Anthony Breznican: Hart’s Messina wrong man for leadership role

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Kindergarten moms. The only thing more emotional and clingy are Kindergarten dads.

Even weeks after the start of school, you can still see them lingering at the schoolyard gate. It’s hard to let the little ones venture off into the world. The grown-ups know the joys that await, but they also foresee the cruelties.

This year, one of the new kindergarten parents stood out from the crowd. She’s always in brightly colored long-sleeve dresses, and a hijab frames her face.

As I walked my own child past the group of kindergarten parents during the first week of school, I noticed this mom speaking in a Middle Eastern language to her little boy, clearly bracing his courage. Then she gently spun him around and helped him through the gate.

Whatever she said seemed to work. He trotted off toward his classmates without hesitation, his too-big Spider-Man book bag jumping up and down as he ran. Whatever courage she had she passed to him.

I thought again of this mom and her little boy when I saw on the Santa Clarita Community Forum on Facebook that a man named Joe Messina, who is the president of our William S. Hart Union High School District, had posted a bogus news story aimed at making Muslims seem horrible and hateful.

Mr. Messina runs a controversial talk radio show out of our area and has a long history of posting disturbing material of questionable origin. The website for his radio program is full of stories aimed at race-baiting, spewing contempt for gays, and scaremongering about American Muslims.

He most recently raised the ire of local parents when he posted an openly false news story about a Mosque in Texas that allegedly refused to help flood refugees during the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

In this fictional story, an Imam named “Aswat Turads” is quoted saying “we are forbidden from helping infidels.” (In sharing this hoax, Mr. Messina conveniently ignored the stories about real mosques in the Houston area who opened their doors to rescue and shelter their neighbors, regardless of their faiths.)

The fake story was from a site called TheLastLineOfDefense.Org, which is like The Onion, creating outlandish, utterly bogus stories that play off people’s prejudices and fears. The website includes this disclaimer, identifying itself as “a satirical publication that may sometimes appear to be telling the truth. We assure you that’s not the case. We present fiction as fact and our sources don’t actually exist.”

Yet Joe Messina does exist. And more parents need to become aware of him and his history.

As a radio show host, he is free to share whatever nonsense he likes, even horrible, hateful material. That’s protected by the First Amendment.

But he is the president of our biggest public school board, and that comes with responsibilities about how you conduct yourself in public. Everything he does, everywhere he goes, he stands as a representative of our school district.

He is also chairman of the Republican Party of the 38th Assembly District. Our state representatives may want to reconsider aligning with a man who either disseminates lies that are deliberately meant to foment hate … or is too dim to know when he’s being obviously hoaxed.

Mr. Messina has his job with the Hart district for a simple reason: No one ran against him in the last election. It’s up to people of goodwill and decency to make sure that doesn’t happen again. An old maxim comes to mind: “All it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.”

Yes, there is a problem in the world with radical Muslim extremists. No question. But most Muslim-Americans I know are outraged by those who twist the tenets of their faith and undertake violence, just as those of us who are Christian feel disgust for people like Mr. Messina, who shield their holier-than-thou bigotry behind the cross or weaponize the Bible against those they dislike.

The parents and students in the William S. Hart district deserve a school board president who doesn’t spend his day demonizing minorities for ratings. A handful of parents have previously raised concerns about Mr. Messina’s behaviors, but the district has taken no action to censure or demand even an apology from him about his inflammatory remarks.

His supporters excuse him as a “shock jock” and claim his history of sharing fake news has no bearing on the district. Shock jock, really? Was Father Coughlin a “shock jock” back in the 1930s when he was agitating hatred against Jews by quoting “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a notorious forgery purporting to be plans for a Jewish takeover of the world. Fake news has always been used to foment prejudice.

It has been more than two weeks since parents first spotted this bogus mosque story on Mr. Messina’s webpage, and he has not yet apologized for it. Maybe he has gotten used to there being no consequences for what he says and does.

Among countless other disturbing acts, he wrote a self-published book describing gays as “abominations,” posted a meme comparing gay marriage to slavery and the Holocaust, and once posted a “Photoshopped” image of Hillary Clinton being marched to a gallows.

The president of the Hart district school board should be dedicated to the well-being of all students in the district, regardless of their faith or sexual orientation or skin color.

Instead, Mr. Messina’s presence sends the message that bullying, lying, and cruelty are not just acceptable, but a means to power. And if you’re loud enough and nasty enough, you can get away with it for a long time.

That little Muslim kindergartner with the Spider-Man backpack has seven years before he graduates into the William S. Hart High School District.

Hopefully, by the time youngster gets there, it won’t be overseen by someone who posts lies to trick people into hating him.

Anthony Breznican is a Santa Clarita Valley resident.


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