Twitter on Monday deleted tweets from former Milwaukee Sheriff and staunch Donald Trump ally David Clarke Jr. that downplayed the severity of the coronavirus by calling for businesses to ignore local ordinances aimed at stopping the pandemic.
On Sunday night, Clarke sent a series of tweets suggesting that the newly enacted measures ordering bars and restaurants to shut down were part of a scheme to destroy capitalism. Clarke urged local businesses to defy the law and stay open.
“It is now evident that this is an orchestrated attempt to destroy CAPITALISM,” Clarke wrote in a since deleted tweet. “First sports, then schools and finally commercial businesses. Time to RISE UP and push back. Bars and restaurants should defy the order. Let people decide if they want to go out.”
Clarke also told his more than 900,000 followers on Twitter, in a now-deleted tweet, that coronavirus is the “DAMN FLU.” Clarke also suggested that billionaire Democratic financier George Soros, a frequent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, was somehow involved in the pandemic.
Clarke’s tweets were deleted for breaking Twitter’s policy against “encouraging self-harm,” according to a Twitter spokesperson. But several tweets from Clarke’s rant remained accessible on the site as of Monday afternoon, including the tweet mentioning Soros and a tweet urging Clarke’s followers to “GO INTO THE STREETS” and visit restaurants.
Twitter didn’t comment on why some of Clarke’s tweets had remained on the site.
Clarke, an outspoken Trump supporter who has claimed he was in the running for a Homeland Security job in the Trump administration, blasted Twitter for deleting the tweets in a statement to The Daily Beast that his press person demanded be printed in full (but which we’re not doing since we never agreed to do such a thing before he sent it).
“I notice that everytime I get on a roll excoriating liberals and their policies, complaints about my Tweets start to pop up,” Clarke told The Daily Beast. “I find it interesting that The Daily Beast can actually get a hold of a live spokesperson at Twitter. I nor anybody else can do that as the totalitarian fascist speech suppression bullies at Twitter cleverly have a system that doesn’t allow anyone to reach a human being during its appeal process. All I get are computer generated responses.”
Clarke said he would focus his energies in the future on Parler, a social-media app similar to Twitter that’s become popular with conservatives.
“My tweets are not for the feint (sic) of heart and that won’t change,” Clarke wrote.
Clarke also sent The Daily Beast a critical meme about him, comparing the former sheriff to black-face-wearing actor Al Jolson and calling Clarke the “only black life that doesn’t matter.”
“I didn’t complain,” Clarke said in the statement. “Politics is a contact sport. You are going to hit and sometimes you will be hit. Mine aren’t this vile however. People including Twitter officials don’t like my content and I won’t seek their approval.”
Clarke’s social media missives have raised difficult questions for the platforms; mainly, what role do they play in suppressing disinformation in a time of a global medical crisis and how exactly do they go about undertaking that task.
Clarke isn’t the only prominent Trump supporter downplaying the risks associated with the coronavirus. On Sunday, former New York Police Department commissioner Bernard Kerik suggested that anti-coronavirus measures were hysteria “being created to destabilize the country.”
UPDATE 3/24/20: A previous version of this story erroneously asserted that a Twitter account belonging to Liz Crokin urged followers not to wash their hands. The @Liz_Crokin account, in fact, does not belong to her. We regret the error.