Ahead of Mississippi’s municipal elections Tuesday, mystery surrounds races for Meridian’s mayoral and councilman positions.
Why did Mariner Durant drop out of the mayoral race?
Libertarian candidate Mariner Durant had been making inroads in the race for mayor as he went up against far more formidable candidates in incumbent Democratic Mayor Percy Bland and independent candidate Kenneth Dustin Markham.
Then, on May 9th, Durant announced that he was dropping out of the race “for security reasons.” Then, on May 11th, Durant endorsed Markham, calling him “corupptions [sic] worst nightmare.”
Multiple sources close to the Durant campaign say Durant came to them in early May claiming he had been threatened by a man who had been following him in a vehicle while he was putting out yard signs.
“He said he told him to drop out of the race and offered him $250,000″ one source said. “He said he turned the money down.” Durant told the source his life had been threatened.
Other sources, who had not been in contact with the one quoted above, recounted being told the same story by Durant, detail for detail.
According to sources, Durant did not know the identity of his alleged assailants.
We could not verify Durant’s claims; only that he had made them.
Update: Mariner Durant was found dead Monday, June 5th, from what the Lauderdale County coroner believes is a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. We will share an update when we know more.
A somewhat similar claim was made in 2013, too
On Friday, June 2nd, Weston Lindemann, the Meridian City Council candidate for Ward 5, shared Durant’s allegations on Facebook, and said there was a history of Meridian’s candidates dropping out under unusual circumstances. In his post, he alleged the possibility of “fraud.”
“This is but one instance in a disturbing pattern of fraud that I must reveal,” Lindemann said, referring to Durant’s claims.
“You may also recall in 2013 Wally Hudnall said he was offered money to drop out of the race,” Lindemann wrote.
An article in the Meridian Star from May 2013 refers to a moment during a mayoral debate in which a candidate said they were offered money not to run. Wally Hudnall – who has since passed away – was a candidate in that debate.
We are unable to verify whether or not any candidate – past or present – has been offered money to drop out of a race.
Mysterious websites and Facebook pages
A Facebook page calling itself “Meridian, Mississippi” has also been raising questions. The Facebook page – which is not linked to the Meridian city government – appears to be associated with the website Meridian.MS.
The Facebook page, which has around 6,500 followers, endorsed Markham for mayor.
But in recent weeks, the page has engaged in a Photoshop-aided smear campaign against some candidates in the race. Lauderdale County’s Democratic Party Chairman, Stephen Wilson, was photoshopped alongside Mayor Percy Bland into an image that was posted with the status “celebrating love.”
A Photo taken from Lindemann’s personal Facebook page was photoshopped to include an image of a bong with breasts.
The post describes the bong as having been “designed to have female breasts on the front, because it symbolizes new life and liberation from the man.” The fake post described Lindemann as a “well know Bernie Sanders supporter and connoisseur of marijuana.” The post has since been removed.In addition, a separate website was set up with a domain using Lindemann’s namesake. The website, whose owner is unknown, is devoted to attacking Lindemann and one of his supporters. Some of the attacks are similar to the ones made on the Meridian, Mississippi Facebook page.
Another post that was been posted then removed from the Meridian, Mississippi Facebook page alleged that it was the victim of a hacking attempt. The post said it traced the IP addresses of the alleged hackers back to the campaigns of Mayor Percy Bland and Weston Lindemann. But Facebook does not grant administrators of Facebook Pages the ability to trace IP addresses.
The identities of the administrators of the Meridian, Mississippi Facebook group remain unclear. Democrats believe the primary aim of the page is to turn voters against Democratic candidates.