The past year has been fraught with political divisiveness, the kind of polarization so deep that it was felt even at the local level.
The ease with which people, both in and out of the public eye, can make their views known on social media has complicated matters. At the Dec. 5 Agoura Hills City Council meeting, Liberty Canyon resident and frequent city critic Larry Brown accused six-time Agoura Hills Mayor Denis Weber of supporting hate groups on his Facebook feed and called for his resignation.
Brown showed the City Council, as Weber looked on, a series of screenshots from groups Weber had liked on his Facebook page and said 10 of the groups are listed on the on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch page. The SPLC is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights.
Among the sites Brown said Weber liked was the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based nonprofit conservative Christian organization that ended up in the SPLC crosshairs because of its stance on gay rights.
Brown said the Alliance advocates for the criminalization of homosexuality and forced sterilization of transgender citizens, and has purportedly claimed that homosexuality is linked to pedophilia. The group is advocating for the rights of a Colorado baker who refuses to make wedding cakes for gay couples, an issue currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Brown identified other groups that he, a self-professed far-left liberal, finds unconscionable, such as Gun Owners of America, which, he said, makes “the NRA look moderate.”
“Founder Larry Pratt stands at the intersection of guns and Jesus, lobbying for unrestricted distribution of firearms while advocating a theocratic society based on Old Testament civil and religious law,” Brown said.
He was also critical of other groups that he said Weber favored on Facebook, including Oath Keepers, which SPLC calls a radical antigovernment group.
“Nobody clicks ‘like,’ which demonstrates approval, on that many hate groups by coincidence,” Brown said.
But ardent liberal Brown is known himself on Facebook as a frequent emitter of profane-laden attacks against Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
In a subsequent interview with The Acorn, Rabbi Moshe Bryski of the Chabad of the Conejo, a longtime Weber supporter, downplayed Brown’s comments and allegations of racism.
“I’ve known Denis Weber for many years,” Bryski said. “He’s like a brother to me. There’s not a bone in his body with any hate. He has a deep love and respect for the Jewish faith, for the Jewish people and for Israel. If you know the person, you know the person. A click here and a click there doesn’t make a difference. . . . I judge a person on their heart and soul. And I know his heart and soul, and it’s in the right place.”
Weber didn’t deny liking certain websites, but bristles at the idea that he supports hateful agendas. He said he generally hits the Facebook like button based on a specific article he has read rather than in support of the umbrella group that published it.
Weber said the notion that he supports the criminalization of homosexuality is absurd.
“That’s outrageous,” he said. “Hell no . . . that’s like Hitler.
“Every human being is a child of God,” said Weber, no fan of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“To me they are a very leftwing organization,” he said.
Agoura Hills resident Pat MacGregor attended the meeting and said she agreed with Brown’s testimony.
“I believe (Weber’s) . . . lack of understanding of people of different races and faiths make it so that I could no longer support him,” MacGregor said. “I care very much about our city and want the people who represent us to be above reproach. Mr. Weber’s recent Facebook likes do not do that.”
Weber said that while he may be the most conservative member of the Agoura City Council, that doesn’t get in the way of his friendship with fellow council members and the respect he has for them.
“Others can have a different opinion but not a different set of facts,” Weber said. “I have spent my career working with all manner of individuals and have gotten along with them all and never thought about their particular brand of politics, but respected them and they me. I am not against any group or person—period.”
He likens being a City Council member to being in a family.
“ Family members disagree,” Weber said. “I don’t get angry with them if they disagree with me.” He said some of his own family members are liberal and therefore they’ve struck a deal to never talk politics. “I love them. I love our time together.”
Weber said he felt blindsided by Brown’s accusation of social media insensitivity.
“I don’t know (what groups) I’ve liked or what I’ve shared,” Weber said. “I like horses, I like the military, I like patriotism. I never had a cause to investigate groups or drill down. People who do that need to get a life.
“People know me,” he said. “I’m a happy guy, I’m a friendly guy. . . . I just want to work, go home and be with my family every single night,” he said.
Weber said he will not resign from the City Council.