Pro-Confederate Flag Post Does Not Represent Party’s Views, Polk County GOP Says

A former party chairman blamed the Facebook post on a member’s hacked account — but its writing style is consistent with other posts by a local activist who made headlines in 2017 over her lobbying work on behalf of Saudi Arabia

A since-deleted post on the official Facebook page of the Polk County Republican Party, left, and a Facebook profile photo of local party activist Connie Schmett, who posts on the page, on vacation in Venice. Images: Polk County Republicans Of Iowa/Facebook; Connie L. Schmett/Facebook

A recent post on the official Facebook page of the Polk County Republican Party that implicitly supported the display of the Confederate flag does not represent the viewpoint of the county party, a former chairman told the Informer Friday.

The post, which was added to the page before noon on Thursday and removed shortly thereafter, linked to a local news article about Ray Ciccarelli, a truck racing driver who announced he was quitting NASCAR over its recent decision to prohibit fans from displaying the racist flag at its events. “i don’t believe in kneeling during Anthem nor taken ppl right to fly what ever flag they love,” Ciccarelli had announced on Facebook. “I could care less about the Confederate Flag but there are ppl that do and it doesn’t make them a racist all you are doing is fucking one group to cater to another and i ain’t spend the money we are to participate in any political BS!!”

The post on the Polk County GOP’s Facebook page appeared to applaud Ciccarelli’s decision: “We need more people to stand tall and speak out! We really don’t make our voices heard. Please be a part of our country and write letters, make phone calls and voice your opinion!!!!” It was removed shortly after this reporter tweeted a screenshot of the post, although it is unclear if the tweet factored in the decision to take it down.

“That is not the position of Polk County Republicans at all, which is why it came down so quickly,” said Wes Enos, a former chairman of the Polk County GOP, in a phone call responding to a request for comment submitted through a contact form on the party’s website. “Basically, as soon as we see those things pop up, we try to grab them and yank them down.” In this case, he said, the post was removed in about 20 minutes — as soon as he began receiving “comments that were blowing up my phone.”

The county party does not have a full-time executive director, Enos explained, so “we’ve got probably six people who are out there who basically post a lot of our content.” That content, he said, is generally intended to focus on promoting Republican candidates and campaign events. “But because we’ve got so many people who are listed as editors, the problem we run into is, there is susceptibility to if one of those people’s accounts becomes compromised, that person has access to post on our site.”

Enos said he contacted the person whose account posted the article with the message encouraging local Republicans to “stand tall and speak out!” The person, he said, told him they did not post it, so he recommended they change their internet passwords to protect their account from future breaches.

However, the post’s writing style — including the political commentary on a specific topic, call to action, and excessive use of exclamation points — is consistent with other posts on the page that are attributed to Connie Schmett, a GOP activist who serves as the county party’s co-chair. Posts on Schmett’s personal Facebook account are also written in a similar style.

In 2017, Schmett and her husband, Kim, faced legal scrutiny after Associated Press reporter Ryan Foley revealed they had “registered last year as foreign agents to campaign on behalf of Saudi Arabia’s interests against the law that helps an ongoing civil lawsuit brought by victims of the 2011 terrorist attacks over the kingdom’s alleged support for the hijackers.” Progressive journalist Laura Belin dug deeper into the couple’s activities, discovering (among other details) that Connie Schmett had made more than 20 donations to political campaigns and committees using the last name Russell. Belin’s reporting led to a new law requiring donors to use their legal surnames.

Schmett did not respond to a request for comment asking if she was the person who had posted the article about Ray Ciccarelli and the Confederate flag to the Polk County GOP’s Facebook page. The Informer mentioned her name to Enos, but he did not say whose account made the post. After we pushed back on his claim that it was posted by someone who had hacked the person’s account, he said that he could only relay the information the person told him.

A conspiracy theory falsely attributed to former Congressman Trey Gowdy that was posted to the Polk County GOP’s official Facebook page in May.

Numerous other posts on the Facebook page are not directly related to candidates or campaign events. Several of them also contain false or misleading information, including a YouTube video posted May 14 whose title falsely suggests that the health department of Ventura County, California, planned to force people out of their homes to quarantine them. “This is totally out of control,” the post reads. “People stand your ground!!!!!” Another YouTube video, titled “President Trump Signs Bill Returning Prayer in Schools,” was posted January 24 and is flagged by Facebook as part of its recent efforts to combat fake news on the site with a link to a fact-check article rating the claim “mostly false.”

The page also recently shared a post from the personal Facebook account of Jim Lightfoot, a former Republican congressman from Iowa who is now 81. This post, which quotes country singer Charlie Daniels supporting President Trump, is accurate. However, Lightfoot has had troubles of his own discerning fact from fiction. Another post on his page from June 10 is flagged by a Facebook fact-check for falsely claiming Joe Biden lives in the biggest mansion in Delaware (the house pictured in the post is in Washington DC and belongs to the Obama family). Lightfoot followed up this post with a rant he copied and pasted Saturday from an unattributed source that bemoans how difficult it is to know what to believe.

The Informer asked Enos about three other posts on the Polk County GOP page with misattributed quotations. On May 18, the page shared a viral post of a rambling conspiracy theory falsely attributed to former Congressman Trey Gowdy alleging that Democrats and the media were overhyping the coronavirus pandemic as part of a “fascist playbook” to undermine Trump’s re-election prospects. (On her personal account, Schmett shared a post with a similar format that argued the protests against George Floyd’s death had been overrun by “terrorists.”) Two posts from last December displayed fake quotes from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Enos said he was not aware of the posts, which remain up despite comments on each of them questioning their veracity.

But Enos, who is a member of the Bondurant City Council and in March launched an unsuccessful primary bid for a seat on the Polk County Board of Supervisors, said he plans to keep closer watch over the Facebook page now that he has more time since the June 2 primary election has passed.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.