“The Squad” are no strangers to threats, whether oblique or direct. The latest example: their faces printed on a gun shop billboard ad in far western North Carolina.
The billboard, located in the town of Murphy, over 200 miles from Charlotte, didn’t directly call on customers to attack the four progressive congresswomen, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). But it called them “the 4 Horsemen,” a biblical reference that represents conquest, war, famine and death, insulted them as “idiots” — and then listed the shop’s name, Cherokee Guns, under their photos in large, red print. And conveniently, the shop was located only a mile away from the sign.
The billboard immediately received backlash after it was shared online Sunday for inciting violence against the lawmakers, who say they have already been receiving numerous death threats. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence called the sign dangerous, “violent rhetoric.” The civil rights group Muslim Advocates also condemned the billboard for promoting violence, tweeting that, “In an age of white nationalist attacks and rampant gun violence, *this is not a joke.*”
Pressley and Tlaib both called out the billboard for its message as well.
#Racist rhetoric from the occupant of the @WhiteHouse has made hate our new normal. We are still vulnerable. @RepMarkMeadows – Cherokee Guns is in your district & you and I serve on a committee together. Here’s your chance to finally do the right thing. https://t.co/IvR1eunFQt— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) July 30, 2019
How the hell is this not inciting violence? https://t.co/rgdDloiePq— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) July 31, 2019
In an interview with the Asheville Citizen-Times, shop owner Doc Wacholz said he had no intention of inciting violence or being racist: “It’s a statement. It’s an opinion.”
“They’re socialists, from my point of view,” he said. “I also feel a couple of them, being Muslim, have ties to actual terrorists groups.”
The Squad is no stranger to violent threats. Ocasio-Cortez receives so many death threats that her staff performs risk assessments of all visitors. Omar also said she’s been targeted by more death threats ever since President Donald Trump tweeted out a video that cross-edited footage of the congresswoman speaking and the 9/11 attacks. During a hearing on white supremacy, Tlaib teared up while reading a death threat sent to her office that wrote, “The only good Muslim is a dead one.”
The list goes on, with Cherokee Guns simply being the latest addition. Whether the gun shop’s billboard will stay on the list is a lingering question — and one that’s being sorted out as much by online communities as it is by the gun shop itself.
It remains unclear whether or not the billboard is coming down
Despite the intense backlash, the fate of the billboard remains unclear. On Wednesday, Allison Outdoor Advertising, the company behind the ad, said on Facebook that they were taking down the billboard, although they did not give a specific date.
“For all those who has concern over the Cherokee Guns Artwork. The board is coming down,” the company had written. “This Creative never came on managements desk for approval. We understand this is a delicate subject and we greatly apologize for it ever going up.”
That post, however, was removed in the span of a day, and there is no longer any indication on the company’s Facebook that they plan to take any action.
Usually, Allison Outdoor Advertising doesn’t pre-screen what its clients put on the billboards they rent, Danny Coleman, the account executive responsible for Cherokee County, told the Citizen-Times, “as long as there’s no vulgar stuff or stuff with kids.”
The company may be backtracking because of the mixed messages that are flooding their Facebook reviews: it’s being criticized on both sides for “erecting racist billboards” and “censoring free speech.”
The gun shop itself seems unfazed by the criticism. Following its weekend of backlash, it announced on Monday that it would be giving out sticker versions of the billboard image to those who pledge to vote for Trump in 2020 (“snowflakes and Liberals are not eligible”).
For now, the billboard still stands.