Yes or no—just let your constituents know.
That’s the message and request about 40 to 50 protesting citizens publicly delivered to Jefferson County Commissioner Tricia Jackson.
Last Thursday evening, just before a county commission meeting, a group of nearly all white protestors gathered on the sidewalk outside the commission’s public meeting room in the Charles Town Library to chant rebukes and waive homemade poster signs with slogans against hate, racism and Jackson’s silence about those matters.
Later inside the meeting room, 10 of those citizens spoke during a public comment period and asked Jackson to clarify her views or resign.
The protestors’ requests, or in some cases angry demands, relate to a photo of Jackson posing with two apparent supporters of the Proud Boys conservative political movement.
The Proud Boys supporters in the photo are flashing a three-fingered “OK” hand gesture that some advocacy groups, particularly opponents of the Proud Boys, say has become a symbol connoting support for an ideology of “white power” or white supremacy.
Both men in the photo are wearing sweatshirts displaying Proud Boys logos. Some groups, particularly those with liberal or progressive views, have denounced the Proud Boys for allegedly provoking or backing political violence.
Jackson listened attentively to those criticizing her public statement as insufficient. The open meetings law does not allow commissioners to respond to public comments, allowing them only to discuss matters on their posted meeting agendas.
Some protestors said they would accept and support Jackson if she simply renounced racism and white supremacy. Others had already decided that she could resign at this point. A few others wanted her to reject the Proud Boys altogether.
“She’s avoiding the question of why she was with the Proud Boys holding the white power symbol up,” said Michael Hankins, 14, of Charles Town, who joined the sidewalk protest. If Jackson won’t address whether she supports white power or racism, that answers the question for him, the Washington High School student said.
In a June 28 online posting, Jackson called the photo “innocent,” an image taken “several years ago” with men she met during a casual, unplanned encounter at a Jefferson County restaurant. Sources tell the Spirit the photo was taken in December 2020 at a Charles Town restaurant and bar.
Leftward groups such as The Anti-Defamation League say the OK gesture—first possibly used to mock and provoke politically liberal supporters—has been adopted by some far right-wing political followers to signal their genuine support for racist views.
According to the Anti-Defamation League and other groups, the hand gesture forms three extended fingers to form a “W” for “white” and the forefinger and thumb touching together to form the letter “P” for “Power.” And the hand gesture has since been used by people who have espoused or committed political violence.
Jackson has called the photo “nothing more than a smear campaign by the left and the Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department to stop the county from restructuring and improving EMS service. It is meant to be a distraction.”
Marshall DeMeritt, chief of emergency medical services for the Shepherdstown Fire Department, was among a few people who posted the photo of Jackson on their personal Facebook pages. DeMeritt wrote that Jackson should renounce white supremacy or resign her position as a county commissioner. He also called on Jackson to resign her nonvoting position on the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency’s governing board, which oversees the county employees’ emergency responders.
However, DeMeritt said he had nothing to do with the initial posting of the photo.
Jackson and all four of the other county commissioners began taking steps this year to end the longstanding role of the county’s seven volunteer fire departments in providing emergency ambulance services. The five, all-Republican commissioners are taking action to transition to an ambulance service operated entirely by county employees.
The commissioners have said the change away from volunteer oversight is needed to ensure the county’s ambulance service’s long-term effectiveness and financial efficiency.
Responding to the Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP calling for Jackson to renounce white supremacy or resign as county commissioner, she stated she would not step down from her position as a public official.
“This is the only statement that I can make at this time as I am pursuing legal action against all individuals who have attempted to defame me and harm my good name,” she wrote, ending her statement.
Jefferson County Republican Party officials are not commenting on the controversial photo.
However, because Jackson did not disavow white power or white supremacy, her statement did not quell concerns of the local NAACP or Jefferson County Democratic Party officials.
Jamila Jones, an African American woman who lives in Inwood, joined the sidewalk protest with a sign reading “Restore Sanity. Remove Jackson.” She said Jackson could support some issues and points of view that the Proud Boys believe in, as long as she was clear that she doesn’t support racism or white supremacy.
“I think people are entitled to their own opinion, but I think she should at least respond when requested to state her position,” Jones said, “and she should also if she does believe in certain positions that they hold, clarify which ones that is.”
Jackson owes it to her constituents to be clear where she stands on all issues, Jones said. “I think her response was, ‘I’m not answering and I’m not resigning,’” she said. “If you don’t resign, you should still have to communicate.”
Just a few feet away on the same sidewalk, Sharon Wilt of Kearneysville, holding a sign stating “No Hate in Our Holler. Remove Jackson!,” disagreed.
Wilt said if Jackson only renounced racism and white supremacy but not the Proud Boys, that would not be enough, Wilt said. “The Proud Boys have been deemed to be very bad people. They’re not for us,” she said. “Canada has sent a statement out against them. Europe has sent a statement out against them, and we’re standing today out against them. There’s no room for it.”
Wilt said she was a cousin of Jackson’s and that the two know each other well.
Still, a few other protestors asked the other four county commissioners to clarify their views on the matter, including their views on racism and white supremacy.
“How do the other commissioners feel about Tricia Jackson posing with the Proud Boys and not denouncing them?” said Elizabeth McGowen of Shepherdstown, who wore a medical face mask and carried a picket protest sign reading “Remove the Racist” to the outside rally. “It would just take two sentences.”
Randy Hilton, a former Democratic mayor of Charles Town, joined the protest outside but did not comment before the commissioners. “This isn’t a political issue as far as party, or of conservative or liberal,” he said. “It’s a character issue, and it’s an issue of we’re a kind community.
“There’s no space for the Proud Boys or cozying up to the Proud Boys—or having your picture with them.”
Asked to identify an issue or policy decision that could come before the commission where a commissioner’s racial views would be relevant, Hilton could not name any one issue in particular. But he said the symbolic taint of a bigoted person serving on the commission would be unacceptable--even if the person’s racial views never came into play over commission votes or decisions.
“I don’t know what issues are going to come up,” he said, “but I think it’s a character issue where there’s just not a space for people that are affiliated with such groups.”