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Maryland comptroller defends staffer as GOP demands firing over post about those who defy coronavirus orders

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is defending his chief of staff, Len Foxwell, as the state Republican party calls for Foxwell to be fired over a Facebook post. This 2013 photo shows the State House in Annapolis.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is defending his chief of staff, Len Foxwell, as the state Republican party calls for Foxwell to be fired over a Facebook post. This 2013 photo shows the State House in Annapolis.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is defending his chief of staff as the state Republican Party calls for him to be fired over a Facebook post that mocked people who’ve defied stay-at-home orders governors imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Party Chairman Dirk Haire erupted Saturday night in criticism of Len Foxwell over an April 13 post in which Foxwell suggested people who resist social distancing measures be locked in a warehouse to “let Darwin work his magic.”

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“Let’s lure them into a big, big warehouse (we’ll call it something real classy to suit their refined sensibilities, like ‘American MAGA Platinum Palace'),” Foxwell wrote, according to a screen shot Haire distributed to state Republicans and the media. Providing food, cigarettes and alcohol, Foxwell said, “Get them in, bar the door and then let Darwin work his magic.”

Haire suggested the post advocated for “the genocide of President [Donald] Trump’s supporters” and called it “extraordinarily inappropriate and representative of a base and destructive mindset.”

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In a statement, Foxwell said his post did not refer to all Trump supporters, but followers of what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the antigovernment “Patriot" movement. He said it was linked to an NPR story about a Patriot group and far-right elected officials in Idaho calling for rebelling against stay-at-home orders.

Foxwell wrote that it “had nothing to do with rank-and-file Trump supporters — notwithstanding my deep, searing distaste for the president’s politics and his catastrophic mismanagement of this crisis.”

He added in a follow-up Facebook post Saturday that, “Nor, obviously, did I ever express hope that someone would die. Any suggestions to the contrary are simply, absolutely false.”

Haire suggested Franchot, a Democrat who frequently spars with members of his own party, fire Foxwell.

“As an announced candidate for governor of Maryland in 2022, I expect you to do the right thing and terminate Mr. Foxwell’s employment as your chief of staff,” Haire wrote to Franchot. “If you do not, you can be certain that Mr. Foxwell’s views, and your refusal to repudiate such views, will be made aware to every voter in Maryland during the 2022 campaign by the Maryland Republican Party.”

Franchot defended Foxwell’s comments as “satirical” in a Facebook post of his own Saturday. The comptroller also noted Foxwell made them on his personal Facebook account.

The post from Monday was not on Foxwell’s Facebook page by the weekend.

“I remain 100% supportive of Len Foxwell and the exceptional work he continues to do for me and for the people of Maryland,” Franchot wrote. “He is an exceptional public servant, a dear family friend, and I look forward to his continued service as my chief of staff for years to come.”

Foxwell earned $181,000 last year, according to a state salary database.

On Sunday, Haire responded to Franchot’s statement by telling party supporters in an email: “The Maryland Republican Party will be ready to deploy significant amounts of advertising and communications dollars in the 2022 Governor’s race to make sure every Maryland voter is aware of Comptroller Franchot’s views.”

In Maryland, 486 people had died of COVID-19 as of Sunday. The state had 12,830 cases of the disease.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan issued a stay-at-home order March 30, and ordered the wearing of masks in stores and on public transit as of Saturday.

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He has said he will detail further this week the state’s plans for how and when to reopen its economy, schools and houses of worship. But he has emphasized that the state has not reached its peak of cases and must meet standards for testing for the disease and tracing people exposed to it, have capacity at hospitals to handle a surge of patients, and have sufficient personal protective equipment.

Opposition to Hogan’s approach was apparent Saturday in Annapolis, when hundreds of people protested the restrictions that have closed all but essential businesses.

Also Saturday, Republican state delegates wrote to Hogan, asking him to consider a regional approach to relaxing restrictions so businesses can reopen.

And in his message to state party supporters, Haire thanked them for their “support of the GOP as we push to open the state as soon as possible.”

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