Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins is receiving wide criticism for his presence at the Capitol riots on January 6th. After initially causing a buzz for helping assemble three busloads of people to join the planned demonstrations, Mullins has only taken more heat after the initially tame protest turned violent.
Mullins was first criticized for his use of the official letterhead of the county commission in a letter to Florida’s congressional delegation, urging them to reject “certain states'” electoral votes in the ratification of the U.S. presidential election (scroll to the bottom of the page to read the letter in full). Mullins’ usage of the letterhead was denounced by fellow commissioners Donald O’Brien, Andy Dance, and Greg Hansen. Commissioner David Sullivan stated that he was aware of the letter, but refused to weigh in on its contents or the nature in which Mullins sent it.
Later, when Mullins and his crew arrived at the protest, they quickly found they were in for more than they’d expected. “It started off very peaceful, very fun, just like a Trump rally,” Mullins told Fox 35 Orlando. Mullins was adamant that a nonviolent, but empowered, rally was all he had shown up for. When gunshots were first heard from the heart of the growing conflict, Mullins made the decision to assemble the group from Flagler County and leave: “When we heard gunshots, that’s when it was time to go.”
As national viewers quickly learned how severe the situation had become at the Capitol, many residents of Flagler County began to speculate on Mullins’ role in what’d happened. Some predicted the commissioner would be pleased with the insurrection, while others cautiously waited for Mullins’ first public comment after the riots.
“We didn’t go up to be violent,” Mullins commented on his personal Facebook page. “I am very stunned and disappointed in that type [of] behavior.”
Mullins then made a full post denouncing the riots, adding “I am very proud of our group and thankful the Flagler Sheriffs department gave us a plan in place for riots”. The post was mostly received with warmth by like-minded friends of Joe’s but one screenshot posted in the comments painted a different picture.
“We are ready to stand and fight for our nation,” Commissioner Mullins had said in a since-deleted Facebook post made before the riot. “An Army of Floridians are headed north to DC to stand with Donald J. Trump and defend The White House.”
The post linked to a video, still viewable on YouTube, in which Mullins and Mark Phillips of the conservative activist group known as Flagler Liberty Coalition, discuss the plans to drive to the Capitol “for a wild and fun time,” in Phillips’ words. Phillips thanked Mullins for sponsoring the trip, and reiterated that the bus launch was facilitated by the Flagler Liberty Coalition, as opposed to being a function held unilaterally by Mullins himself. Mullins was, however, on hand at the launch addressing the crowd and helping lead the proceedings.
As the dust settled in Washington D.C. and President Donald Trump received more and more rebukes and resignations from Senators and senior staff, calls for accountability began to rain in on not only the President, but all who remained loyal to him.
Pro-Trump senators such as Ted Cruz (TX) and Josh Hawley (MO) were among the first congressmen to receive demands of resignation. Eight Republican senators, including Florida’s Rick Scott, have received intense criticism for their decision to oppose the election results out of the state of Pennsylvania, a motion that was put to a vote after similar measures for other states died in their infancy. While battles continue to rage on about whether these senators should face expulsion for their votes, Flagler County now faces its own personal dilemma regarding the continued service of Commissioner Joe Mullins. Many are proud to have a local politician on the front lines backing the President, while others have begun calling for Mullins to resign or be removed as soon as possible.
These calls came to a head on Monday at a Flagler County Commission meeting, the first since Mullins returned home from the Capitol. At the behest of new Commissioner Andy Dance, Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien ensured that attendees of the meeting, including the present commissioners, would not be called out by name.
The first high-profile speaker to stand and rebuke Mullins was Ken Bryan, one of five City Commissioners of the city of Flagler Beach. Bryan’s remarks were as follows:
“Normally I would say good morning. But this is not a good morning. And in fact, in my view, it’s a very gloomy and a very dark time period in our country.
“All of my adult life I’ve served my country as a public servant. When I entered the military, I took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution and defend the nation from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. I took the same oath in serving and working for the Department of the Navy, the Justice Department, while working at the White House, as a county commissioner, and now as a Flagler Beach city commissioner.
“The oath means everything to me, and it always has. I take this very seriously. That being said, I feel I have an obligation as a citizen to speak out, and speak up, against what we all witnessed last Wednesday, a time in our lives that has been very dark. It’ll go down in history as the darkest. What we witnessed last week in Washington, D.C., was a horrific tragedy we never thought would happen in this country. Unfortunately, some of our own individuals in our community partook in that particular episode.
“It’s unfortunate that some of the same individuals who took the same oath of office like I did, and as you did, violated that oath to organize and lead dozens of protesters to our nation’s capital, to participate in a heinous attack on our country. The individual who organized and led this group in prior days had also advocated on public airwaves and social media the beheading of fellow citizens, has also berated, cursed and threatened a fellow-elected officials in prior instances with absolutely no consequences.
