Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe is garnering criticism online for his tweet defending antifa, a movement of anti-fascist groups in the U.S.
The controversy, which has gotten attention from residents on social media, followed a tweet Poe posted Sunday in response to President Donald Trump’s tweet stating he was considering labeling antifa, the left-wing group, as an “organization of terror.”
In response to the president, Poe tweeted, “As protesters clash at a far-right rally in Portland, Trump suggests naming antifa a terrorist group, @realDonaldTrump. Antifa stands up to hate, misogyny, racism and bigotry.” He also included a link to a recent article about the protest.
Poe told The Alligator he is not taking any sides.
“I don’t have a status on antifa,” he said. “My tweet was about the president’s suggestion that he was going to declare them a terrorist organization which is incredibly misplaced.”
Gainesville Police Ofc. Bobby White, who became known as “Basketball Cop” after a 2016 video of him playing basketball with a group of boys went viral, responded directly to the mayor’s tweet. He repeatedly questioned Poe’s stance on the anti-facist group.
“Are you pro-antifa?” White asked the mayor. “Do you realize that Antifa is who we as law enforcement were preparing for when Richard Spencer came to town?”
He then followed up with another tweet, asking, “So, are you pro-antifa?”
White declined to comment on his exchange with Poe.
Local members of the far-left group exist in Gainesville. In Oct. 2018, they protested white supremacist Richard Spencer’s speech at UF. At the event, three alt-right Spencer supporters shot at a crowd of people.
“I have no patience for antifa’s vigilantism and their willingness to use acts of violence or destroy property,” Poe said. “But they do not employ any ideologies or tactics that are meant to terrorize the population.”
Antifa has no unified structure or national leadership and can vary in every city, according to USA Today. Members do not always abstain from violence, and the movement’s primary goal is to “stop neo-Nazis and white supremacists from gaining a platform.”
Other comments on Poe’s tweet called attention to the violent actions antifa groups have taken in the past. William H. Russell Jr., a 58-year-old Gainesville resident, said the mayor was wrong to Tweet in defense of antifa groups.
“For a mayor -- a public official -- to come out and support antifa and then turn around and backtrack and say that he doesn’t advocate violence, I’m sorry to tell you Mr. Poe, but if you advocate antifa you’re advocating violence,” Russell said.
He said he believes that antifa groups pose a threat to both the safety and the opinions of the Gainesville community. Russell added that he thinks the mayor should resign or be removed from office.
A post on the Gainesville Word of Mouth Facebook page about the tweet received more than 580 comments before being deleted.
Resident Ceciley Meeks, 29, said she feels that Poe’s tweet was well-warranted.
“When we have people like Richard Spencer thinking they get to have a platform for their white supremacy in Gainesville, we have a problem,” Meeks said. “Poe stood up for antifa and I think that’s great.”