Political ads imply School Board candidate April Carney was at the Capitol on Jan. 6
A video by the Duval Democrats, as well as a campaign mailer from the political action committee supporting Duval County School Board member Elizabeth Andersen, are suggesting that Andersen’s challenger took part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“April Carney, Were You At the January 6 Capitol Insurrection?” reads the campaign flyer, referring to the violent assault on the Capitol that disrupted the joint session of Congress trying to certify Joe Biden's presidential win last year.
The committee Kids First Duval, funded largely by a national teachers’ union, sent the mailer to voters in District 2, which covers part of the Southside and all of Intracoastal West and Duval County’s beaches. It depicts Carney, who is endorsed by the conservative group Moms for Liberty, during her appearance on Steve Bannon’s podcast “The War Room.”
Bannon is a former Trump political adviser who was convicted of criminal contempt of Congress for intentionally defying a subpoena related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. He has used his podcast to advocate for “saving the nation” through Republicans gaining control of local school boards, which have historically been nonpartisan bodies.
None of the campaign materials suggest that Carney infiltrated the Capitol, and evidence that she may have been in D.C. at the time is inconclusive. Either way, the tactics reflect the politics involved in nonpartisan school board races this year as both parties try to elect their favored candidates.
The ad from the Duval Democrats attempts to tie Carney to Jan. 6 with a screenshot of a social media comment attributed to her. The screenshot shows someone named April Carney responding to a Facebook post about the uprising: “I was there.”
A spokesman for Carney tells Florida Politics the posts shown in the ad were fabricated.
“Per usual, Duval Democrats resort to lying and smearing when an election isn’t going their way against a candidate who puts parents and kids ahead of the teachers’ unions,” asserted Shawn Frost on behalf of Carney to Florida Politics. “This picture is FAKE. Trying to say it’s real is ILLEGAL. Shame on the Duval Democrats.”
WJCT News heard differently from the woman Carney was addressing on Facebook. WJCT News talked with her after Democrats circulated images of the Facebook posts.
“The post is real,” the woman said. She asked not to be identified out of fear she would be harassed.
WJCT News made several attempts to speak with Carney directly, but she referred questions to her campaign spokesmen.
Was she there?
The South Florida organization Miami Against Fascism is a group of online sleuths that bills itself as “exposing the far right in Miami and South Florida.” Journalist Claire Goforth, on behalf of WJCT News, contacted Miami Against Fascism regarding the claims against Carney.
Goforth asked the organization to use facial recognition software to compare photos of Carney to videos of the D.C. crowds on Jan. 5 and 6, 2021. That turned up what the group says is a “likely” match — but not a definite match — with a woman who was at a pro-Trump event at Freedom Plaza on Jan. 5.
“We didn't feel that the pictures were high enough in quality by themselves to provide hard confirmation because of the low resolution and angles,” said spokesman Diego Fernandez. “This could be her or it could be someone who has a likeness of her.”
When WJCT News shared video screenshots with the Carney campaign, spokesman Charlie O’Neill did not deny the image shows Carney, but said, “That's actually from a pro-life rally.”
When asked to confirm the date and location of the rally, O’Neill responded, “It is absolutely ludicrous that a woman should be shown pictures of herself she didn’t consent to and be asked to account for herself to a news publication.”
The woman who Miami Against Fascism calls a “likely” match for Carney can also be seen in this Jan. 5, 2021, video at the 50:10 mark, as she turns toward the camera and holds up her cellphone to capture the event. O’Neill did not respond when asked about the video.
Carney has a personal Facebook page, which shows no public posts from October 2020 through August 2021. Her other posts before and after that time are public. On some of them, people ask whether she was at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She did not reply.
Carney’s opponent, Andersen, told WJCT News she believes the question of Carney’s whereabouts during the events at the Capitol last year is a legitimate campaign issue in the School Board race.
“Ms. Carney is running for a nonpartisan state constitutional office that requires decorum and respect for the role and all constituents,” Andersen said. “For months our campaign has been approached by concerned citizens that Ms. Carney bragged about being at the Capitol insurrection. Was she at the Capitol or not? It is crucial people know because if she was there, it reflects the extreme political agenda she has pledged to bring to our School Board decisions.”
Andersen is running for reelection to the board, which she chaired last year. She’s a mental health counselor and former teacher and administrator, and says she is campaigning for all School Board members to work together and not on "Washington-style party politics.”
Carney is a business owner and nutrition coach who calls herself a “common sense conservative.” She is campaigning on parental choice and has been endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Both candidates are mothers with kids in local schools. Early voting is underway now in Duval County, with the election set for Aug. 23.
An earlier version of this story contained the name of a woman who interacted with April Carney on Facebook. Her name has been removed because she feared harassment.
Heather Schatz of WJCT News and journalist Claire Goforth contributed to this report.