“This conduct of some of those who attended, participated in this event last week, was a disgraceful, shameful attack on our democracy and this country. Those who organized and led the group in my opinion created an intentional insurgency while serving under the oath of office. This was a clear violation of that oath to uphold the constitution, and they defamed it and basically dishonored it, and they basically should not be holding office today.
“Martin Luther King once said: “The ultimate tragedy is not oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.” Let’s not again witness the silence of good people. And to basically counteract what the previous speaker said, individuals that attended, not all of them, some of them that attended that rally, that left Flagler, did in fact make some very, very bold, unnecessary threats to the government and to people in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately that happened. Let’s hope it never, ever happens again.”
Just under two hours into the Commission meeting, Mike Cocchiola walked up to the podium for his allotted three minutes of speaking time. Cocchiola is well known in the community for his time as Chair of the Flagler Democratic Party, and it didn’t take long for Cocchiola’s reputation to precede him. Commissioner Mullins stood up and walked out of the room as soon as he recognized Cocchiola, drawing stares from around the room. The Democratic activist’s remarks were as follows:
“Thank you Mr. Chair, my name is Mike Cocchiola from Palm Coast. I want to remind everyone here on the podium and behind me that it’s been five days since there was an attack on our Capitol and an attack on our democracy. And those attacks have been encouraged and enabled by people across the country and unfortunately by people right here in Flagler County.
“One of our Commissioners, Commissioner Mullins organized a group to go what’s supposed to be a rally, but everybody knew it was going to lead to violence because it was being planned openly in social media. Nobody who went there to Washington could be unaware that this was going to lead to violence. So, those who went, whoever that is, are as culpable as anyone who actually entered the Capitol and caused that kind of damage not only to our building, the people’s house, is the first attack of that kind for over 200 years, but they have damaged the reputation of the United States, our honor, and our democracy.
“So what I am saying is that it is those who encourage and enable these kinds of behavior that should be held responsible. I think that the people in Flagler who went should think about what they have done, what they have caused, the damage they’ve caused, and I think that Commissioner Mullins, who organized the group to go there, should be held accountable. There’s a couple of other things: one is, he sent a letter on your letterhead, representing you, whether you wanted it or not, he sent a letter on your letterhead to our legislators asking them to join the insurrection by objecting to the counting of electoral votes by the Congress. That’s what the mob tried to do.
“Luckily and happily, our legislators did not join that insurrection. But he still did what I would call an unethical if not an illegal act. One final thing on that: prior to that, on his radio program Commissioner Mullins actually encouraged the decapitation of certain liberals. Now I’m pretty convinced that I’m one of those ‘certain liberals’, and I take it personally. That kind of behavior is egregious, it brings dishonor on Flagler, before Florida, and before the country. I know this commission can’t do much about it, other than…you could censure, you could speak out, but I’m asking the people of Flagler to stand up, and not accept this kind of behavior, and as a matter of fact I would call for the resignation of Commissioner Mullins so that we can elect someone who would represent all of Flagler equally and honorably. Thank you.”
(It should be noted that while it is against policy for speakers to reference by name any of those in the room, as Mullins had left the room before Cocchiola’s speech he was likely then granted the ability to name-drop Mullins in his remarks.)
One of the points brought up by Cocchiola was an instance of remarks made by Mullins live on WNZF’s Flagler Broadcasting. Earlier this month, Mullins stated, “There are some liberals I’d like to see their heads cut off, you know, they couldn’t do that thinking crazy thing they do” live on the air while talking while talking about the economic impacts of COVID-19 response. Many objected to Mullins’ choice of words, including Cocchiola and other prominent local Democrats.
In reply to comments about his radio show, Mullins remarked:
“My radio show is my personal business, and my personal business will not be impacted by any decision made here. I wanna be very clear with that. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to expect me to impact on their personal business.
“I also encourage you to listen to that whole show, because an unhinged blogger that’s writing stuff about the county continually attacking [me] didn’t portray it right. I made an analogy, and that analogy was not calling for an action. So I feel very strongly we’re five individual people, we have five individual personalities, and my base is very strongly supportive of the President, as I am.”
The “unhinged blogger” Mullins was referring to is likely Pierre Tristam, head writer of local news website Flagler Live, who first reported the WNZF remarks alongside a strong personal rebuke of Mullins.
Calls for Joe Mullins’ resignation have persisted ever since the U.S. Capitol riots, and there are plans brewing in several left-leaning activist groups to appear at commission meetings and make phone calls demanding for the commissioner to step down. As of yet Mullins has not entertained such demands, but as the heat grows many wonder if he’ll follow suit with several of the senior Trump officials who have recently called it quits. For now, Flagler’s most outspoken and controversial county commissioner remains unimpeached.