GILLETTE — A Facebook post made Friday by a Campbell County legislator calls into question where the line is between figurative and literal language amid a politically polarized national and state climate.
Sen. Troy McKeown, R-Gillette, in a Friday Facebook post wrote:
“So one of our school districts arrest a student for violating their unconstitutional mandates and the senate refuses to hear a bill to reduce their authority but passes a gambling bill you know where their priorities are,” McKeown wrote. “We will not lay down. In fact, some defended the school boards … the conservatives will no longer be bullied by the powers that be. Remember it’s the 3rd rib …”
The post was accompanied by an image of soldiers jumping through trenches with bayonets imposed with the wording “When life give you lemons … fix bayonets!”
His post referred to the arrest of Grace Smith, a 16-year-old student at Laramie High School who was arrested for allegedly refusing to leave the high school itself after she did not comply with the school’s mask mandate.
“First of all, it was a figurative post. It wasn’t inciting violence,” McKeown said. "The only people who complained about it has been the media, evidently. It was a figurative post and it was posted out of frustration out of the fact that we’ve set down here a week and got nothing done. I’m not trying to incite violence.”
He said the post came from frustration at the way the Legislature special session has gone to this point. McKeown said he hoped to come out of the session with legislation protecting Wyomingites from vaccine mandates. Instead, he complained of time spent cleaning up language in a “gambling bill,” while the state Legislature has yet to pass a means to successfully thwart the federal vaccine mandates.
House Bill 1019 and Senate File 1019 were introduced in the special session to correct a clerical error written into legislation passed during the 2021 general session. The correction clarifies that Wyoming Gaming Commission law enforcement officers continue to participate and be included in the Wyoming retirement system.
“The post was just aimed at, it’s time to fight back,” McKeown said. “I didn’t mean it’s time to take up arms and actually start sticking people with bayonets.”
Not everyone read it that way.
Tom Lubnau, a Gillette attorney and former speaker of the state House of Representatives, said elected officials need to hold their language to a higher standard.
“Elected officials need to be wise in their word choices,” Lubnau said. “Anything that appears to incite violence against the United States or the state of Wyoming is simply irresponsible. We should hold our leaders to a higher standard.
"Sen. McKeown took an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the state of Wyoming. Part of upholding that oath is working within the democratic structures of our republic to change things, not to try and burn the whole thing down, or to try and encourage others to do so.”
Lubnau said it is a “call to action” and crosses the line of political theater. He pointed out that the “third rib” referenced in McKeown’s post is taught as a target on the body for bayonet use in military training.
“What did that mean? If it didn’t mean exactly what it meant,” Lubnau said. “That’s not a funny comment, that’s not a tongue-in-cheek comment, that’s not a sarcastic comment.”
In response to a commenter on his post, McKeown, who served in the U.S. military, wrote that “It is going to require a fight that looks like what our founding fathers endured … by that I mean trust in God and risk it all.”
Lubnau said that responsible leadership entails finding solutions within the framework of the law, not bayonets.
“I’ll avoid military references in the future,” McKeown said.