Less than 24 hours after he became the subject of an article titled "South Carolina Mayor Shamelessly Shares Anti-Muslim Facebook Memes," Irmo Mayor Hardy King faced the wrath of those he called liberal bullies.
Many called him a racist. A Facebook user from British Columbia simply wrote: "southern people suck."
On Wednesday morning, King talked about the fallout from his decision to share the controversial memes.
"People here in our town work, they raise families," he told The Post and Courier on Wednesday. "I've got a business, I've got a wife, I've got children. What somebody in British Columbia thinks about me, I don’t care."
He said he did not understand how his memes had been perceived as "racist" in light of the fact that Islam is a religion. He also said the memes were factually accurate.
King, who has been mayor since 2011 and plans to seek re-election in 2019, said that while he has never been known for political correctness, the town's residents respect him and the work he's done to try to improve their lives.
Irmo is a Columbia suburb nestled between Lake Murray and Interstate 26. Its population is relatively diverse compared with other South Carolina towns. Census figures put its white population at about 57 percent of the town's roughly 12,000 residents, well below the white population of Lexington County (80 percent), which surrounds the town.
King said he did not know if any Muslims live in Irmo.
"I don't ask people when I knock on doors — I don't ask them if they're Muslim," he said. "If they're a citizen, they're a citizen."
The best teacher I had at Irmo High was Muslim. Many of my friends were Muslim. It has NEVER been easy for them to feel at home. Sharing stupid, hateful memes perpetuates the small-minded exclusivity I'm embarrassed is so deeply woven into the South and my experience with it— Malia Griggs (@maliagriggs) June 5, 2018
Malia Griggs, a native of Irmo who runs social media for The Daily Beast, said on Twitter that Muslims have never felt safe in her hometown because of the divisive rhetoric so publicly promoted by the town's mayor.
"Sharing stupid, hateful memes perpetuates the small-minded exclusivity I'm embarrassed is so deeply woven into the South and my experience with it," Griggs wrote.
On April 6, King shared a meme titled, "FACTS!" The post, in fact, went on to list several pointed statements with immigrants as the focus.
On May 26, he shared a meme that said, "Liberals are saying the American flag is offensive to Muslims ... Share if you don't give a damn."
In response, former Irmo resident Ahmed Mohiuddin commented on the post and asked King how he knew that Muslims were offended by the flag. He also asked if King had talked to any of the dozens of Muslim residents in Irmo.
King said he never asks anyone he meets if they are Muslim, Christian, atheist, Democrat or Republican.
"Is that what you do?" he said to Mohiuddin. "Shame, shame if you do."
Sam Edwards, an alumna of Irmo High School, said King has the right as an American to say what he wants to say, even if it's inaccurate. But that right doesn't make it appropriate for the leader of a police force to post memes that attribute negative stereotypes to minorities.
Edwards, who is running for the S.C. House of Representatives District 85 as a Democrat, called for King's resignation.
"I'm hopeful that this will start a push for more people to get involved and run for office," she said.
King said that anyone who knows him knows that he cares about God, his family and his community.
He said that even though he doesn't care to know his voters' religious beliefs, he would sit down with a Muslim if asked to learn about their religion.