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Two Spalding County jailers fired for online comments

Online comments expressing sympathy for Hitler and American neo-Nazis ended the law enforcement careers of two Spalding County jailers Monday.

Sheriff Darrell Dix said Detention Officers Howard Costner and Jesse Jones were fired after comments and photos from their profiles on YouTube, Facebook, Reddit and other forms were released by antifascist activists Monday morning.

“Both of these gentlemen are no longer employed by the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office based on some information that came to light today,” Dix said. “It doesn’t fit what we want to represent to the community and what we want to represent as an agency.”

Former Spalding County Detention Officer Jesse Jones. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Both men were active in online gaming communities where they engaged in commentary about the games with others. In one exchange, Costner described “racism as normal” and “not a bad thing” and expressed admiration for George Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party.

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“I’ll say this I am extremely right winged and I view racism as normal,” he said in comments posted last year to one of his YouTube videos. “Just read the definition of racism and it’s not a bad thing. That’s my own belief though. I went from being a libertarian Conservative to more Authoritarian.”

Costner also allegedly posted photos of his room showing a German Nazi flag and his profile photo on Steam, one online gaming platform, is a modified “black sun” flag favored by neo-Nazis.

Jones’ online profile on Steam included the motto, “Hitler did nothing wrong.” Jones also connected on Steam with far-right profiles including one featuring a profile picture of Dylann Roof, the convicted mass murderer in the 2015 racially motivated slaying of black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., with a similar black sun design superimposed over it.

Former Spalding County Detention Officer Howard Costner. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Comments misunderstood, deputy says

In an interview Monday after, Costner said he was not a neo-Nazi and did not hold racist or fascist beliefs. He said his comments about racism were misunderstood.

“By racism, I don’t mean the traditional sense. I do not hate or have any prejudices against any other races. I personally think there are differences between different races, genetically, but I hold no prejudiced views against any race and I do not believe that my race is superior,” he said. “I think every man is created equal in the eyes of God.”

He called Rockwell, an antisemitic ideologue who founded the American Nazi Party in 1959 and made common cause with the Ku Klux Klan to oppose the Civil Rights Movement, a “traditional American.” But he said he did not agree with Rockwell’s views on race.

“I would agree with him that Americans need to stay traditional to their values and morals,” he said.

He said he chose the “black sun” profile picture for his social media profile because he is engaged with a gaming group that is playing a simulation of the Waffen-SS, the military wing of the German Nazi Party.

“I chose a Germanic pagan symbol that the SS used,” he said.

However, the symbol Costner uses blends the “black sun” design with the American flag. The design was used by some alt-right activists in last year’s violent “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville.

“I am a traditional American Christian that’s just concerned about my country’s future,” he said.

The AJC was unable to reach Jones. Costner said he would relay a message to his colleague. “He’s not involved in any of this,” Costner said.

Former Spalding County Detention Officer Howard Costner’s profile on the online gaming platform Steam is a “black sun” design favored by neo-Nazis. He said he chose it because he was playing a war game involving the Waffen-SS. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

ADL credits swift action

Both Costner and Jones had been with the sheriff’s office for less than a year. Dix said Costner had some minor disciplinary problems, but neither man did anything to reveal extremist tendencies.

“No use of force, nothing where there were claims of him violating people’s civil rights or mistreating (people),” he said.

The dossier on Costner and Jones was prepared by Atlanta Antifascists, which has outed metro Atlantans with extremist ties in the past. In a statement, the group accused law enforcement of harboring extremists.

“The attractions of police work for white supremacists are clear,” the group said in a written statement. “They can enforce racism, recruit at work, and have access to state resources and information. It is imperative that we expose them. We took the time to carefully research Costner and Jones. We are glad that they have been fired. We will continue to expose fascists both in law enforcement and outside of it.”

Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said there is no evidence that law enforcement is “rife” with extremists.

“But given that there are over 800,000 law enforcement officers in the United States, it is inevitable that some will have extremist views,” he said. “The most important thing is the law enforcement agencies respond quickly when such officers are discovered. If they don’t, they and their entire agency are going to lose credibility.”

Pitcavage credited Dix for acting quickly. “It really sends a signal that the sheriff is not going to allow this activity to be tolerated in his department,” he said.

Perhaps more than law enforcement, Pitcavage said the episode illustrates how some corners of the online gaming culture tolerate extreme, violent or racist views.

“The online gamer culture becomes one of the influences for the alt-right. Some people come to the alt-right through the gaming community,” he said. “Some of these platforms do not bother to police their content. I’ve seen a lot on Steam.”

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