Last Wednesday, a pro-Trump protest descended into a violent riot as some of the massive hoards of people who protested the Electoral College certification breached the U.S. Capitol. A public school teacher in Allentown, Pa., attended the protest and the Allentown School District has penalized him for it.
“On January 7, 2021, the Allentown School District (ASD) was made aware of a staff member who was involved in the electoral college protest that took place at the United States Capitol Building on January 6, 2021,” Superintendent Thomas E. Parker said in a statement. “We understand that many members of our community are upset by the image. At the same time, the district has an obligation to respect the First Amendment rights of our staff and students.”
Parker announced that the district had already penalized the teacher involved, before opening an investigation. He cited the “emotion and controversy” over the Capitol riots.
“Because of the emotion and controversy stirred by the events of January 6, 2021, the teacher has been temporarily relieved of his teaching duties until the School District can complete a formal investigation of his involvement,” Parker announced.
It appears the suspension involves Jason Moorehead, an assistant coach and social studies teacher. Moorehead shared a photo of himself at the protest wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, with the caption “Doing my civic duty!”
Moorehead’s presence at the protest means little. While the protest did indeed turn into a riot, only a tiny portion of the thousands who marched on the Capitol actually engaged in any violence and there does not appear to be any evidence this teacher broke into the Capitol.
Moorehead also shared a post on Facebook saying, “Don’t worry everyone the capitol is insured.” He shared the post, only writing, “This!”
It seems most likely Moorehead was mocking the Black Lives Matter and antifa activists, who justified burning down buildings in the George Floyd riots this past summer by saying that the buildings were insured. While a teacher arguably should not share off-color jokes that suggest violence against public property is acceptable, it seems unlikely the teacher was actively defending physical destruction at the Capitol.
@EmmaSatin heads up, local teacher & Lehigh coach was at the Capitol riot yesterday. Suspended from Allentown School District and LU removed his profile but it’s still archived: https://t.co/Bd8wV5D2vZ pic.twitter.com/TyNrFsH3RC
— Glennard (@Glennard) January 8, 2021
Given the fact that the protest did devolve into a riot, the school district may be justified in viewing Moorehead with suspicion. However, merely attending a protest does not necessarily implicate the teacher in violence. After the Black Lives Matter protests first devolved into violence, repeated attendance at those protests became unwise — especially in cities like Portland where violence became a regular feature of the protests. However, the violence at the Capitol riot had no precedent. Pro-Trump protesters had gathered in Washington, D.C., many times before, and — unlike antifa — they did not attack businesses or federal property.
Superintendent Parker’s decision to rush to judgment contrasts with his vocal support for the Black Lives Matter movement in June. A few weeks after violence first emerged in the wake of George Floyd protests, Parker wrote an op-ed championing “anti-racism” in education. He did not once acknowledge or condemn the vandalism and arson at the riots, saying only, “When the marches are over, the speeches are given, and all the pictures are taken, we will still be here educating our children.”
Would Parker have immediately suspended a teacher who attended a Black Lives Matter protest that later became violent? Would he have assumed that any such teacher was complicit in that violence? Or would he have hesitated before rushing to judgment?
Worse, Parker’s statement suggests that the district rushed to suspend the teacher because of “emotion and controversy,” rather than any evidence the teacher engaged in violence.
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Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.