Progressive group blasts Utah House candidate for ‘reprehensible’ social media posts

This article originally appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here.

A progressive group is condemning a Republican state House candidate for offensive social media posts, such as one calling a woman who’d reported sexual assault a “psycho gold digger.”

The organization, Alliance for a Better Utah, on Wednesday released a collection of screen grabs taken from the Facebook and Twitter accounts of Fred Johnson, a West Valley City resident who’s running to represent Utah House District 31.

In one tweet from January, he compared Women’s March participants to “pigs” based on an Infowars reporter’s account of the mess the demonstrators left behind.

When commenting on a video of a teachers strike in 2012, he wrote, “Looks like most of those fatties can use the exercise.” He ended the tweet with an emoji winking and sticking its tongue out. In response to a 2015 Washington Post article about how black men are at greater risk than whites of being killed in police shootings, he said, “Maybe they should rethink their lives of crime.”

Reached by phone Wednesday, Johnson, a 69-year-old craftsman, didn’t contest that he’d posted the comments and apologized if anyone was offended by them.

“I’ve been told I should post more like a politician and less like a bricklayer,” he said.

But he charged Alliance for a Better Utah with cherrypicking his worst tweets and launching a “smear attack” to derail his campaign against the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Elizabeth Weight. The district is a competitive one, he said, noting he lost the seat to a Democrat in 2012 by a mere 77 votes.

Johnson was the Republican nominee last election in state Senate District 1, where he lost to Democratic incumbent Sen. Luz Escamilla.

Katie Matheson, spokeswoman for Alliance for a Better Utah, said the social media posts aren’t just poorly worded — they contain reprehensible ideas.

“I don’t live in that district, but as a woman, it’s incredibly disturbing to hear the things that he said about women. And as a woman with children, it’s disturbing to hear the things he said about teachers,” she said.

And some of the troubling tweets are from earlier this year, not from the distant past, she said. In March, news broke about a woman who’d alleged the former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Missionary Training Center in Provo had sexually assaulted her in the 1980s. In response, Johnson tweeted, “Can you say, ‘psycho gold digger’?”

Johnson acknowledged the post was inappropriate, explaining that he’s sometimes too hasty to defend the LDS Church.

“It seems like there’s a lot of people attacking it for no reason,” he said.

As an uncle to several police officers, it can also touch a nerve with him when people criticize law enforcement, he said.

Weight, a former educator, said Johnson’s comments about teachers and others are “unfortunate.”

“I’m astounded that someone would make public statements of that type,” she said.

Johnson acknowledged he’s outspoken — his twitter username is “didisaythatoutloud?” — and believes political correctness is stifling free discourse across the nation. On the other hand, he does believe people should use judgment in their online commentary.

This article originally appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here.

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