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A screenshot of a now-deleted tweet from congressional candidate Christopher Hale

Tennessee congressional candidate Christopher Hale tweeted and promptly deleted an image of a couple pointing guns at protesters in St. Louis late Wednesday.

Hale, a Democrat running for Tennessee's 4th Congressional District, tweeted a viral image of a Missouri couple brandishing guns as protesters passed by on their way to protest St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson's house. The image and many like it have become controversial on social media since the incident occurred, sparking a number of memes.

In his tweet, Hale posted the image with the caption "when someone tries to steal Hale yes signs from our supporters," and an accompanying tweet that read "don't mess with rural Democrats, y'all."

The tweet, shared around 11 p.m. Wednesday, was deleted less than an hour after a couple of followers called for Hale to remove the tweet.

"Might want to remove this tweet," user Cheryl B Williams wrote. "It's in incredibly poor taste."

"Agree 100% with this," user Lucius Tyson replied.

A campaign spokesperson for Hale told the Times Free Press Thursday that the tweet was deleted on accident, standing by the joke.

"We deleted our take of the viral meme in error. We're sorry it offended a small minority of the folks who engaged with it. It's this campaign's belief that we need elected leaders who have the ability to laugh at themselves and participate in the humor of our wider culture," the spokesperson wrote. "If the people of Tennessee want a robot who was built in a DNC Petri dish, Hale isn't their man. He's authentic. He speaks from his heart. He's not perfect, but he's a fighter who is already making good things happen for Tennesseans."

The campaign added that it would replace any stolen campaign signs.

"Also—if anyone's world-famous HALE YES signs were stolen, let the campaign know, and we'll replace them as soon as possible."

The original image comes from a video tweeted by Daniel Shular of the couple, attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey, standing outside of their home in St. Louis armed with a rifle and a handgun respectively, pointing the weapons at protesters.

While no shots were fired, the couple made national news for the perceived threat against protesters. This and similar images have since circulated social media with a variety of meme captions posted by thousands of accounts, including Hale.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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