FORT WAYNE — At least four billboards in northern Indiana, including one just west of the Allen-Whitley County line, have implied that voters “must remove” President Obama just as a Navy SEALs team “removed” terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Tea party groups sponsored the signs. There have been reports of a similar billboard in Gainesville, Texas.
The leader of the Indiana Democratic Party called the billboards “utterly disgusting, despicable.”
Whitley County Patriots placed the message on a billboard along the south side of U.S. 30 just west of Whitley County Road 800 East (County Line Road West in Allen County). The tall billboard is visible to westbound highway traffic.
David Ditton of Whitley County Patriots insisted the sign does not compare the U.S. president to the planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
“This is not a direct comparison,” Ditton said in an email last week. “Osama bin Laden was an external threat to America. He openly declared ‘war’ against us from foreign lands. President Obama and his friends that he has appointed, as well as many Senators and Representatives, have openly expressed their desire to change America into a different form of government. This is an internal threat to America, and most definitely not protecting the Constitution.”
Ditton also said: “President Obama is not in any way similar to bin Laden. They are simply different threats to the Constitution and the American way of life.”
Obama ordered the May 1, 2011, raid in which Navy special forces – SEALs is an acronym for Sea, Air and Land Teams – killed bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan.
As for congressmen who might be threats to America, Ditton named four from Indiana – Democratic Reps. Peter Visclosky, Andre Carson and Joe Donnelly, who is running for Senate, plus six-term Sen. Richard Lugar, who lost his seat in the Republican primary election – whose voting records received low scores from FreedomWorks, a limited-government advocacy group in Washington that mobilizes local volunteers.
Ditton said examples of constitutional violations include the federal health care law, although it was upheld by the Supreme Court, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education. Neither environmental protection nor education is among federal powers described by the Constitution, he said.
We the People of Marshall & Fulton Counties placed the same “threat” signs in Elkhart, Plymouth and Argos this summer, according to media reports.
Each of them, as does the Whitley County billboard, displays the image of a team of Navy SEALs running on a surf-splashed beach with the words: “The Navy SEALs removed one threat to America … the voters must remove the other.” The sponsor’s name is under the image of the SEALs.
Two dozen people protested the Elkhart sign in mid-August. Ditton said he knows of no such response to the Whitley County Patriots’ sign. A county Democratic Party official said the same thing.
“We have received mostly positive reactions (and some donations) from like-minded individuals who have seen our billboard,” Ditton wrote in an email.
The Elkhart billboard is short and in a grassy area where city streets intersect. The Whitley County version is along a largely rural stretch of highway near a Steel Dynamics Inc. mill. The rush of traffic between Fort Wayne and Columbia City, including a large volume of tractor-trailer rigs, leaves the shoulder of U.S. 30 a risky spot for a public protest.
Tea party groups are typically considered an extremely conservative wing of the Republican Party, a generalization that Ditton rejects. He said tea party groups will back any candidate who supports the Constitution and limited government.
Asked for the Indiana Republican Party’s position on the “threat” billboards, party spokesman Pete Seat said in an email, “We have nothing to do with it, nor would we.” He declined to elaborate.
The Indiana Democratic Party chairman had a lot more to say.
“The people that paid for these billboards are cheapening the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and embarrassing every Hoosier that has to share a state with that garbage,” Dan Parker said in an email.
“You might not agree with the President but comparing him to Osama Bin Laden, who conspired to kill thousands of Americans, is utterly disgusting, despicable and shows the Tea Party’s true colors,” Parker said. “There is no place in American political discourse for that kind of expression.”
Ditton said what he finds “offensive” are elected federal officials who do not strictly follow the Constitution.
“Legally registered voters must exercise their rights at the ballot box in a non-violent way to elect politicians who protect the U.S. Constitution from within our borders,” he said.