The Republican Party nominated an empty suit for president in 2012. They also made an empty seat the symbol of their Democratic opponent, President Barack Obama. In the process they spawned a craze of racist lawn art among GOP voters featuring lynched chairs. Variations of such displays, which sprang up across the country last fall, included effigies of the president eating watermelon or figurines of Obama with the face of an ape.
The website Politico would be less blunt, simply calling the performance "rambling." For most people, the Eastwood appearance became a punchline, a sign of Romney's political incompetence. Even Eastwood admitted he had no business on the Tampa stage and seemed to mock his own candidate's decision making. "I figure if somebody's dumb enough to ask me to go to a political convention and say something, they're going to have to take what they get." (See http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/09/eastwood-on-rnc-skit-if-somebodys-dumb-enough-to-ask-me/).
White America suffers a collective amnesia about the reign of terror aimed at their black fellow citizens from 1882, when the NAACP started compiling statistics on lynchings across the country, to roughly 1939 when the public torture and murder of African American men, women and children ceased to be a regular, and even weekly spectacle. In that timeframe, more than 4,700 men, women and children were known to have been tortured, castrated, hanged, and burned at the stake across the United States, though the actual number of lynching victims was probably much higher. The NAACP estimates that 72.6 percent of the lynching victims were black.
Rightwingers started lynching images of Obama before Eastwod's speech. In late October 2008, just before Obama won the White House the first time, students hanged an effigy made to resemble the Democratic nominee from a tree at the University of Kentucky campus at Lexington. (See the story at http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2008/10/29/54942/obama-effigy-found-hanging-at.html). Police arrested two men, 21-year-old Hunter Bush and Joe Fisher, a 22-year-old UK senior, for disorderly conduct and related theft and burglary charges (the dummy was dressed in clothing taken from a nearby fraternity house). A grand jury in late February 2009 dismissed the charges. The two white men claimed they were only responding to a reports that an effigy of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin ad been hanged in Southern California.
A lawyer for the pair, Fred Peters, ignored the significance of lynching in America's troubled racial past and suggested that the free speech rights of the defendants had been trampled on. No one would have made a big deal of the incident, Peters claimed, if the effigy had not been of a black man. "If they had hung Joe Biden, we would not be here," Peters claimed. Of course, symbolically lynching a black man was exactly the point, an implied threat to not just Obama but to all African American voters. (See http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2009/01/27/60852/if-they-had-hung-joe-biden-we.html).
A real pioneer in right wing lynching lawn art was evangelical troll Terry Jones, the reckless Florida pastor whose public burning of the Koran in March 2011 sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan, resulting in at least 12 deaths. Jones, who loves nothing more than being in front of TV cameras, conducted the Koran burning in spite of warnings by government and military officials that the stunt could place American soldiers and civilian personnel in jeopardy overseas. (See http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/j/terry_jones_pastor/index.html). Jones also, in September 2012, posted on the web a badly-made film, "The Innocence of the Muslims" which, among other deliberate provocations, portrayed the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a homosexual and a pedophile. (Anger over the film inspired attacks on American embassies and sparked riots in Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Bangladesh, Qatar, Kuwait, Sudan and Iraq resulting in more than 30 deaths. See http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/i/innocence_of_muslims_riots/index.html and http://gawker.com/5942698/florida-pastor-who-promoted-riot+sparking-anti+islam-film-unrepentant).
A mob eventually numbering about 7,000 people, some arriving on specially chartered trains, arrived to witness Neal's excruciating death. The mob castrated Neal, forced him to eat his testicles and tell the crowd he "liked it," and, while he was fully conscious, hacked off his fingers and toes and seared his flesh with hot irons before yanking him up by a noose which slowly strangled him. The frenzied crowd then riddled his corpse with bullets and tied his remains from the back of an automobile, dragging his body to the Marianna courthouse where the remains were hanged from a tree. Body parts were put on display and photographs of the mob killing were sold for 50 cents each. (See http://www.pbs.org/harrymoore/terror/cneal.html)
A real lynching, that of Claude Neal, not far from where Terry Jones' created his gruesome display almost eight decades later. (Photo from http://adiama.com/ancestralconnections/2011/11/05/fbi-to-close-case-on-emmett-till-and-end-civil-rights-era-cold-cases/).
The lynched-Obama-effigy-as-lawn-art trend only worsened after Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention, especially in the last days of the 2012 presidential race when it became increasingly clear that the president might win a second term. By mid-September, Bud Johnson displayed a lynched empty chair dangling from a tree in his front yard in the northwest corner of Austin, Texas. As Katherine Haenschen of the Burnt Orange Report website noted, this display was particularly disgraceful in Texas:
"Lynching was a horrific and commonplace act in Reconstruction-era Texas and continued until the mid-1940's, spurred on by Ku Klux Klan groups. Texas is third amongst all states -- behind Mississippi and Georgia -- in the total number of lynching victims between 1885 and 1942. Of those 468 victims, an overwhelming number were African-American.
