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Merced County elected official says 'ghost' criticized him for anti-Jewish video

Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza poses for a photo in Merced, Calif., Friday, April 22, 2016. Espinoza is Merced County District 1 Supervisor.
Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza poses for a photo in Merced, Calif., Friday, April 22, 2016. Espinoza is Merced County District 1 Supervisor. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

After getting pushback from Merced County residents for sharing a questionable anti-Jewish conspiracy theory Facebook post, Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza questioned whether those critics even exist, according to a video he posted Tuesday.

The first-term supervisor has been criticized by members of Merced County’s Jewish community for a disparaging video he shared on Facebook that purports to describe a decades-old conspiracy about Jews. An expert confirmed to the Sun-Star that the conspiracy is commonly passed around among extreme right hate groups.

Espinoza asserts he is not racist, which raises new and troubling questions as to why he shared the original post.

The supervisor also argues he is not capable of racism because he is Latino.

Los Banos resident Susan Graham said whether Espinoza has prejudiced feelings does not negate that he “used very poor judgment” in sharing the video.

“I believe he’s using bad judgment. Even if he posted something or shared something he didn’t look at (or) that he didn’t agree with, that’s bad judgment,” she said. “I’m wondering what other kind of poor judgment he’s going to have in making decisions for the people of Merced County.”

Espinoza has since deleted the anti-Semitic video, but stands by sharing it on his page next to fliers for local youth programs and advocacy for participatory government.

Espinoza has not responded to several calls since Friday from the Sun-Star seeking comment. Instead he has recorded responses on his Facebook page, which are only visible to his “friends” on the social media network.

In a video posted Tuesday afternoon, he said “I guess I do apologize” before he went on to defend sharing the anti-Semitic post and questioning whether his detractors are real. He went as far as to question if Graham’s Facebook persona was a “ghost account” made up by the Sun-Star.

“The video I shared on Facebook, in my opinion, didn’t have any negativity,” he said. “It seemed interesting to me and so that’s why I shared it.”

Espinoza, before his post on Tuesday, had said he didn’t remember anything about the video.

The anti-Semitic video claims that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were an “inside job,” allowed by the wealthy Jewish Rothschild family. Conspiracy theories concerning the Rothschild family date back to the 18th century, and the family’s wealth was largely responsible for the antisemitic belief that “Jews control the world’s money supply,” according to Snopes.com, a fact-checking website.

Graham responded to the idea that she is not real. “That’s ridiculous,” Graham told the Sun-Star on Wednesday. “(Espinoza) has seen my Facebook page. He knows who I am because I ‘friended’ him, I’m sure he looked at my page.”

Other supervisors who spoke to the Sun-Star on Wednesday said they use their Facebook page to spread information to their constituents, and that elected officials have a responsibility to make sure they share only solid, accurate information.

Supervisor Lloyd Pareira said his social media sites are often viewed by residents, because they are easier to get to than his cellphone number. “I never post anything without fully reading it, and I really don’t forward many videos,” he said. “We’re elected (officials) and people look to us (to see) what we’re thinking and doing. I would never want to just share something on a whim.”

Supervisors also said they avoid getting into prolonged discussions on their social media pages. If a constituent feels slighted or is troubled by a post, it’s a supervisor’s responsibility to make amends, according to Supervisor Daron McDaniel.

Social media sites are a “direct reflection” of the individual using them, he said. “As an elected official we’re being judged 24/7. We’re on call at all times,” he said. “And, not just social media. It’s what you say in the public, what you say to groups you talk to.”

Members of a Merced temple said Wednesday they are ready to put the original Facebook video behind them. The video is a “derogatory fake narrative meant to bring about hatred of Jewish people,” Ira Blatt said last week.

The president of Congregation Etz Chaim temple in Merced released a statement on Wednesday after seeing Espinoza’s latest video.

“I fully accept Supervisor Espinoza’s explanation that he did not intend to offend our Jewish community in Merced,” Blatt said in the statement. “And I also very much appreciate Supervisor Espinoza’s apology for having inadvertently done so.”

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