An Alameda County sheriff’s office link on Twitter to a prominent white supremacist’s press conference late Monday night prompted concern and raised questions online about possible support by a sheriff’s office employee for white nationalist ideas.
Sgt. Ray Kelly, sheriff’s office spokesman, said Tuesday morning that his retweet — to a Richard Spencer press conference about the recent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — was completely accidental.
“It was a mistake,” he said. “We do not condone, we do not endorse, we do not believe in that type of hate speech or the people that spew it.”
Kelly said the retweet happened as he was doing research in advance of the rally planned for Sunday, Aug. 27, in Berkeley that is expected to draw white nationalists as well as those who oppose them. Kelly said the sheriff’s office will be in Berkeley as part of the law enforcement response.
Kelly said he clicked on a link to view a Periscope video post of the Spencer press conference, and that resulted in a tweet to the event automatically being posted on the sheriff’s office account. In a panic, he then tried to remove the tweet, and may have retweeted it again, he said.
Many people who saw the tweet hypothesized online that it was evidence that someone at the sheriff’s office had intended to promote Spencer’s messages from his or her own account. Kelly said that could not be further from the truth: He has no personal Twitter account and does not use social media off-duty.
“I’m very embarrassed, I really am,” he said. “I’m not very savvy at this social media stuff.”
He said some people have also told him that “retweeting” — or sharing someone else’s tweet — requires two clicks, and that it’s not easy to do by accident. That’s not the case with Periscope, he said. (Periscope is the system Twitter uses for live video broadcasts.)
“It did not give me that option,” he said. Of the retweet, he said, it just “went up.”
Kelly said the sheriff’s office wants to be informed about the views of some of the people who may show up in Berkeley at Civic Center Park later this month.
“We are following what’s being said, some of the rhetoric that’s being said,” he said. Several protests earlier this year in Berkeley made it clear how important it is to be informed about what could occur Aug. 27, Kelly added. “The last three, they were violent. There were acts of vandalism. And, after what’s happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, this is an important issue that we are preparing for.”
As news spread on Twitter about the sheriff’s office retweet, people who were concerned about its meaning urged other community members to “light up the phones” at the sheriff’s office to get to the bottom of the matter. And they did.
Kelly told Berkeleyside he has spent the morning on the phone explaining the circumstances of the error to one caller after another.
“I can’t recall a time when the tension was so high,” he said. “Social media is a very powerful thing. It’s powerful when you make a mistake on it. I will make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Kelly’s tweet went up Monday around 11 p.m., and was eventually removed. At 11:34 p.m., Kelly tweeted, “We are working to take this accidental retweet down. It is not showing up in our feed … to delete.” By Tuesday morning, the tweet no longer appeared in the sheriff’s office Twitter timeline. The tweet about attempting to remove the link to the press conference, however, has garnered more than 600 comments and more than 100 retweets. Much of the response has been critical.
Kelly said he feels terrible about the error and absolutely does not support Spencer or condone his views: “I don’t think anyone’s harder on themselves than the person who made the mistake,” he said.
He said he has already spoken with the sheriff, as well as members of the county Board of Supervisors, about what happened and why.
“They know my heart,” he said. “They know it was an accident.”