We shouldn't blame all the hateful Republican art exhibits on Eastwood. Not every GOP Klan-inspired yard installation featured empty chairs. The lynching meme, however, was extremely popular among Republicans last year and one traveling exhibit carried the bullying message directly to polling places. V.R. Phipps, of Duplin County, N.C., traveled from one early voting place to another in a trailer, setting up displays featuring lynched effigies of public officials including former North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue and Obama. (See http://www.wtsp.com/news/watercooler/article/280771/58/NC-officials-investigate-hanged-Obama-effigy).
V.R. Phipps of North Carolina proudly posted a YouTube video of his traveling exhibit of lynched public figure effigies, including one of President Barack Obama. (Photo from http://www.wtsp.com/news/watercooler/article/280771/58/NC-officials-investigate-hanged-Obama-effigy).
Perhaps someone someday should collect the GOP racist lawn art created between 2010 and 2013 and put in a a central exhibit about a bitter, out-of-touch major political party in its dying days . The curator for such a show could include the creation of Danny Hefley, the Casey County Kentucky man who this past December celebrated Obama's re-election by exhibiting in his front yard an Obama mannequin eating a watermelon.
Predictably, Hefley denied that he was expressing racism and said he was unaware that black people are stereotyped as liking watermelons. Hefley claimed he included the watermelon because the Obama figure "might get hungry standing out there." Hefley also insisted that the display was "popular" among his Kentucky neighbors. No doubt. (See http://www.lex18.com/news/casey-county-man-defends-controversial-obama-display/ and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/27/danny-hafley-kentucky-obama_n_2372920.html).
Danny Hefley of Casey County, Kentucky, participates in the post-election Republican "outreach" to people of color with this artwork. (Photo from http://www.lex18.com/news/casey-county-man-defends-controversial-obama-display/).
As has been pointed out repeatedly in this blog, Republican racists don't lurk on the margins. Some of the crudest racism expressed by members of the Grand Old Party has spring from the minds of successful business owners, columnists, major media figures, and politicians from the city level to the halls of Congress. For instance, there's the case of former Cedar Grove, N.J. city council member and police officer Rick Bond, who in August 2012 demonstrated his commitment to diversity by placing a statue of a monkey wearing a t-shirt that said "OMG -- Obama Must Go" in front of the Don-Ric Self Storage business he owns. Bond (pretending to be surprised that some would see portraying an African American president as a monkey as racist) insisted, "I absolutely never thought of it as racial. It's ridiculous."
As Thomas Reynolds, the president of the nearby Montclair NAACP chapter pointed out, "It's incredible to think that somebody would have put up a statue of a monkey with a white man in the White House and I hope the person would take a second look at the messages he's putting out." In spite of his claim of innocence, Bond removed the statue when people in the community began complaining. (See http://verona.patch.com/articles/anti-obama-statue-removed-by-owner and http://crooksandliars.com/john-amato/ex-councilman-denies-being-racist-after).
Rick Bond, a former Cedar Grove, N.J., city council member, said he was shocked when people suggested his statue of Obama depicted as a monkey was racist. "I absolutely never thought of it as racist," he said. (Photo from http://verona.patch.com/articles/anti-obama-statue-removed-by-owner).
Fortunately, in the United States, there's a powerful watchdog media staffed by courageous liberals who aren't afraid that they'll be called "biased" if they call out Republicans on their explicit racism. Well, maybe in a bizarre alternate universe. In mid-October an Ohio Republican put together one of the most elaborate Obama lynching effigies seen during last election season. It featured a dummy made up like Obama, complete with demonic horns, dangling by a noose from a tree. Meanwhile, a Romney dummy was seen driving a tractor near a "Romney-Ryan 2012" yard sign
(That part of the lawn art, it can be assumed, was supposed to represent Romney as a hard-working white man, a symbol contrasted with the lazy "nigger" swinging from a rope nearby. Romney, of course, earned his money the old-fashioned way: by wisely picking a wealthy man and woman as his parents. Romney then expanded his fortunate as a a venture capitalist shipping the jobs of hardworking Americans to low-wage capitalist paradises like the People's Republic of China).
Obviously, the well-educated, truth-seeking men and woman of the press would, in reporting on this lawn art, comment on it's over-the-top negrophobia. A Cleveland, Ohio Fox News affiliate, 19 Action News, ran a photo of the yard display on its Facebook page. The folks at Channel 19 pulled no punches. They bravely described the symbolic Obama lynching as a "creative yard display." (See http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/10/19/ohio-news-station-calls-obama-demonization-creative-yard-display/).
As a popularly misattributed quote of the English philosopher Edmund Burke puts it, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." We might add, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for cowards, with the power to shape public opinion, to not state the obvious."