POLITICS

N.J. School Board Member: 'My Life Would Be Complete' If Rep. Rashida Tlaib Died

Daniel Leonard is refusing to resign despite backlash from community members and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

A New Jersey school board member faces calls to resign over offensive comments he made on Facebook targeting Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), both of whom are Muslim.

Daniel Leonard, a member of the Toms River Board of Education in New Jersey, has said he won’t step down over the comments, which he posted to his Facebook page in April. In one post, Leonard refers to Omar as a “terrorist,” and in another he says his “life would be complete” if Tlaib were dead.

In another post, Leonard shares an Islamophobic fake ad for “Sharia Barbie” that is described as coming with “JIHAB, BRUISES & QURAN.” The “JIHAB” is an apparent reference to a hijab, or a Muslim headscarf.

Screenshots of the posts can be seen below:

Leonard, an enthusiastic supporter of President Donald Trump and a decorated combat veteran, was elected to the school board in 2016. His vitriolic Facebook posts gained national attention this week after a concerned citizen flagged them to the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

CAIR-NJ has called on Leonard to resign, and an attorney for the school board told the Asbury Park Press that his comments “are totally inappropriate, not condoned by the Board of Education, and do not reflect the board’s attitude or opinions.”

But the posts remained on Leonard’s Facebook page as of Thursday, and he stated adamantly during a school board meeting Wednesday evening that he would not resign, CAIR-NJ Executive Director James Sues told HuffPost.

“He’s very unrepentant,” Sues said. “He didn’t seem to make the connection why this would be harmful.”

About 10 community members ― both Muslim and non-Muslim ― showed up to the board meeting Wednesday to express outrage and concern over Leonard’s position on the board in light of his Facebook posts, according to Sues.

As members of the public took turns speaking about the issue, Leonard was “smirking” and “being rather belligerent,” Sues said.

“He even spoke from the stage from his position in an out-of-order way,” Sues said. “The president of the school board had to rap his gavel several times.”

After the meeting, Sues said Leonard approached him and appeared to want to make amends. They had a discussion about his posts in which Leonard admitted they were “ignorant” but refused to apologize, Sues said.

Sues said he explained to Leonard he has the right to say whatever he wants, but that it’s unbecoming of a school board member and hurtful to community members he is supposed to be serving to hold such beliefs and publicly post about them.

The school board made it clear Wednesday that the body cannot remove Leonard, but noted that community members and individual board members may file formal complaints against him, Sues said. CAIR-NJ is planning to file one, he added.

Leonard, who is up for reelection in November, defended his comments in a series of Facebook posts on Thursday and claimed to be the victim of “false narratives.”

“My point is that if a US Congresswoman wants to starve herself to death during an Anti-Trump publicity seeking Faux Hunger Strike while protesting a Federal Agency Of The United States - GOOD RIDDANCE!” Leonard wrote, appearing to refer to Tlaib.

The freshman lawmaker, during her speech at a fundraiser in Detroit in April, had encouraged people to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies. She mentioned that activists had participated in hunger strikes in the past, but did not specifically call on people to do so in her speech.

“I will not give into fear or intimidation by any one person or organization!” Leonard wrote on Facebook Thursday. “I am Anti-Sharia Law not Anti-Islam ...... Congresswoman Omar has said terrible things about our nation while refusing to condemn Radical Islam ...... Her District is the #1 Terror Recruitment Spot in the entire Nation!”

Tlaib and Omar are two the four Democratic congresswomen of color known as “the Squad.” The lawmakers ― Omar, Tlaib and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) ― have been the subject of racist attacks from Trump in recent weeks, starting with a tirade earlier this month in which the president called on them to “go back” to other countries.

All four congresswomen are American. Omar fled war-torn Somalia with her family when she was 8 years old and immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee four years later. The other three lawmakers were born in the U.S.

Trump has falsely claimed Omar is “pro-terrorist.” She has broadly condemned terrorism, but also spoken out against people who blame all Muslims for such acts.

Omar’s district includes Minneapolis and several other cities. The area has seen an unusually high level of terror recruitment, though it’s been steadily declining in the last several years, the Star Tribune reported last year.

“The bigoted views expressed by Mr. Leonard have no place in an educational system that seeks to celebrate diversity and encourage students of all faiths and backgrounds to excel scholastically and to make positive contributions to our society,” Sues said in a statement.

Leonard did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Joseph Nardini, president of the Toms River school board, issued a statement Thursday condemning Leonard’s comments and calling on him to resign. He also announced that Leonard had been stripped of his appointment to the board’s safety, security and transportation committee.

“I do not condone ― and in fact denounce ― the social media posts shared by my colleague and fellow Board Member Daniel Leonard,” Nardini wrote. “We must lead by example and set an example to our students and community that reflect our goals, ideals and vision for the future of this District.”

This story has been updated to include Nardini’s statement.

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