Jerry Ward, the board chairman of Kosair Charities — the 95-year old nonprofit that funds organizations supporting the health and medical treatment of children — shared a series of social media posts and comments since Saturday that compared students rallying for gun reform since the Parkland, Fla., massacre to Hitler Youth.
Since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead, students at that school and all over the country have demonstrated and held rallies to end gun violence and advocate for gun reform — culminating in Saturday’s March For Our Lives rallies organized by Parkland survivors that drew hundreds of thousands in D.C. and large crowds many cities, including Louisville.
While many of these Parkland survivors advocating for new gun reform legislation have received national acclaim, some — especially Emma González — have been the brunt of very personal and often false attacks on social media that go far beyond policy differences over gun control.
Ward of Kosair Charities is one of those individuals, sharing two memes on his Facebook page this weekend after the March For Our Lives rally suggesting that these young people are being used like Hitler used young people in Nazi Germany.
On Saturday, Ward shared a meme showing a crowd of young people with their fist raised, reading “STATE SPONSORED KIDS PROTESTING THE 2ND AMENDMENT!,” above a photo of kids saluting Hitler with the text: “ARE YOU SCARED YET?” The next day, Ward shared a photo of a child with Hitler, with the text “SOMEONE ELSE USED KIDS TO PUSH AN AGENDA.”
On Monday, Ward directed his ire toward González, commenting on an article someone else posted about the March For Our Lives rally. Noting that she had “a communist country flag on her sleeve” — the Cuban flag that has existed since the 19th century — Ward stated that “if she does not like the American laws she can return to Cuba where nobody but the government has guns!”
González is of Cuban heritage, as her father immigrated to America in 1968. Many Cuban Americans celebrate their heritage with the Cuban flag, including those who are vociferously opposed to Fidel and Raul Castro.
In another comment, Ward stated that González “wants to disarm America” and “is a puppet and being used like Hitler used the children to disarm Germany.”
In a phone interview with Insider Louisville on Tuesday afternoon, Ward stated eight times that he did not remember making any of these posts on Facebook — even though some were posted just a day earlier — though, he did once concede that he may have posted about Hitler using children.
Asked if he thought student activists like González are like Hitler Youth, Ward stated: “Since 1923, Kosair Charities’ primary focus has been helping children in need, and that’s what we do on a daily basis. So, I don’t know what you’re referring to or who told you something.”
Noting the posts on his own page from this past weekend, Ward conceded that: “I think there was posts on there that referred back to Hitler using children during World War II. I might have questioned that or something. But that has nothing to do with my feelings about helping children.”
After quoting to Ward his comments about González, he stated several times that he did not recall making them, even though they were posted just a day earlier. Ward also added that his “computer’s been in the shop for several days.” Asked if that meant someone else wrote the posts in question, Ward said he didn’t know.
Ward ended the interview by adding that “I’m going to talk to legal counsel if you quote me on something I didn’t say.”
By Wednesday morning, Ward had deleted the two Hitler memes and at least one of his comments about González.
Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Kosair Charities President Keith Inman told Insider that he didn’t want to comment on posts that he hasn’t seen.
“I don’t pay much attention to Facebook, so I’d have to go back and look at them,” said Inman. “You know what Kosair’s all about. We’re about taking care of kids.”
Kosair Charities distributed over $14 million in grants to nearly 100 local organizations in the current fiscal year, focused on advancing the medical treatment and wellness support of children.
The IRS 990 filing of Kosair Charities in 2014 shows that the charity directed a $7,500 grant to the Kentucky Friends of NRA Foundation, and its 2015 filing shows a $5,000 grant was given to the national NRA Foundation. The stated use of both grants in the IRS forms was “to teach gun safety to children.”
Ward emailed a statement to Insider early Wednesday evening after this story was posted, appearing to finally take credit for the Facebook postings, but choosing not to walk them back or apologize for his views.
“My personal views on my personal Facebook page have resulted in some reactions,” wrote Ward. “It is my intention to have discussions with friends on trending topics. These are my opinions only and not associated with any organization. The welfare of differently blessed children shall continue to be my top priority.”
Insider sent an email to Inman with screenshots of the posts in questions on Tuesday afternoon, who finally replied with an emailed statement Wednesday evening that did not in any way address Ward’s postings, but instead praised Kosair Charities’ support of “over 200 children’s agencies by donating funding for research, clinical services, health education and care. That will continue to be our focus. We are very proud of the work we do and will continue to do.”
After the release of Ward’s statement on Wednesday, Metro Councilman Bill Hollander tweeted his criticism of Kosair and its board chairman.
“This is the very worst of our civic life – intolerance of other views and defamation of anyone you disagree with,” wrote Hollander. “Sad to see from Mr. Ward. Also sad to see silence from @KosairCharities. Take heart, @MFOLLouisville. Most of us cherish the First Amendment.”
Congressman John Yarmuth — a strong supporter of the March For Our Lives movement — also sent a statement to Insider denouncing Ward’s posting and calling on Kosair’s leadership to join him in doing so.
“It is disgraceful that one man’s ignorant and insulting comments could compromise the wonderful reputation of Kosair Charities,” stated Yarmuth. “I am repulsed by Mr. Ward’s comments, which impugn millions of young people who are demonstrating the best instincts of our democracy. Kosair Charities, along with every decent Louisville citizen, must resoundingly repudiate Mr. Ward’s remarks.”
This story has been updated to include the emailed statements of Ward, Inman and Yarmuth, as well as the reaction of Councilman Hollander.