by Leslie Layton
The brief appearance of a billboard that depicted President Trump as a Hitler-esque figure has unleashed a wave of hateful, threatening messages directed at a Chico woman and her vintage clothing store.
Nicholle Haber, owner of “Rouse & Revolt,” said Thursday she was shocked by the maliciousness of people who were upset by the billboard art that was posted at East Third and Mangrove avenues in Chico Wednesday night. The billboard appeared to have been scraped off entirely by early Thursday, hours after a Chico television station aired a story.
Stott Outdoor Advertising, the corporate billboard owner that rents the display space, said it had removed the store’s ad and swiftly released a statement to the press as the story won the attention of national media outlets. On Thursday afternoon, Haber told ChicoSol she would file a lawsuit to force Stott to restore the ad.
The billboard art displayed the 45 – the moniker sometimes used in place of the name of the 45th president – in a swastika-like image slashed by a red line. Next to the image of Trump was the name of the store, “Rouse & Revolt.” The billboard also showed a pair of atomic explosions behind the image of Trump.
Haber said she had contacted police about threats against her life and business that were made on the Internet, on social media and by phone after the billboard went up. There were threats the store would be burned or vandalized, she said, and the store’s website had been hacked. The business was under attack on review sites like Yelp, where people posted comments – after seeing news about the billboard – that the staff were drug users or “liberal idiots.”
“We’ve been told we’re scum, human garbage, that we should die,” Haber said. “It makes me sad that people can be so mean and malicious.”
Meanwhile, other people rallied around the store’s billboard art in comments on Facebook, Twitter and on review sites. Haber said the support had been “tremendous” but the backlash “so bad.”
“I wanted to provoke a conversation,” Haber said. “I don’t feel like President Trump is fit to be our leader. I wanted people to say, ‘Why do you feel this way?’
“I think Trump represents hate,” Haber added. “I think this is a hateful administration. I’m speaking up in my small town where I want all people to feel safe.”
The Stott Outdoor Advertising statement, released by General Manager Jim Moravec, said: “Stott Outdoor has accepted and displayed political advertising for many years representing a wide variety of viewpoints… In this instance, it has become obvious in hindsight that the identity of the speaker is insufficiently clear.”
The Stott statement says that many people viewing the billboard didn’t recognize the name of the store – although small lettering under the store’s name says “recycled fashion” — and instead “interpreted the name of the business as a command or instruction.”
“This confusion over the identity of the speaker, combined with the depiction of violence, prompted us to remove the advertising message,” Moravec’s statement says.
But Haber said it’s a case of breach of contract. She said she warned Stott that she was “going to be sending a controversial image.” She said she mentioned that she had consulted already with an attorney. “They knew they legally had to put it up,” she said.
“You can’t just take it down because you’re getting a lot of backlash,” Haber continued. “That’s not how it works.”
Haber says she sometimes has to view billboards displaying images of dead fetuses or messages she doesn’t like, and sent ChicoSol a photo of a banner that she said was posted in Butte County calling Obama a terrorist. “Even if I detest their point of view, I don’t get to say ‘take it down.’”
Haber said she was disturbed by President Trump’s failure to condemn white nationalists and by the presence of white nationalists in his administration. She said the billboard, though, was a “piece of art open to interpretation.”
Yelp said it was monitoring the Rouse & Revolt review page for “content related to media reports.” Many of the critiques posted today were faded but still readable. “If you’re a brain-dead leftist you’ve found a home here,” said a commenter today.
In a Facebook thread, a man said he was “totally going to shop at ‘Rouse and Revolt’ now. Too bad I didn’t get to see the billboard before it was taken down.”
On Thursday morning, at the site of the scraped billboard, drivers paused in hopes of viewing the image, and a few shook their heads sadly that it was gone.
Haber released a statement earlier to the media and on Facebook that said in part, “We welcome all races, all religions, all countries of origin, all genders and we not only STAND with you, we kneel with you as well.”
Haber said she didn’t feel safe but she wouldn’t be frightened into silence. “I’m a firm believer in standing against hate,” she said.
Leslie Layton is editor of ChicoSol. Help sustain ChicoSol reporting projects by becoming a subscribing member today.