Casper Mayor Bruce Knell apologized to the city Tuesday for making an anti-abortion social media post that many interpreted as a call to violence, but said his post was misinterpreted and he stands by its sentiment.
Knell wept intermittently while giving an apology at Tuesday’s City Council meeting in Casper.
“I don’t want to ostracize anybody, I don’t want anybody to ever feel threatened or to live in fear because of something that came out of my mouth. I don’t roll that way,” said Knell. “So if that happened to you, I wholeheartedly apologize to you. Because, not my intent.”
Knell last month posted an image of a man dancing in fire in a comment under an Oil City News story about Wellspring Health Access, an abortion and transgender treatment clinic opening in Casper.
Knell is staunchly pro-life and an outspoken Christian.
An arsonist set fire to the clinic last year while it was working to open, causing a reported $300,000 in damage.
Many local residents converged on the City Council meeting to demand an apology. They said Knell’s post was a call for more violence and a statement of condemnation.
Knell countered, telling Cowboy State Daily on Monday that his post was meant rather as a warning that people who violate God’s law must repent and accept Jesus’ forgiveness or face hellfire.
Multiple people also spoke in support of Knell on Tuesday and his right to voice his views.
‘I’m Not Gonna Resign’
One woman, Tosha Blackburn, asked Knell to resign, and said he was trying to force his religious ideals upon the community and blur the line between government and religion.
Knell declined her urging to step down.
“Some folks had asked for my resignation. I’m not gonna resign,” said Knell, as part of the crowd interrupted him with applause. “If you go to work and share an opinion and your boss doesn’t like it, should you be fired? That’s ridiculous.”
Knell said he was happy to speak with people and have spirited discussions just as the community did at the public meeting.
“You don’t think for a minute when I posted that, that I didn’t think I was going to get it?” he asked rhetorically. “I knew what was coming. But I’m telling you, I am strong in my convictions. I’m OK with what I said. I just wish I would have said it in a different way.”
Knell said he doesn't believe women who have had abortions are past hope. But the clinic performing abortions frequently "is a whole other story in my book."
Mental Health And Wellbeing
Community members ranged from outraged to supportive. But some very personal stories surfaced as well.
Mandi Mosher, a counselor in Casper, said she took an acne medication in her early 20s that is known to cause severe birth defects in unborn babies, including missing ears or eyes, or intellectual disabilities.
She had two abortions because she was unaware she was pregnant when she started the acne medication, and because she became pregnant after taking it but before its time window of side effects waned.
“When Mayor Knell made his comments and is defending them, he’s not only damning half of Casper … but half of Wyoming and America,” said Mosher. “As a mental health therapist, I know how detrimental hurtful public comments can be on one’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.”
Another Casper woman, Sadie Carson, said that her mother nearly aborted her but decided against it.
“That was hard to hear, but I’m so grateful that she didn’t make that choice and she actually gave me life,” said Carson. “And my four kids, I’m sure that they’re grateful that my mom didn’t make that choice, to terminate my life.”
Carson said she was concerned about what goes on in the abortion clinic.
“Ripping babies apart inside their mother’s wombs limb by limb. That’s violent,” she said.
Nothing In Life Is Black And White
A third Casper woman, Riata Walker, said she and her husband had to induce labor early for a baby they desperately wanted because the little girl had a terminal diagnosis and doctors said she could not possibly survive.
“Nothing in life is black and white,” said Walker, who became emotional as she told her story. “I don’t even know how to explain to you what it feels like to go from planning your baby shower to planning how you’re going to say goodbye and what to do with your child’s remains.”
Knell and others expressed sympathy for Walker and what she endured.
But Knell said he believes that the medical response necessary in Walker’s case is in a different category from elective abortions.
Applause And Laughter
Some attendees told Knell that he must behave with more decorum now that he’s representing the entire city of Casper.
“I am appalled that anyone purporting to represent me would dare to stand in judgment of me,” said Jane Ifland, a woman wearing a shirt displaying the words “Pro Choice Wyoming.”
Many in attendance applauded.
Others, however, said they were grateful to Knell for being frank about who he is and what he believes.
Casper resident Kyle True said it was actually an act of kindness for Knell to warn the abortionists that they may be facing hellfire.
Some attendees laughed at True, but Knell asked them to be respectful.
“If a person sincerely holds a belief that someone is doing something dangerous to themselves, a warning, a statement of concern is an act of kindness,” said True.
‘Safe And Inclusive’
Councilman Kyle Gamroth said he disagreed vehemently with Knell’s social media behavior, but knows him to be a good man with a great capacity for kindness.
“For those of you concerned about dehumanizing language and violent imagery concerning reproductive health care, I want you to know I share your concerns,” said Gamroth. “Referring to people using language like ‘baby killers’ and ‘baby murderers’ or referring to places like Wellspring as cults of death, mutilation factories or other hyperbolic nouns can have dangerous consequences and can contribute to a culture of violence and intimidation.”
Knell clarified in a later text to Cowboy State Daily that Gamroth wasn’t referencing Knell’s post with these comments: he was talking about comments other people submitted to him.
Gamroth said elected officials should “create a safe and inclusive community where everyone is accepted and valued.”
Councilwoman Brandy Haskins echoed Gamroth.
‘Should Not Be Shouted Down’
Councilman Steve Cathey, however, defended Knell’s right to express himself.
“He should not be shouted down because you don’t believe in his opinions,” said Cathey, adding that he and his wife didn’t believe they could have children but were blessed with two.
“I hate to see people waste those blessings from the Lord,” he said. “Maybe we ought to think about what we were doing before we became pregnant.”
Some audience members booed.
Cathey said he didn’t appreciate the boos and groans just for voicing his opinion. He also said he is not opposed to abortions in cases of rape, incest or death risks to the mother.
Councilman Michael Bond said public servants have an “unwritten responsibility to be civil and respectful.”
Councilwoman Gena Jensen thanked the community for being willing to engage civilly on the topic.
Oil City News removed Knell's fire comment moments after he posted it, Knell told Cowboy State Daily this week.
Clair McFarland may be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.