A political message on a roadside billboard has been removed near Benton, Tenn., after its message stirred up controversy.
Put up by Rick Tyler, an independent candidate for Congress in Tennessee’s 3rd district, the billboard bears his campaign slogan: Make America White Again.
The slogan is a play on presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” something Tyler admits.
“Of great significance, as well, is the reality of the Trump phenomenon and the manner in which he has loosened up the overall spectrum of political discourse,” Tyler wrote in a post defending the billboard on his campaign website.
Tyler’s campaign echoes much of Trump’s platform including an aggressive foreign policy, strong support for 2nd Amendment rights, and a willingness to issue frank, controversial and even inflammatory statements on race relations in the United States.
Tyler does not shy away from his desire to see America return to a “1960s, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver time when there were no break-ins; no violent crime; no mass immigration,” Tyler told WRCB-TV News.
A self-described “entrepreneur, pastor and political candidate,” Tyler owns and operates a restaurant in Ocoee, but is “transitioning” to running full-time for Congress in the upcoming federal elections.
According to Ballotpedia, Tyler ran as an independent in the same district in 2014 and garnered 5,579 votes – or 0.4 per cent of the popular vote.
His billboard generated considerable controversy and pushback from the local community, resulting in the owners of the billboard removing the slogan less than 12 hours after it was put up. Tyler said he paid for the space until the November election.
“I am so enraged I can barely express myself without copious amounts of profanity. This disgusting bunch of bigotry was erected about 20 minutes from our house,” local resident Amy Hinies Woody wrote on Facebook.
“I am shocked and appalled to visit his campaign’s website and learn his views and beliefs through the audio clips, specifically about the ‘racial problem’ America is facing,” another resident, Jimmy Johnson, wrote in a Facebook post blasting the billboard.
Politicians, political groups and community organizations have been quick to distance themselves from the billboard and its message.
“There’s no room for this type of hateful display in our political discourse,” Tennessee Republican Party chairman Ryan Haynes said in a statement. “Racism should be rejected in all its heinous forms in the Third Congressional District and around the country.”
“I totally and unequivocally condemn the billboard and Mr. Tyler’s message and will vigorously fight any form of racism in the 3rd district of Tennessee or anywhere else in the nation,” Chuck Fleischmann, the area’s current Congressman, said in a separate statement to local media.
Other groups have vowed to boycott Tyler’s restaurant.
“Due to recent statements and overtly racist billboards by the principal owner of the Whitewater Grill in Ocoee and himself a declared Independent candidate for Congress, the Kiwanis Club of Ocoee will never meet there again,” the Kiwanis Club of Ocoee said in a statement. “We are a civic club of inclusion and not exclusion and find these statements repugnant.”
Tyler said his billboard accomplished its intended mission of kicking up conversation and debate.
“If I could, I’d have hundreds of these billboards up across the 3rd District,” Tyler said.