When I walked by a local pharmacy recently, I was surprised by a bold change to its storefront. Rather than advertise which items are for sale, the window was now plastered with pro-Trump signage and a poster that read (with unusual capitalization): “You are entitled to your opinion. You are NOT Entitled to TELL me what mine must be!” This is America, so store owners are entitled to express their opinions. When they choose to advertise them, however, they risk alienating some customers who may feel compelled to take their business elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the financial risk to a store owner is not always the extent of the potential harm from a decision to advertise political beliefs. When the store is a gun shop and the beliefs involve targeting individuals based on racism and xenophobia, the equation changes dramatically and things can get dangerous.
Cherokee Guns, a store in rural North Carolina, recently put up a billboard with headshots of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, the four nonwhite Democratic Congresswomen whom Trump recently suggested should “go back” to their countries of origin despite the fact they are all U.S. citizens and all but one was born in this country. The billboard likens the lawmakers to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, calls them “Idiots,” and is sarcastically signed by “the Deplorables.”
The billboard does not explicitly urge violence against anyone, but its hateful message is unmistakably clear. Mix that with the billboard’s aim of directing customers to buy guns just “1 MILE ON RIGHT” and the results can be deadly. No matter what is inside the store owner’s mind, his inflammatory billboard escalates hateful rhetoric that endangers the lives of four duly elected members of Congress who have already received numerous death threats thanks to Trump. But this owner has been ratcheting things up even further by announcing a bumper sticker giveaway next week while warning that “Snowflakes and Liberals are not eligible,” according to a Facebook post. Also, according to The Charlotte Observer, the owner instructed employees that if any “threatening liberals” show up, they should “[s]how them the door, or your gun, and tell them they can buy their own billboard and pay for it like I did.”
Pressley accurately connected the dots from the billboard straight to the Bigot-in-Chief in the Oval Office. “#Racist rhetoric from the occupant of the @WhiteHouse has made hate our new normal,” she tweeted. “We are still vulnerable.” Indeed, Trump has been playing a dangerous game, and this billboard is just one predictable consequence of the example he sets.
Allison Outdoor Advertising, which manages the billboard, told CNN on Friday that it will take it down, saying that “[i]t broke our hearts that the controversy happened.” America needs a President who doesn’t inspire his constituents to hate each other. It is high time for a President who is committed to keeping all Americans safe.