What’s wrong with this picture?


Two pro-gun-rights billboards have recently gone up in Greeley and they’re causing quite a stir, as in you can read about them in The Washington Post kind of stir. But why have a couple of political signs sparked so much controversy and who is paying for them?

As for the latter, we don’t know. The people responsible for the billboards, replicated above, asked Lamar Advertising, the Denver company that owns and leases the billboards, to keep their identities secret.

This may sound a little paranoid (bingo, wink wink, nudge nudge), but you have to remember that these billboards are in Marilyn Musgrave, Ken Buck and Cory Gardner country, which means that the people responsible for the billboards are likely hyper-conservative white folks with arsenals of weapons in their basements who are convinced that the federal government is coming for them any day now because they are God-fearing gun owners who understand that the Second Amendment of the Constitution was written by a divine hand that looks nothing like the hand of that Obama fellow from Kenya.

Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that one or more of the tea-partying politicos I just mentioned had chipped in a couple of bucks themselves to get this gun message out before the federal boogeyman gets his gun-owner concentration camps built.

So is my profile of the secretive billboard creators pure speculation? Yep, but I like to think of it as an educated guess by someone who has spent years in the company of people arming themselves in preparation for that inevitable Red Dawn-esque showdown with the federal government, or U.N., or whoever. I’ll happily correct myself if and when those responsible for the signs come forward and prove me wrong.

As for the controversy over the content of the signs, that depends on whom you’re talking to.

I asked aboriginal writer and activist Abiyomi Kofi about the billboard and received a 2,300-word response via email that read in part, “To be brutally frank with you, I am so disturbed by this advert that it is difficult for me to discuss this issue objectively, and I won’t even try. Chiefly because it is achingly clear to me and any other sentient indigenous person, (especially those of us involved in the anti-mascot struggle) that the neoconservative geniuses behind this abominable banner are utterly oblivious to their own denied sense of racial entitlement, as well as their historical status as colonialist trespassers and the material beneficiaries of Euro-American anti-indigenous murder. In short, these folks are apparently either too stupid or too choked up with dreams of Aryan Americana supremacy insecurities to comprehend the exhaustively contradictory nature of this billboard’s argument against government gun controls.” You can read the rest of Kofi’s reply at http://tinyurl.com/c9oxghh.

But not everyone in the Native American community has a problem with the sign.

When I asked Ward Churchill, author, political activist and professor of ethnic studies at CU for 17 years — until he was illegally fired for exercising his right to free speech — what he thought, he sent me an email that read simply, “Can’t see anything to disagree with, Joel. On the contrary, [the billboard] is exactly on point.”

It’s an interesting perspective I can’t argue with. Churchill has been researching and writing on the historical mistreatment of Native Americans and other disenfranchised folks for years. If you take the billboard from a strictly Native American perspective or, for that matter, the perspective of nearly any other disenfranchised peoples, then it really could make sense.

That’s why knowing who paid for and authorized the sign makes a big difference. If the billboard has been put up by Native Americans as a reminder of atrocities that have occurred when they have attempted to cooperate with the U.S. government, tragedies ranging from the Trail of Tears to the massacres at Sand Creek and the Washita River to the murders at Wounded Knee (twice) and the government’s deadly moves on the Pine Ridge Reservation, including its actions in the 1970s, then the billboard could, in fact, be delivering a powerful message.

But if the sign is being paid for by political conservatives who believe that God has given them the right to own unregistered assault rifles, then I have to say that using the images of Native Americans is a really stupid idea.

After all, it wasn’t just the U.S. government that committed genocide on Native Americans. It was also the hundreds of thousands of white settlers, and the railroads and other industries, all armed with guns and hell-bent on taking the land and resources used by native peoples for their own.

To equate the historical genocide or current political and economic struggles of Native Americans to the potential minor inconvenience that may be experienced by mostly hyper-conservative, primarily white Americans who might someday have to register their firearms, is a grotesque and immeasurably ignorant comparison.

And just in case you are wondering, the answer is “no,” the first sign of the apocalypse is not the inability to purchase high-capacity clips for your assault rifle.

Until we know who is picking up the tab for the billboard, we won’t be able to determine exactly what’s wrong with this picture, but I suspect it is plenty.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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