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Lyndon LaRouche supporters, Obama-as-Hitler posters troubling, but 'not really news'
When you were 10 years old, did you ever grab a pen and sit down with the daily newspaper, methodically drawing mustaches on all the photos of politicians, movie stars and ordinary people who happened to make the news that day?
It was a fun, juvenile thing to do — embellishing people’s faces with creepy pencil-thin mustaches, curlicued handlebars and droopy Fu Manchus.
But adding facial hair to photographs is one of those things most people seem to outgrow, once they turn into adults.
Not all, though.
On several occasions during the past few months, Seattle-based activists affiliated with Lyndon LaRouche — a perennial presidential candidate, fringe political figure and ex-convict who served time for mail fraud and tax evasion — have set up shop outside of Vashon’s post office, passing out leaflets and brochures that extol their 87-year-old leader’s vision for America.
To read their brochures is to go down a rabbit hole of apocalyptic economic predictions, climate change conspiracy theories and strident warnings about the impending fascist takeover of the U.S. government.
But it isn’t the brochures that have Islanders upset. It’s one of the activists’ other props —a large poster of Barack Obama, defaced with a Hitler toothbrush-style mustache and the words “impeach now” emblazoned below the presidential portrait.
Whenever the LaRouche crew washes up on Vashon’s shores, toting that poster, the telephone at The Beachcomber starts ringing.
“They’re back,” our sources tell us. “You should send somebody over there.”
We don’t — at least not anymore, not since our first story marking their arrival — because it’s not really news, especially on Vashon, where we’re used to lively political protests of sitting U.S. presidents and even calls for impeachment. How many bumper stickers on Island cars demanded the ouster of George W. Bush?
In fact, the LaRouchies — most of them in their 20s and very aggressive about promoting their message — are familiar to many commuters. They’ve been hectoring passersby in downtown Seattle for years.
At the same time, these so-called activists skate a very fine line, using, as they do, their Obama-as-Hitler poster. As a result, news sometimes happens when these provocateurs appear in otherwise civilized communities.
Consider the situation in Edmonds, where a 70-year-old Holocaust survivor was charged with disorderly conduct after he physically accosted two LaRouche supporters who were passing out fliers with the image.
And in Seattle, the police have been called in a few times after LaRouche activists complained that people had spat on them and tried to tear up the posters.
It’s easy to understand why people’s emotions are so inflamed. Hitler’s mustache is one of the most provocative symbols of the 20th century — a caricature that is now shorthand for a dictator who masterminded the genocide of millions of people.
Depicting our president as Hitler crosses the line for many on Vashon — a place where 80 percent of the voters helped put Obama into office. Some have even suggested the poster is a form of hate speech.
A few days ago, I stopped by the LaRouche booth, and asked the people behind it if they intended to return to Vashon.
“Why not?” said an unsmiling young woman. “It’s a good neighborhood.”
She’s right. Vashon is a good neighborhood — a place of tolerance, nonviolence and reasoned political discourse.
It’s no place for a portrait of Barack Obama, offensively gussied up to look like Hitler.
Let’s hope that Islanders can find a mature and constructive way to convey that message. Let’s make sure it doesn’t become a news story.
— Elizabeth Shepherd is the arts editor at The Beachcomber.