Demonstrators gathered Friday morning in a north Arkansas town to protest a billboard that’s displaying a white separatist message.
The billboard, which reads “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White,” went up Tuesday night along Interstate 62-65 in Harrison.
The sign immediately attracted attention, with some residents recognizing the racist theme, and the city issued a recorded statement Wednesday morning denouncing the message.
“While the clients that are responsible for the sign are exercising their freedom of speech, the mayor’s office considers the content inflammatory, distasteful and not in line with the truth on how Harrison is a city of welcoming and tolerant citizens,” the mayor’s office said. “The owners of the signage, who I am unaware of, and the owners of the structure, which I understand is the Harrison Sign Co., should be ashamed to display such antiquated ideology and hatred that adversely affects Harrison as a whole.”
ESPN Radio, which had an advertisement on an adjacent panel, immediately asked to have its own ad removed.
About 30 people, including Mayor Jeff Crockett, attended a demonstration against the sign and its message, while two men, one of them holding a sign that read “White People 4 Free Speech” showed up in support.
Claude West, who owns Harrison Sign Co. said he’s renting the 12-by-24-foot billboard for $200 a month for one year.
“Regardless of the opinion a person holds, or what I think about that opinion, I believe he or she has a right to express it,” West said.
The local man who’s renting the sign asked to remain anonymous, but he admitted the message was intended to be political.
“Often white people are called racist for opposing the President’s policies,” the man said in a statement he issued through Harrison Sign Co. “On the other hand a non-white person was never called racist for opposing President Bush’s policies. There is a double-standard in this country regarding differences of opinion. Those differences of opinion do not make a person racist. The first amendment right to freedom of speech is for everyone. That is the point of the message.”
The sign’s message is a phrase frequently seen in white nationalist circles and alleges that those who claim an anti-racist position actually have a bigoted, anti-white agenda.
The phrase is attributed to “The Mantra,” a frequently cut-and-pasted specious argument attributed to former Reagan appointee Bob Whitaker that each race should be restricted to its ancestral homeland to protect whites from genocide.
The same message was posted on a banner hung on a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 5 last month near Eugene, Oregon, that also included a Celtic cross logo, which has been adopted as a symbol by white supremacist groups.
The banner was removed by the Oregon Department of Transportation because it was deemed a distraction to drivers.
The Associated Press reported that race riots chased all but one black person from Harrison a century ago, and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan moved its headquarters to the city in the 1980s.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the county had just 131 black residents and 35,624 whites.
The Arkansas town’s chamber of commerce and a community task force on race relations are considering a “love thy neighbor” campaign in response to the billboard and its message.
But at least one resident sympathizes with the message.
“As a white American male, if you say anything about anything else, then you’re automatically a racist,” said resident Josh Rosenberg.
Watch this report posted Wednesday from Arkansas Matters: