigns and charges a fee for its use. Conservative causes have a similar platform called WinRed. In both cases, donations go to the groups or individuals doing the fund raising, not the Democratic or Republican parties.
Moulton also described the COVID-19 pandemic as "miniscule," trying to relate the number of cases in the United States to a few grains out of a five-pound bag of sugar. He also said he'd heard last year was the worst flu season yet there had been no stopping the economy or closing schools. He said he wasn't worried about an infected contractor coming to his home.
"I'm trying to understand, like how can I relate to people how minuscule this," he said. "And again, there's people more susceptible and I'm one, I'm in the number one group, I'm an over 60, insulin-dependent diabetic."
The last flu season from about October to late April saw 24,000 to 62,000 deaths and a hospitalization rate of about 69 per 100,000 people; the COVID-19 pandemic has so far seen 142,677 deaths and an overall cumulative hospitalization rate of 113.6 per 100,000 since February. This is according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
"I just figure what's being done to this economy is terrible, what's being done in the world is terrible," Moulton said, adding that the modeling that postulated "10s of millions are going to be infected, they scared the wits out of everyone. ... They literally make this up as they go along."
He said he was disappointed in Gov. Charlie Baker, who has gotten high marks for his handling of the pandemic, and called New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo "the biggest killer."
"I am deeply disappointed to learn that a fellow City Councillor believes COVID-19 isn't real," wrote LaForest. "As a nurse, I have lost 24 patients to COVID; and we lost an immediate family member to the virus — it is real."
Moulton and Morandi indicated that they thought Black Lives Matter and the pandemic would disappear after the presidential election.
"It's a difficult, difficult time and I know a lot of people don't agree with me," Moulton said. "But they can have their own show, right, give their opinion."