The mayor of Caldwell on Tuesday morning asked the foundation board in charge of an electronic billboard at one of the entrances to town to remove a message that has sparked angry responses across the United States and beyond.
The message, which compares President Barack Obamas foreign policy to the actions of Colorado mass-murder suspect James Holmes, will be gone soon but not because the city asked for it to be removed, said Maurice Clements, chairman of the Ralph Smeed Memorial Foundation and a promoter of the billboard.
Clements said the group typically runs messages on the board for a week or so, then puts new ones up. The person who posts the messages is out of town until Wednesday afternoon, he said.
I didnt realize this was going to be as emotional an issue as it has become, said Clements, who estimates that hes received about 1,000 emails and phone calls. Apparently this one here struck a raw nerve.
Clements said the reaction was about 60 percent against the misunderstood message, but he believes there is a silent majority of supporters.
The Achilles heel of the conservative movement is the reluctance of conservatives to express public support for those with whom they agree, Clements said, quoting the late Ralph Smeed.
Clements has received some death threats, including one that was sent to the Idaho Statesman on Tuesday morning. But hes not overly concerned.
I just thank them for their input and end the call, he said.
Caldwell police Lt. Devin Riley said Tuesday that police had not heard about any threats toward Clements or the billboard.
The controversial billboard went viral online, picked up by far-flung media and bloggers. Clements said hes done interviews with the New York Daily News, TMZ and radio stations in Los Angeles and Denver.
The Huffington Post did a roundup Saturday of Treasure Valley coverage, and the Dagbladet newspaper in Oslo, Norway, contacted the Statesman on Tuesday to get a photo of the billboard.
The story the Statesman ran Friday now has more than 750 comments, and some readers emailed the paper directly.
Have them take the Holmes billboard sign down, Bess Loveless wrote in her subject line.
I am from Colorado and know people that had family killed. Please do not give homage to this guy. It is what he wants, Loveless wrote.
Bill Galvin of Greenwich, Conn., said the billboard message is the kind of mindless, hate-provoking speech which is accelerating the decline of our society.
This billboard is indicative of what too many accept as normal. Same folks probably think its perfectly normal that everyone should be able to own an AK-47 assault rifle, Galvin said.
Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas was out of town when the uproar began late last week. He said Monday that more than a dozen people had called City Hall.
I have not heard one positive comment about it, said Nancolas, who believes the message went over the line by politicizing the killing of innocent civilians in a movie theater. He said he does not condone it or think its appropriate.
You are talking about families who had their lives shattered in an atrocious, horrific act of violence. What about the compassion for those people? Nancolas said. To use that as some sort of political ploy to disparage for political purposes, it crosses over every moral value that I possess.
Nancolas said the city could not compel the Smeed Foundation to take the message down because it doesnt violate any local or state codes.
Its a private sign on private property and protected by the First Amendment, he said, adding that he generally takes alternate routes to avoid driving past the billboard, which stands along Franklin Road near the citys easternmost freeway interchange.
This isnt the first time city officials have fielded calls about the Caldwell billboard, which was an outlet for Ralph Smeed. The outspoken Caldwell Libertarian died in 2010, but his friends are keeping his memory alive through political messages.
LIBERTARIAN PARTY: NO CONNECTION
The Libertarian Party of Idaho issued a statement Tuesday stressing that the party has nothing to do with the billboard and defending the right of the signs owner to post anything it chooses. The party also said the message lacks both sensitivity to the victims of the (Colorado) shooting and invites the unfounded criticisms of racism and political baiting.
Libertarians throughout the state hold in solemn regard both the Aurora shooting victims and the thousands dead as a result of Mr. Obamas policies. Libertarians call for an end to all aggression and ask that the people of Idaho join us in doing so.
The originator of the Obama/Holmes message, which the Smeed Foundation pulled from an email and posted to the billboard, wants credit. Washington, D.C.-based activist Adam Kokesh contacted Clements and the Idaho Statesman.
In a press release on his Facebook page, Kokesh describes himself as a Libertarian activist and Marine veteran.
By any standard of morality, by any measurement of evil, the actions President Obama has taken with his foreign policy show him to be far more evil and deranged than James Holmes, Kokesh said in the posting online.
Clements believes the uproar over the message occurred because there isnt enough space on the billboard to explain it fully.
He said its akin to a bumper sticker too small to express complex ideas, but big enough to grab peoples attention.
The goal, he said, was to draw attention to the fact that American military personnel are still losing their lives in Afghanistan because Obama broke his promise to bring all of the troops home.
There isnt commensurate amount of outrage for all those people dying in the Middle East, Clements said.
He said hes received positive feedback from current and former military personnel, including a retired major.
He said he was really happy that we had the courage to make this point, Clements said.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413