On eve of election, candidates report harassment, slurs

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SILER CITY — An online tabloid news site published a story last week detailing harassment of “Unity 2022” mayoral candidate Nick Gallardo, saying he, his mother and friends had been subject to hateful text messages and various types of harassment, and that police officials haven’t intervened.

The state’s board of elections and the FBI are investigating the incidents, some of which were also directed at county commissioner candidate Albert Reddick — who says he was sent a text message with the image of a gorilla in a noose.

The Raw Story article, published Saturday, and a new story published Tuesday on WRAL.com say candidates and others subject to the harassment contacted the Siler City Police Department.

Chief Mike Wagner, meanwhile, told the News + Record none of the Unity candidates “have contacted my department in any way” regarding incidents of “intimidation, threats or harassment.” The Unity bloc also includes Samuel Williams and brothers Dean Picot Jr. and Jared Picot, who are seeking seats on Siler City’s board of commissioners.

Raw Story’s article — “Latino and Black candidates targeted by racists in NC town where racism still ‘runs thick’” — was published on rawstory.com. The publication, based in Washington, D.C., is described in two studies of internet content as “junk news.” It was written by reporter Jordan Green and is found under the menu heading “Extremism.”

The story says Gallardo, who’s seeking the vacant mayor seat in a race against incumbent town Commissioner Thomas “Chip” Price III and Donald Matthews, “was caught off guard by the level of vicious hatred that escalated as the primary election season progressed: more than 100 text messages, including his photo with a noose drawn around his neck and an image of a mock lynching, and crudely sexual text messages and at least one pornographic image. Beyond digital harassment, Gallardo, his mother and friends have been tailed in their vehicles.”

“To be honest with you, through the county, there were some issues that have happened,” Gallardo told Raw Story. “I wouldn’t think I would be directly attacked because of my ethnicity and sexuality; I have a girlfriend. I don’t understand why someone would draw a noose around my neck. It’s upsetting for me, but it also affects my family.”

StartUp Siler’s Kristen Picot was also quoted in the story: “Even at my job, I have had someone come in and call me the C-word. My boss has been called an ‘uppity’ N-word. It’s the old patriarchy and racism that runs thick. It’s been escalating.”

Earlier this month, Kristen Picot, in a text message to the News + Record, said a “fringe group” of local residents felt “empowered to aggravate hatred and to leave notes that are racially motivated on cars, deface property, sent text messages with racist, sexist and homophobic slurs. This fringe group have called me the c word, the b word and everything other word under the sun. People stopping at Walmart and yelling at me over things that are untrue from the article [referencing a story in the May 5-11 edition of the newspaper about the Unity ticket; Picot did not respond to multiple requests for specifics about the allegations]. They have followed me home.”

The News + Record asked to see photos of the vandalized property and notes and screenshots of text messages. Kristen Picot declined, saying via text: “I will not comment on a group, that in my opinion has led to the racial, sexist and homophobic attacks directed at myself, staff and volunteers both on and offline. As well slanderous and wild idle gossip. We have all blocked and moved on past that group.”

The News + Record first contacted Wagner on May 6 regarding Kristen Picot’s claims about vandalism, lewd messages and hand-written notes she and others had received; he said he’d not been contacted about them.

“We’ve received not one report from any of the [Unity] candidates,” he confirmed again Tuesday.

Wagner said the digital communication to and regarding Reddick contains “nothing criminal — no threats. Some troubling statements, yes, but nothing criminal.”

Wagner said he understood some information had been gained in tracking the source of the text messages, but declined further comment.

And one of the photos in question he was shown — the one Reddick claims showing a noose — could be a mannequin.

“You don’t see a noose, you don’t see skin color,” he said. “You can’t see anything from the shoulders up. We have no idea where this picture is from. There’s nothing in the photo that would lead to a criminal case.”

Wagner said a second photo in question shows Reddick “sitting on a porch.”

Reddick contacted the state board of elections and the board reached out to the FBI, according to Wagner.

“We’ve had conversations with the agent who has responded,” Wagner said, declining to provide any additional information.

The Raw Story piece briefly touches on some of the recent racial tensions in the county, including the mock slave auction at J.S. Waters in March, the removal of a Confederate monument in 2019 and clashes between opposing protesters in Pittsboro, and the history of lynchings dating to the late 1800s.

WRAL reported Tuesday the state’s board of elections is “looking into racist and homophobic threats and slurs” directed at Gallardo and Reddick. Reddick was on Tuesday’s ballot for the Dist. 4 county commissioner seat, along with Travis Patterson and Katie Kenlan.

Gallardo told Raw Story he’s received close to 100 homophobic text messages and images. The News + Record asked Gallardo for copies or screenshots of them Tuesday but didn’t receive them by press time Tuesday evening.

Bill Horner III can be reached at bhorner3@chathamnr.com or @billthethird.

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