Washington County Sheriff's Office deletes Halloween tweet
For months since the killing of George Floyd, protesters calling for police reform in downtown Portland and across the country have said American law enforcement today too closely resembles a police state.
But a Friday morning, Oct. 30, pre-Halloween post on Twitter by the Washington County Sheriff's Office made a connection between law enforcement and fascism perhaps a little too closely.
The tweet showed a photo of what appeared to be two deputies dressed in costumes as Darth Vader and a stormtrooper — the evil, galaxy-oppressing antagonist from the Star Wars films and one of his Imperial soldiers.
Ahead of Halloween during the coronavirus pandemic, the post encouraged people to "Celebrate safely this year!" with the message: "Prepping for Halloween 2020 checklist: Masks, 6 (feet) apart, Don't use a lightsaber as a flashlight."
The deputies were standing in front of police vehicles and wearing patrol vests, one with the name tag "Vader."
The post drew the ire of hundreds of social media users, who were quick to point out in comments and memes the irony of local law enforcement officials dressing up as the fascist characters people have figuratively portrayed them as on recent protest signs.
Posts on the agency's social media page typically have only a handful of retweets or comments. The Halloween post had more than 1,000 retweets with comments hours after it went up.
The term "stormtroopers" used by Star Wars creator George Lucas is derived from a German word for special German Army soldiers from World War I. Ahead of the Nazi Party's rise to power in 1930s Germany, a paramilitary group used to protect people at Nazi rallies was called the "Storm Detachment."
Several comments on the post drew that connection by showing videos or photos of Nazi soldiers.
One person commented, "Bit weird to see police wearing a helmet deliberately (modeled) after a Nazi Stahlhelm. Saying the quiet part loud here lads."
Another person posted a photo of another Star Wars character's evil grin with the comment, "Cops when they get to publicly display their affection for fascism."
Someone else wrote, "May the excessive force be with you."
One person pointed out that the Oregon Health Authority has said Halloween costume masks should not be considered effective for mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.
Some commenters took a less humorous tone, posting links to news articles about a deputy at the Washington County Jail who is currently facing two felony assault charges, a felony unlawful use of a weapon charge and first-degree official misconduct, a misdemeanor, for beating Albert Molina, a man who was being booked into the jail during a 2018 incident.
Multiple law enforcement agencies who reviewed the incident at the time found no issues with Deputy Rian Alden's actions.
An inquiry into the incident was revived after a 2004 email surfaced in which Alden used racial slurs and espoused racist views of Mexicans.
Molina, who is Latino, received $625,000 in June after Washington County settled his civil lawsuit. His attorneys say the incident caused permanent injuries.
Less than four hours after the Halloween tweet by the Sheriff's Office went up, officials deleted it.
"Earlier today, in an attempt to provide some humor and encourage a safe Halloween, we fell short for some," read a Friday afternoon tweet by the Sheriff's Office. "We are grateful to have a community that holds us accountable; we hear you and commit to continuing to listen and learn. Thank you."
Sgt. Danny DiPietro, a spokesman, said aside from the intent to be humorous and remind people to be safe, the post coincided with the release date of the second season of the Star Wars series "The Mandalorian."
DiPietro said the photo had actually been taken in 2019 for a May 4 "(May the fourth be with you)" social media post.
"While we can't discount anyone's reaction to the tweet, we never intended it to be an endorsement of fascism, and we appreciate the community feedback so we can be more sensitive to those perceptions in the future," DiPietro said in an email.
Pamplin Media Group has reached out to local civil rights groups for this story.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comments from the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
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