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Kalkaskans divided over village president's racist, anti-Muslim comments

Kaye LaFond
Michigan Radio
Kalkaska residents wait during a closed meeting session before public comment.

Kalkaskans aren't enjoying the newfound national media attention they've attracted the last few weeks, thanks to village president Jeff Sieting's Islamophobic, racist and transphobic Facebook posts.

Sieting, for his part, has not backed down from his statements. Just the opposite: he's given media interviewsdefending posts like "Kill them all - every last one" about Muslims and "Arm yourself and thin the heard" in regards to Black Lives Matter.

On Monday night, residents packed a village meeting to share a range of opinions and frustrations, from concern for the town's reputation, to support of Sieting, to local business owners saying they've already suffered losses due to negative press about the town.

Credit Interlochen Public Radio
A Facebook post by Kalkaska Village President Jeff Seiting from Nov. 30, 2016, which appears to have been taken down.

Nicole Doom owns a store downtown. She wants Sieting to apologize, she says, and put the citizens of Kalkaska first.

“I'm losing business because of what's going on," Doom says. "But not only that, I keep hearing about white supremacists coming into my town.”

Elizabeth Dunham attended the last two village meetings. She says she's disappointed the council hasn't made a statement distancing the village from Sieting and his views.

“Because given the attention that Kalkaska...has received from this, I think that it is long overdue for the village to do something," she says. 

Credit Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Members of the militia group "Great Lakes 3 Percenters."

But Jerrica Temple, who says she lives just outside the village, came to thank Sieting.

"I’d just like to commend you, for standing up for your freedom of speech, to say whatever you want," Temple says. "Whether he’s a public official or not, you have the right to your opinion. And I just thank you for standing up to these people, who just continuously attack you for something you shared on Facebook.” 

Meanwhile, an armed militia group called the “Great Lakes 3 Percenters” waited outside the meeting, literally stationed on every corner, saying they were there to keep the peace. Sieting did not invite them, members said, but they did meet with him in advance.

A closed session meeting about an unrelated matter was called right before public comment period, and lasted about hour and a half. Several people in the crowd were upset and said they thought it was a stall tactic. (Sieting did the same thing at the last regular meeting, and he didn't show up to a special meeting last Wednesday.)

Sieting told the crowd he's received "75 death threats" in the last week, and called the "discussion part of this meeting to a close." 

"I think we’ve heard enough," he says. "If you want resolution with this, I’m the individual who reposted that post. If you’ve got something you want to address, uh, if you have an incident you want to address, where I’ve showed ill behavior towards somebody for their ethnic background, for their sexual preference, for their religious affiliation, bring it forward. I don’t think there’s a case of that to be had in my existence,” Sieting said, adding that his Facebook post about killing Muslims had “historical significance.” 

Kaye is an alumnus of Michigan Tech's environmental engineering program. She got her start making maps for the Traverse City-Based water news organization Circle of Blue, and, since then, she's been pretty devoted to science communication and data visualization.
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