"Appalled! Absolutely appalled!"
That's what a group of women from across the country are saying about how a candidate for Franklin, Tennessee, mayor appears to have lifted their social media posts to falsely claim them as her supporters.
Franklin alderman Gabrielle Hanson, a controversial candidate who appears to relish her MAGA Republican ties, may not have thought that anyone would track down the women whose photos she posted last month on her campaign's social media accounts.
But that's exactly what Scripps News Nashville Investigates did over the weekend, and those women were outraged about how their images were used.
"I'm wondering how this person doesn't have other photos of other friends or actual supporters," said April, who asked us not to use her last name.
"It's a really far stretch to dig up a photo from social media from seven years ago of just what was a really delightful brunch of a group of women who just had met."
As this story was being posted, Hanson finally returned a phone call after Scripps News Nashville's multiple attempts to reach her. In a bizarre and rambling conversation, Hanson and campaign aide Erin Mazzoni refused to answer any questions about the post, saying a federal court had upheld the rights of candidates to post whatever they want.
Hanson and Mazzoni suggested questions amounted to "stalking."
"This is not appropriate towards a woman, Phil," Mazzoni said.
"We are doing this in the light, and we are doing this with God on our side."
While the Franklin city official has staked out some hard-line Republican positions, if you believe her social media, she’s also getting support from a diverse group of people in her campaign for city mayor.
One photo shows a large crowd for an event that Hanson characterizes as "a vibrant and engaged community at the 'this is your town' meet and greet.'"
Then, there is the photo of the group of women alongside which Hanson expresses "heartfelt appreciation" to an "Executive Women’s Club” for their “invaluable support and encouragement."
Both images bear the hashtags "#FranklinTN" and "#VoteHanson."
When we first contacted April, Scripps News Nashville asked: "So what do you make of this?"
"I honestly don't know," she answered.
The photo, it turns out, was taken in 2016 in Chicago.
"I am right in the front with the little top-knot bun and a little American flag sweater," April said.
Scripps News Nashville Investigates followed up, "Do you support Gabrielle Hanson?"
"I do not," April said. "I actually do not know who that is."
A second woman, who asked not to be identified, described the reaction from several of the women in the group as "appalled, absolutely appalled."
"It's not true," the second woman said. "It didn't happen, and everybody in that photo knows it."
We asked April, "So as far as you know you have never even met Gabrielle Hanson?"
"No," she said, "and I have a pretty good memory. I keep a tight circle of friends and colleagues, and I think I would have remembered someone like that."
Instead of being an “Executive Women’s Club” as Gabrielle Hanson claimed, the women had all been selected for an ad campaign for the women’s clothing brand The Limited.
"That was a sort of brunch that came together just to celebrate each other and to celebrate the campaign," April remembered.
Looking back through old photos, some of the women concluded that Hanson may have been part of the ad campaign, but they insist she wasn’t at the brunch — and they never authorized her to use their images to boost her campaign.
After some on social media noticed the pic seemed to have been taken at a restaurant in Chicago, Hanson posted an update on Facebook and doubled-down on her claims.
"These are all my friends that have relocated to Nashville, Brentwood and Franklin, and they all support me."
Again, the women say that’s a lie.
"I know some of those women are not located in the places that she named," April said. "Some of those women are still in Chicago and other parts of the country, but not Tennessee."
In the phone call with Scripps News Nashville, Hanson again changed her story.
"They live all over the country, and we get together very regularly," she said.
This year, Hanson tried to block Pride Fest from being held at a Franklin park, she tried to pressure sponsors to drop funding for a Juneteenth celebration in Franklin and she opposed erecting historical markers to commemorate spots where lynchings had occurred.
Scripps News Nashville Investigates asked the second woman if she would ever support any of Hanson's positions.
"No, no, not if she were the last candidate on Earth — absolutely not!" the woman said. "These are not positions that anyone that I am in touch with on the [advertising] campaign would condone or support."
"I do racial equity work that supports all people and all good, beautiful expressions that people show up in life," she explained. "So I certainly do not want to be associated with anything like that."
A third woman, who also asked not to be identified, provided Scripps News Nashville Investigates with a written statement.
"I am appalled at the misuse of this photograph and the inaccurate representation of what is happening in it," the woman wrote. "Such blatant falsehoods being published exemplify the character of a candidate. As I've learned more about Gabrielle Hanson and her views, such an egregious attempt to show diverse female support is disgusting. Let this incident serve as a reminder of the importance of honesty, integrity, and respect for one another in the realm of public discourse and political engagement."
In addition, it turns out that the image from the so-called "meet and greet" also appears to have been lifted from the web.
Instead of being taken in Franklin, it was also from Chicago.
Hanson has now deleted it from her social media.
Scripps News Nashville Investigates asked April about Hanson, "Any message that you would have for her?"
"I would encourage her to go meet genuine friends so she can take photos with those folks if she's looking for supporters," she said. "There's no need to comb pictures on the internet to make up a story. None of us need that."
This story was originally published by Phil Williams at Scripps News Nashville.
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