Willmar man who thinks a pig’s foot is free speech avoids jail time

Joseph Francis Fernkes, 62, of Willmar, got off with about a $430 fine when he acknowledged being the person who put a pig’s foot on table at a farmer’s market display being staffed by Somalis.

In a plea deal, more serious charges were dropped, the West Central Tribune says.

It was a serious assault, given that pork products and anything pig-related are considered unclean by those of the Muslim faith, the paper noted.

Fernkes’ attorney, John Mack, wanted only a $100 fine because he said Fernkes was extending an olive branch to the Somali community in Willmar by acknowledging his guilt and avoiding a trial.

Then a judge gave Fernkes a chance to say something and further the healing.

“I get offended too by things,” Fernkes said.

That might’ve been the moment when the possibility of a $100 fine disappeared.

“It is a criminal act,” and no different if someone decided to break a window at Fernkes’ home because they didn’t like him, [District Judge Michael]Thompson said.

Thompson said that this country is founded on individual liberty, and everyone has the right to believe and think what they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt someone.

“It doesn’t hurt you if someone belongs to the Islamic faith,” just as it doesn’t hurt anyone if Fernkes belongs to the Christian faith, Thompson said. The vast majority of followers of a religion, including Christianity and Islam, are peaceful and deplore violence, but there are always radicals willing to twist those religions to suit their ends, Thompson added. That doesn’t mean you should assume all the followers of that religion are violent radicals.

“There is no evidence anyone was hurting you at that time,” Thompson said.

Fernkes has stated he does not like Muslims.

Had the more serious charges not been dropped in the plea deal, he might’ve gone to jail.

His attorney said it was a free speech case and he was prepared to argue it all the way to the Supreme Court.

  • MrE85

    I hope I never end up to be a sad, hate-filled frightened old man like that.

    • Jerry

      Since you appear to not be a sad, hate-filled angry young man, or a sad, hatefilled disappointed middle aged man, I think you are mostly in the clear. The key step now is to keep outside interests and not sit around watching the news and fuming about how the world is leaving you behind.

      • MrE85

        I’ll do my best. I hope to be retired in a couple of years. I’m going to do more volunteer work, I think.

  • Jerry

    What exactly was he trying to accomplish besides making himself look like a hypocritical jackass? Pig parts are not kryptonite to muslims.

    • MrE85

      It was a mean and hurtful stunt, and he knew it.

      • Jerry

        So he was trying to radicalize these Somalis? Because who needs imams when you can push them towards that yourself.

        • MrE85

          Muslims are like everyone else. They can recognized a mean, pathetic person when they see one. Every faith has got them. Nice people, too.

  • Guest

    THIS crossed the line from free speech (it is OK to say I don’t like …) to assault of some kind. Everyone would have pretty much the same answer if he threw pig’s blood over the table. This laying an object down is not so clear.

    Laying an known-to-be-offensive object on a table is an action much like laying a satanic symbol on a Nun’s table. DOES that create a criminal act?

    I call it closer to putting a burning cross on a family’s yard or hanging a noose in a cafeteria that is meant to intimidate.

    • BJ

      I would say it’s closer to taking a dead rat and putting it on a hamburger stand.

  • Mike Worcester

    //His attorney said it was a free speech case and he was prepared to argue it all the way to the Supreme Court.

    Let’s presume, for sake of interesting speculation, that indeed this case would have made it through all the legal hoops needed to become a SCOTUS case (think of all the appellate branches it would have crossed). If so, think of what this case would have been based upon — that throwing an object *at* someone should be considered a form of free speech? The oral arguments alone would have been worth the price of admission (as the saying goes).

  • Brian Simon

    This offends me greatly. Is it a valid form of speech to express my outrage by dumping a wheelbarrow of pigs’ feet on Mr Fernkes’ front porch?

  • Jack Ungerleider

    This quote from the article indicates that the food at the stand would have been discarded regardless of the religion of the proprietor.
    “Because the pig’s foot was considered biohazardous, all of the food and produce at the stand — $168 worth — had to be discarded.”
    While not totally surprised by that statement, I never realized that severed animal parts might be considered biohazardous regardless of any other underlying issue. If Mr. Fernkes was aware of that regulation the attack seems all the more vindictive.

  • AmiSchwab

    bet ron christianson agrees with fernke

  • Jack

    Would he have done the same thing to a Jewish booth?

    • John

      based on what I’m reading above, I’d put money on “yes.”

  • Angry Jonny

    Sadly, Joe is in fairly good company amongst his demographic here.