The appearance last month of an anti-Obama billboard at Wolf Interstate Leasing & Sales, 4855 Miller Street in Wheat Ridge, prompted plenty of attention and even charges of racism for the way it linked the President (caricatured in a turban) to jihad and the murders at Fort Hood, Texas.
For the most part, this didn't bother the dealership's owner, Phil Wolf. He was generally thrilled by the response generated by his provocative placard, which also raises doubts about Obama's nation of birth.
But according to local resident Pat Dunn, Wolf's employees haven't exactly thrown out the welcome mat for her and other people who've been picketing the business over the sign. "While we were out there last Saturday, they positioned ten or eleven cars only three feet away from us and kept them running for two hours, with the carbon monoxide pouring out. They tried to asphyxiate us."
As Dunn tells it, there's been tension since her group of protesters began showing up on the public sidewalk alongside the Wolf property shortly after news of the billboard broke. She accuses staffers of "trying to intimidate us, wanting to know who was paying us." But that didn't dissuade Dunn, and last Saturday, November 28, she joined "about 24 women and four men" on the picket line.
Channel 31 covered the rally but didn't catch the strategy involving moving and firing up assorted vehicles. Dunn says that after about ninety minutes of breathing the fumes, she called Wheat Ridge Police. "They said, 'There's nothing we can do about it. You'll just have to move,'" she recalls. But when they did so, she says dealer personnel simply positioned running vehicles at their new location.
Protesters with a sign of the times last Saturday.
Over the past week, Dunn says she's spoken to various Wheat Ridge city and police representatives to see if the dealership might be violating a law -- maybe so-called "puffer" regulations some municipalities have enacted. But no. In the end, Dunn says, "They gave us three things we could do: get a civil attorney, picket elsewhere or mitigate the circumstances by wearing masks."
Dunn is opting for the latter tack, purchasing face masks of the sort sold at home-improvement stores. Unfortunately, they provide no protection for the eyes and only limited relief for the lungs. And then there's the matter of assorted protesters' ages.
"Some of these progressive women -- and we even have some nuns -- are elderly," Dunn says. "They're not in the best shape to begin with, and last week, people were complaining about nausea and burning eyes.
"I'm devastated," she continues. "How can I recruit people to come out to protest when there's the possibility that they're going to get sick?"
As such, Dunn doesn't know if she'll have as large a turnout for her next protest -- 10 a.m. Saturday, December 5, at the dealership -- as the one that showed up last week. But she promises that she'll be on hand, along with what she calls "a hardcore contingent" intent on registering their displeasure with Wolf's message.
"I understand that he has the First Amendment right to have that billboard," she says. "But we have the First Amendment right to protest, and we're going to keep doing it, even if they keep trying to asphyxiate us."
A call has been placed to Phil Wolf. Once he responds, this blog will be updated.
Update, 9:38 a.m.: Just spoke to Phil Wolf, and when I told him Pat Dunn's story about his employees positioning running vehicles near protesters so that they were bathed in carbon monoxide, he said, "It's news to me.
"A car lot's a lot like a clothing store at a mall," he continued. "They're constantly changing mannequins and clothes. They move stuff around constantly, and we do, too."
Regarding the question of whether the protesters had been targeted, Wolf said, "I can't imagine they'd waste any time on them, honestly."
But what if he found out something like this had actually happened? Would he tell his employees to knock if off? Here's his response:
"What we'll do is what we'll always do, which is run our business. It's our business, and we're not letting anyone else run our business. If they're offended by anything I do, they don't have to be there. And if they're offended by anything we do, I can't help that."
Update number two, 10:02 a.m.: Got another call from Phil Wolf, who did some follow-up with employees after our previous conversation, documented above. And it turns out there may have been some protester targeting after all.
"When the weather gets cold, our guys will start up the diesels every day, just to make sure they start -- and I guess a couple of the guys did back them around over by those people," he says. "I don't know if they did it on purpose or not. Maybe it was just guys having fun, I don't know.
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"They also told me they turned one of the radios on to some conservative talk show -- turned it on really loud."
Wolf says these actions were prompted by "some of these people getting right over by our driveway. I guess they had to call the police out a couple of times to move them back. So maybe there's a little animosity.
"If that offends them, sorry; they don't have to be there. But I hope it didn't bother anybody. That wasn't our intent."