VAY, Idaho — A sign erected by a northern Idaho landowner that advertises a “free public hanging” of President-elect Barack Obama and several other political figures is being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service.
Bonner County Sheriff Elaine Savage said she and a Secret Service agent from Spokane planned to take a firsthand look at the sign put up by Ken Germana.
“That’s a political statement,” Germana told the Bonner County Daily Bee. “They can call it whatever they want, a threat or whatever.”
The handmade white cardboard sign posted to a tree has the words “FREE PUBLIC HANGING” written in large orange letters. A noose fashioned from a length of rope hangs down the middle of the sign.
The name of the president-elect is written in equally large letters near the bottom of the sign. In smaller letters are the names of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; and civil rights activist and former presidential candidate Al Sharpton.
Germana said he poses no threat to Obama, but he wouldn’t lose sleep if the president-elect came in harm’s way.
The Bonner County Human Rights Task Force said it is outraged by the sign.
“Everyone has the right of free speech, unless it advocates the killing or hurting of someone or incites violence, which violates the doctrine of human rights,” Christine Holbert, president of the task force, said in a statement.
Vay is about 50 miles north of Coeur d’Alene in a region known for its past ties with white supremacist groups. The Aryan Nations had a compound in nearby Hayden Lake until 2003 when it was forced into bankruptcy after losing a lawsuit.
Germana said the sign he put up was not racially motivated, but was in response to two effigies involving Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Obama, which he said were treated differently by authorities.
Leading up to the Nov. 4 general election, Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, was hung in effigy in West Hollywood, Calif., while Obama was hung in effigy at the University of Kentucky.
In the Kentucky incident, two men have pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct, burglary and theft. The effigy was found hanging from a tree with a noose around its neck, recalling the historical images of blacks being lynched in the South.
In the incident in West Hollywood, which also drew a visit from the Secret Service, the homeowner said the Palin effigy was part of Halloween yard decorations, which also included Palin’s running mate, John McCain, popping out of a flaming chimney.
The homeowner eventually decided to take down the effigy following an uproar and after an effigy of him appeared on a vehicle with a noose around its neck.
Germana said the differences between how the two situations were resolved prompted him to create his sign.
“If other people can make political statements, so can I,” he said. “Just because I don’t live in California doesn’t mean I don’t have my rights, too. If these Katzenjammer cops want to pursue it, God bless ‘em. But I’ve got my rights just like everybody else does.”
The Secret Service in Spokane did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Thursday.
Leading up to the election there were other incidents involving effigies of the presidential candidates or their running mates.
George Fox University, a small Christian college in Newberg, Ore., punished four students who confessed to hanging a likeness of Obama from a tree.
In Redondo Beach, Calif., a woman removed a Halloween effigy of Barack Obama that was hanging from her balcony with a butcher knife in its neck. She took it down after neighbors complained.
And in Clarksville, Ind., a man had hanged an inflatable doll made to look like Obama from a tree. He took it down, and authorities said it didn’t appear to violate any state laws.