State Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, has had a long last few weeks.
On Wednesday afternoon, Wyoming House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, announced he won’t take any disciplinary action on a complaint lodged about Provenza after she shared a controversial meme on social media that shows an elderly woman holding a rifle with a scope and the words "Auntie Fa Says protect trans folks against fascists & bigots!" Auntie Fa is a reference to the left wing anti-fascist group Antifa.
Provenza said she didn’t give the meme much thought when she shared it. It was another social media user who had created the post.
“I would never have thought that supporting the Second Amendment to protect our people from violence, our families, our communities, ourselves was a divisive issue whatsoever in the state of Wyoming,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday evening after Sommers’ announcement.
But it was her decision to share the post that Provenza will likely remember for many years. The issue may not fade quickly just because Sommers has declined to take action.
“I think it would be best for everyone if we moved on,” Provenza said. “I can’t guess anymore what other people are thinking.”
Remorse, Death Threats
Provenza released a statement last week apologizing for the post and wrote a separate apology to the members of the 67th Legislature on Tuesday.
“I am sorry for having provided ammunition that has further divided this body and created distraction from the important work that must be done on behalf of our constituents,” she wrote. “I hope that you can forgive me for my role in this mess, and I will continue to work to earn your respect as your colleague and your trust as a friend.”
Provenza said she received five death threats over the post, all of which she referred to the Wyoming Highway Patrol to consider for prosecution. She also said she received an anonymous letter at her home, a personal address she does not make public.
“I don’t wish that on anyone ever,” she said of the backlash. “No one deserves some of the things I’ve had to listen to and hear.”
Provenza said more than five ethics complaints were lodged against her by members of the public.
She believes the post, which was made on her private social media account, was eventually seen by millions of people. Provenza views the controversy as an unfortunate distraction that took away from time she could have been spending on her legislative duties.
“Because it’s been shared so far and wide, it’s turned into a big mess and false claims (have been) made about what I believe and my political beliefs are and false accusations that I’m threatening to harm people,” she said.
Many Republicans and the Wyoming Republican Party have called for Provenza to be removed from her legislative committees. Some have even requested she be expelled from the Legislature.
“I’m grateful that I will remain on committees and be able to continue the work on behalf of House District 45,” Provenza said. “I’m grateful that the speaker was able to read the rule of law, follow the Constitution, state statute and our rules and procedures. I’m ready to move forward.”
One of the biggest issues with Provenza’s post was its timing.
She shared the post April 1, less than a week after a mass shooting in Tennessee committed by a transgender person. There were also numerous mass shooting threats made in schools around Wyoming last week.
Many people said Provenza’s post would incite violence.
“It’s extremely unfortunate that I didn’t have the foresight there,” she said.
She previously explained the message behind her meme was "arming and protecting the LGBTQ community, a group of people" Provenza said, that "depend upon Second Amendment protection."
In her apology letter to legislators, Provenza said her actions will inadvertently increase violent rhetoric against transgender individuals.
“This is absolutely the opposite of what I want,” she writes, “and I’m sorry I did not have the foresight to prevent it.”
She also expressed remorse to Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday about the message she may have communicated to some people, including those directly impacted by the Tennessee massacre.
“It deeply pains me to think a family in Tennessee right now thinks that a Wyoming lawmaker is not taking their grief and their pain and their sorrows seriously and not respecting that,” Provenza said. “It’s awful, and that’s something I feel deeply apologetic for and I’m sorry.”
Also not playing in her favor is that the post was made during a relative down period for politics in Wyoming, with few legislative activities taking place and no elections until August 2024.
Provenza said she plans to be much more careful about what she posts on public and private social media moving forward.
“Clearly nothing is private,” she said.
Shoe On The Other Foot
Provenza said if another legislator ends up in a similar situation in the future, she plans to treat them as fairly as possible, “because this was awful.”
Although she believes lawmakers need to be held accountable for their actions, she is unsure if they should undergo the same scrutiny and process she did.
“I can’t help but think how much time and energy was spent on this issue when I could’ve been preparing for Judiciary (Committee), when I could’ve been meeting with constituents,” she said. “Every time there’s a media blast and somebody with a social media account who sends out somebody’s something or other and the nation decides to grab on to it, we just open ourselves up to never be able to do our jobs.”
In his letter, Sommers said he plans to clarify the rules on legislator conduct on social media over the upcoming interim session.
Provenza said she is unsure if she supports this being explicitly addressed.
“On one hand, I get what happened as a result of my post was used in a way that shames the body and does not paint a good picture of the state of Wyoming and that’s awful,” Provenza said. “I know that opening a door to attacking everybody’s social media all the time could be very problematic.”