Critics took to social media Tuesday after a Trump Labor Department official resigned following a Bloomberg Law reporter asking about the staffer's old Facebook posts that he labeled anti-Semitic. But others said they were "obviously sarcastic."
Reporter Ben Penn published a piece headlined, “Trump Labor Aide Quits After Anti-Semitic Facebook Posts Surface,” which detailed now-former Dept. of Labor staffer Leif Olson’s sudden resignation.
Olson reportedly resigned from his position after the reporter asked the DOL for comment on Facebook posts he posted in 2016 when Paul Nehlen lost to Paul Ryan in the Wisconsin Republican primary.
“Olson, an unsuccessful GOP candidate in 2012 for a Texas district court judgeship, fired off a series of late-night posts on his personal Facebook page three years ago that started as a sarcastic quip about former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s blowout primary victory. They then devolved into an exchange referencing two anti-Semitic tropes: that Jews control the media and that they look out for members of their own faith,” Penn wrote.
Olson was a Ryan supporter in 2016 when his primary opponent was Nehlen, a self-described “pro-White” candidate with a history of defending white supremacist messages on social media. Olson took to Facebook after Ryan's victory and appeared to mock a Nehlen supporter with a series of messages.
Olson told Penn that the remarks were simply “sarcastic criticism of the alt-right’s conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic positions” and declined to comment on why he resigned from his job as a senior policy adviser.
Penn noted that “a review of a decade of Olson’s Facebook posts shows that he usually promotes his Christian faith and conservative views” and the “Ryan exchange appears to be the only appeal to Jewish stereotypes.”
Media members on both sides of the political spectrum have scolded Penn over the report.
“This article is a joke. The comments in question are so obviously sarcastic it would take willful blindness to miss it,” conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote.
New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait called the situation “terribly unfair” and laid out his reasoning in a series of tweets.
“Trump Labor official Leif Olson has resigned due to a putatively anti-Semitic Facebook post. But if you read the post, it appears to be mocking anti-Semitic conspiracy theories,” Chait wrote. “Let's walk through it. The context for the post is a primary challenge to Paul Ryan by anti-Semitic right-winger Paul Nehlen… In the post that got him fired, Olson was mocking Nehlen and the logic of his supporters.”
Chait added, “I'm not endorsing Olson or his policies, and I'm sure he has all kinds of objectionable beliefs. But firing him as an anti-Semite over this post strikes me as terribly unfair.”
Neither Penn nor Bloomberg Law immediately responded to a request for comment.
“To Leif Olson's friends & others who take issue with this reporting, I sent a screenshot of a public FB post to DOL, seeking comment. 4 hours later I received this response: ‘Today, the Department of Labor accepted the resignation of Leif Olson effective immediately,’” Penn tweeted.
Penn also shared a series of direct messages that New York Post columnist John Podhoretz sent over the Bloomberg report.
Olson responded in a lengthy Facebook message where he said, “I never thought I’d see the day when making fun of alt-right anti-Semites led to being branded as an anti-Semite, but here we are."
The Department of Labor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Others were also outraged by the situation: