BISMARCK — A North Dakota legislator says political opponents hacked his Facebook page and shared posts condemning Islam earlier this week, but his social media account has played host to similar posts as far back as 2016, leaving some lawmakers wondering if he's being truthful about the situation.
Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, said Tuesday, Jan. 14, he is not sure how two posts condemning Islam appeared on his Facebook page Monday. One of the posts shared from Kasper's account reads "The whole world has one common problem(:) Islam." Another article shared from the account just seven minutes before said "Minnesota's Twin Cities are lost" to "the Islamic Movement." Kasper later deleted the posts from his page, which is private.
In a subsequent post, Kasper apologized to anyone who was offended and said he is the not the kind of person who would share that sort of content. However, anti-Islam posts have been shared from the longtime lawmaker's Facebook page dating back at least several years.
One post from September 2016 includes an article from a right-wing blog site which says Islam "has brought violence, pain, suffering and death" to America. The article also accuses former U.S. President Barack Obama of being a "fake Christian and pro-Islamofascist advocate." Another post from July 2018 lists restrictions on Muslims that "keep Islam at bay" in Japan. The fact-checking website PolitiFact determined the viral graphic was be based completely on false information.
Kasper said he does not recall sharing the posts and maintains he is not against Islam. He added that he does not think the U.S. government should put legal restrictions on Muslims as the graphic suggests.
"I respect all religions, and I respect all people," Kasper told Forum News Service on Friday. "If I see something that might be interesting, I share it, but I don't focus on any faith or religion."
Another post shared from Kasper's account in September 2019 asks why Muslims "insist on moving to non-Muslim countries" and suggests Muslims should "remain in MUSLIM countries." Kasper said he does not recall sharing the post.
The history of anti-Islam posts on Kasper's page has some state lawmakers questioning whether their colleague was really hacked by political opponents.
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said he has worked with Kasper on several issues and has found him to be someone who "tries to do the right thing." However, Boschee said a "long pattern" of incendiary posts about religion suggests Kasper's explanation is unlikely.
"I find it hard to believe that it was a hack based on the previous posts," Boschee said. "There may be evidence that shows the contrary, but up until now, there seems to be a fact pattern of what type of posts are being made based on what has been shared previously."
Boschee also described it as improbable that Kasper was the only one hacked out of all the state legislators. The Democratic lawmaker said Kasper should take responsibility for the posts and help bring people together instead of further dividing them.
"I hope this at least changes the behavior (toward) being more cautious about what we put out there (on social media)," Boschee said.
North Dakota Republican Party chairman Rick Berg said he didn't want to draw conclusions on the controversial episode without all the information but that he takes Kasper at his word. Berg added that the party stands for inclusion and does not support the types of posts that appeared on Kasper's page.
Berg said the party "encourages (Republican lawmakers) to make sure that what they post online is what they're intending to post." The former U.S. representative mentioned that public officials are responsible to the voters and issues of misconduct on social media are usually handled internally by party leadership in the Legislature. House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, was out of the state Friday and unavailable for comment.
State legislators on both sides of the aisle were criticized last year for making inflammatory posts on Facebook. First-term Democratic Rep. Mary Adams shared multiple posts in 2019 comparing President Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. The Grand Forks lawmaker also insinuated that she hoped something bad would happen to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence so that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would become president.
Republican State Sen. Oley Larsen shared a photo that mislabeled U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., as an Al Qaida-affiliated terrorist. Larsen later apologized for "spreading fake news" but said he would not apologize to Omar or cede his position as interim president pro tempore.
Kasper has served in the North Dakota House of Representatives since 2001 and announced his bid for reelection last week. Kasper's district includes much of south Fargo along the state border with Minnesota.