Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks to employees at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

EPA Administrator Under Scrutiny After ‘Liking’ Racist Facebook Post

(Bloomberg) -- EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has used his private social media accounts to interact with incendiary content online, including “liking” a racist image of former President Barack Obama and posts from conservative provocateurs.

Wheeler’s social media activity -- going back years -- stands in sharp contrast to his public profile as a politically savvy, humble Washington lawyer capable of avoiding the missteps that led to the ouster of Scott Pruitt, his predecessor at the Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA Administrator Under Scrutiny After ‘Liking’ Racist Facebook Post

In one case, Wheeler used his personal Facebook account to “like” an image of Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, depicting them as ogling a banana.

"It doesn’t take an expert in far-right extremism to identify that as a blatantly racist image,” Keegan Hankes, a senior research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in an interview. “It’s just ridiculous for an official of this standing to be interacting with this content, let alone publicly.”

Wheeler’s posts are part of his private Twitter and Facebook accounts, which he has maintained since taking over the top job at the EPA. As of Tuesday afternoon, the social media posts and activity were still visible.

The social media activity was previously reported by the Huffington Post, which credited the Democratic political action committee American Bridge 21st Century for first uncovering them.

In another case, Wheeler “liked” a Twitter post questioning assertions by California college professor Christine Blasey Ford, who accused newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a 1982 house party. The original tweet came from Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative firebrand who pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws and was later pardoned by President Donald Trump.

“Even if she told her psychiatrist exactly the same thing -- which she did not -- one cannot corroborate one’s own story,” D’Souza had said on Twitter, in the post Wheeler liked. “That requires independent evidence entirely missing in this case.”

Wheeler cast the activity as part of his frequent use of social media and said he did not recall interacting with the image of the Obamas.

“Over the years, I have been a prolific social media user and liked and inadvertently liked countless social media posts,” Wheeler said in an emailed statement. “Specifically, I do not remember the post depicting President Obama and the first lady. As for some of the other posts, I agreed with the content and was unaware of the sources.”

Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, called for Wheeler to resign.

“The head of a government agency has no place ‘liking’ racist memes,” Merkley tweeted. “If these are indeed Wheeler’s actions, he should do the right thing for the @EPA and resign immediately.”

Most of the controversial activity comes from Wheeler’s interactions with the content of others, rather than offering his own, independent commentary. One exception: a 2014 quip suggesting former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was invoked in the Bible’s depiction of the apocalypse.

“I think she’s mentioned in the Book of Revelations,” Wheeler said. “Right after the Four Horsemen.”

The activity invites comparisons to Trump’s own prolific use of social media. For instance, he once re-tweeted anti-Muslim videos from a far-right British group, drawing criticism from UK Prime Minister Theresa May. The president also re-tweeted a white supremacist in 2016.

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