They were the posts that drew a massive public backlash, but they weren’t the whole story.
On his Facebook account, Stone Terrace by John Henry executive chef Joe Russo called the Black Lives Matter movement “bulls—,” and those who follow it “idiots.” He suggested that George Floyd—a black man who died May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes—faked his death and attended his own funeral in order to hurt President Donald Trump’s re-election chances. He shared a video that encouraged white people to never apologize for their race, with a caption that suggested opinions like his were being “heavily censored” on social media.
They spurred a large and swift outcry against Russo and the Stone Terrace that included calls to boycott the venue, a reprimanding statement from Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin and a protest that drew hundreds of people from across the area. Ultimately, the posts cost Russo his job as executive chef at the large facility, which includes a restaurant, bar and banquet room used for weddings, proms and other major events.
A Hamilton Post review of Russo’s Facebook page, however, shows the account has a much-deeper history of inflammatory and racist posts, with examples extending back to 2012.
The account paints Russo as a passionate conservative whose posts veer into racism during major events involving black Americans. His posts often receive dozens of comments, most of them in agreement with Russo, suggesting that the Facebook page at the very least has been a haven or gathering space for these kinds of attitudes for some time now.
Even after Russo deleted hundreds of posts off his Facebook account on June 11, some examples lived on, marked as public so that they are viewable to even those who don’t belong to Facebook.
In November 2014, following the murder of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Russo shared a video that criticized protesters. It took issue with people looting “Sheneneh’s Hair Salon for the extensions,” a fictional example using stereotypes of black names, businesses and hairstyles.
The man in the video, who is black, later asserts that black Americans are using slavery as an excuse for their own failings.
Russo, in his post, called the video, “Something to watch…!!!”
A May 25, 2012 post features a photo of hand-drawn document full of misspellings labeled “Offishal Birth Certificat for Hawaii” that promotes a debunked conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and therefore was not eligible to be president.
In a series of April 2015 posts addressing protests following Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore Police custody, Russo suggested the protesting and government response was a conspiracy. The posts received dozens of comments—many of them racist—with Russo’s Facebook friends calling black people “f’ing animals” and “thug animals” and suggesting police should “cage them.”
In January 2017, after Trump’s inauguration, Russo shared a photo of Melania Trump and Michelle Obama that had been altered to give Obama the appearance of a servant or slave.
Another post, dated Nov. 1, 2017, featured a photo of a police officer kneeling on a detained man’s neck with the text, “Hey NFL, here’s how to take a knee!” Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin used the same method on Floyd in May, with an autopsy finding Floyd died from “asphyxia due to neck and back pressure” because the knee in Floyd’s neck “interfered with his breathing and blood flow to the brain.”
These are just a few samples of what continues to appear on Russo’s Facebook page.
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Screenshots of posts Russo made in 2017 and this year began making the rounds on social media June 10. The restaurant and event venue initially distanced itself from Russo, calling him “an employee” in a statement posted on Facebook late June 10. The statement finished: “We would like to first make clear that Joseph Russo is not the owner of The Stone Terrace, and these views do not reflect our views as a whole. We are deeply ashamed of the comments made, and apologize for not speaking to this sooner. The Stone Terrace absolutely stands with the black community, and is listening, learning, and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.”
The statement did not have its intended effect. Some accused Stone Terrace of lying about Russo’s role at the restaurant—more than just an employee, Russo has long been the public face of the venue and even has his own YouTube show, “Joe Russo’s Let’s Just Cook,” that he films in Stone Terrace’s kitchen. The Stone Terrace’s own website described Russo as a partner in the business and brother-in-law of owner John Henry.
Throughout June 11, the scope of the anger increased as Russo’s posts spread across social media, reaching far beyond Mercer County. By the afternoon of June 11, the Stone Terrace had taken down its Facebook and Instagram pages entirely, and erased all references to Russo on its website. Russo changed his profile picture, and scrubbed his Facebook page clean of any post made later than 2015.
Coincidentally, Russo deleting recent material allowed older transgressions to rise to the top. Mixed between posts rooting on the Duke University men’s basketball team, the New York Jets and the New York Yankees is a series of posts on the 2015 protests in Baltimore. People in Baltimore protested for 15 days in April and May 2015 after Freddie Gray, who is black, sustained injuries to his neck and spine while in a police vehicle, fell into a coma and later died.
Russo’s 2015 posts express dismay at looting and perceived inaction of elected officials in Baltimore, and saying it was “a conspiracy” that the mayor of Baltimore did not immediately quell the protests with police. Russo received dozens of comments from friends—many of which rival or surpass the racist language he used in addressing the Black Lives Matter movement. One woman called Baltimore “planet of the apes.” Another woman called the protesters in Baltimore “f’ing animals” and “these animal thugs.” A third woman said, “cage them – their animals.”
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On social media, where much of the Russo saga played out, people reacted to the news of Russo’s posts with a mix of outrage and resignation.
“People talking about the owner of the Stone Terrace being racist like this wasn’t already said 4 years ago,” one Twitter user wrote.
Scores of posts urged people to boycott the venue. A rally was quickly organized via social media for 6 p.m. June 11 that would later draw hundreds of people to the Stone Terrace’s driveway on Kuser Road. A second protest has been scheduled for Monday, June 15 at 3:30 p.m. outside Stone Terrace.
Russo and Stone Terrace also drew the rebuke of Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin, a Democrat who hosted his 2019 election night party and his January inauguration at the venue. The Stone Terrace has been a frequent host of local political and government events. Republican Kelly Yaede held her annual State of the Township at the venue while mayor. The Mercer County Democratic and Republican committees both have held meetings there.
“I’m saddened and horrified to see Mr. Russo holds such hateful and abhorrent views,” Martin said in a June 11 statement. “Had I known he held these racist feelings, I would never have attended, supported, or held events at his restaurant. I unequivocally condemn his words and his disregard for human decency.
“Clearly, a much larger discussion on race and racism, on diversity, on compassion, and on acceptance is not only needed, but necessary … Until we come together to ensure hate has no home, we will continue to face the ugliness that is racism.”
Stone Terrace owners John and Catherine Henry took the first steps in the process of rebuilding June 12, restoring the Stone Terrace Facebook account and issuing a statement that echoed Martin’s words. The couple struck a contrite tone, condemning Russo’s comments and asking the community for forgiveness.
“We recognize that our silence on the matter was compliance, and we take full responsibility for allowing this to occur,” the statement read. “This behavior by any staff member or employee will not be tolerated and will result in immediate termination. We are so deeply sorry for the pain caused by these comments, and hope our community will recognize the sincerity of our apology.”