The unverified photo is apparently pulled from a page of an elementary school yearbook in St. Cloud. It features a lineup of cute 6th graders, glorious in the smiling innocence of prepubescence.
Yet it's also a portrait of the new Minnesota, short on freckles and towheaded blond kids. Most of the children sport a darker hue. Many of the girls wear the hijab.
A middle-aged man named Gary Kopietz posted it to his Facebook page with the lone comment, “A recent 6th grade class photo in Minnesota.” Kopietz clearly knew it wouldn't take much to trigger his audience. The feedback, from alleged adults, came raining down.
“Probably all related since they have 3 wives,” Lindy Honeycutt responded.
“Is that the Taliban?” asked Trisha Baker.
“6 American kids compared to 36 Muslim kids,” added Susan A. Fagan. “Nope not my grandchild, no way. I don't want them anywhere near them.”
At first glance, it would seem yet another ugly moment from St. Cloud, which is hastily building a reputation as the most small-minded place in Minnesota. A City Pages cover story once labeled it "the worst place in Minnesota to be Somali." Last week, the New York Times gave its refugee-hating faction front-page treatment.
But Kopietz is actually from St. George, Utah. He's single, quite naturally, and lists himself as a member of the “Trump Army.” Go to his Facebook page, and you'll find something far more pernicious than little girls wearing the hijab.
He appears to be the model of the friendless middle-aged man, the kind who traffics in conspiracy, misinformation, and the generally dimwitted.
Kopietz doesn't appear to have much of a life. He can spend days loading his Facebook feed every five minutes. Many are simply nature shots cribbed from around the world. They're interspersed with daily updates on the fundraising by “American Patriots” intending to “build our wall.”
It gets weirder from there. He posts suggestive stories on chemtrails, Barack Obama's “shadow government,” and the threat of disease-carrying immigrants. Taken in totality, it's the portrait of a fearful, gullible man who can somehow even find danger in the faces of smiling 6th graders.
It's safe to assume he came across the photo of the St. Cloud kids through the fringe conservative media, which pounces on any chance to thinly illustrate how America is being overrun by... school children? But the mean commentary on kids didn't sit well back in Minnesota.
Fosia Qalif is a St. Cloud State student and works at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Minnesota. She reposted Kopietz's missive and the feedback of his less-than-charitable friends. The response was 1,400 mostly supportive comments.
Curiously, Kopietz's Facebook feed went silent the same day. His triggering post about Muslim children also disappeared.
So while the country remains littered with men like Gary Kopietz, doing his best to Make America Cowering & Weak Again, it is also brimming with women like Fosia Qalif, and the greater legions ready to leap to her aid. Even in St. Cloud.