A retired Miami-Dade firefighter named on social media and in the Miami Herald as the man who yelled “white power” during a Central Florida rally in support of President Donald Trump is the victim of mistaken identity and backlash that has forced him to move from his home, his attorneys say.
The Herald has taken down its original story and apologizes for the error.
The pro-Trump golf cart parade in The Villages, a retirement community and Republican stronghold north of Orlando, became national news late last month when the President retweeted a video that caught a man passing in a golf cart making the racist remark at a group of counter-protesters.
The rally had actually occurred on June 14, the president’s birthday, but he tweeted out the video on Sunday morning, June 28. The video was taken down hours later as criticism mounted, with the White House explaining that Trump had not heard the remarks.
But by Sunday evening, multiple Twitter accounts were naming Roger Stokes and identifying him as a retired Miami-Dade firefighter, including one run by a well-known South Florida political commentator.
The next morning, Monday, June 29, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s official Twitter account posted this:
“The statement made by a longtime retired employee does not reflect Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s core values of integrity and respect for the diverse and multi-cultural community we serve. This retired employee acted as a private citizen and his views and actions are not representative of who we are and what we stand for.”
Based on the fire department’s tweet and national attention on the event and ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, the Herald tried to confirm the identity of the man.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue confirmed it sent the tweet but declined to discuss it further or name Stokes. The Herald confirmed through public records that Stokes lived in The Villages, was a retired MDFR employee and also left calls for comment at home and cellphone numbers that public records linked to him there. The Herald story was published Monday afternoon.
The next day, June 30, the Herald again sought comment from the fire department. The agency again would not confirm or deny they were referring to Stokes but later issued a clarification statement to WSVN Channel 7: “Based on a video posted on social media identifying this individual as Mister Stokes, the Department put out a statement simply to clarify MDFR’s stance on this matter, and not as a confirmation of Mr. Stokes’ participation.”
The department removed the original tweet that day and the commentator also later issued a retraction.
Stokes’ attorneys say he owns a different golf cart than the man in the video and was not involved in the rally. They said they were working to identify the Villages resident who yelled the racist remark but had not yet confirmed his identity.