Aurora Theater Shooting

Photo: James Holmes-Obama billboard's message defended by conservative group

In the immediate aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting, President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney backed off politics for a few days. But the pair are back to going after each other hammer and tongs, as are their supporters -- like a group in Idaho that programmed a billboard in Idaho to equate Obama with accused murderer James Holmes.

To clarify the words seen in the screen capture above, the ones over the Holmes image read, "Kills 12 in movie theater with assault rifle, everyone freaks out," while those on the Obama image announce, "Kills thousands with his foreign policy, wins Nobel Peace Prize."

The Idaho Statesman reported about the electronic billboard, on Franklin Road in the community of Caldwell, late last week, and over the past few days, it's gone viral, with the majority of commentators (like this one) excoriating it.

Yesterday, however, Maurice Clements, a former Idaho senatorial candidate and member of the Ralph Smeed Foundation, a conservative organization that financed the billboard, defended the message yesterday in an interview with the Idaho Press-Tribune -- although he did cop to a little clumsiness when it came to the phrasing.

"We could have said it differently and maybe avoided a little bit of fire by the ones who are calling us," Clements told the paper. "What we were trying to do is explain our puzzlement over the lack of outrage over all of the people that are dying in the Middle East over our foreign policy. I'm talking about our troops and civilians over there."

His solution would have been to change "everyone freaks out" on the Holmes photo to "the nation mourns."

The Press-Tribune also quotes a Denver man, George Pramenko, who called the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce to complain: "I've never seen anything that's this insensitive and this mean," he said. But many of those who continue to comment on the original Statesman article defend the billboard, including 2shinyshoes, the most recent, who writes, "I think this falls under Free Speech. Even IF it disagrees with other people's opinion. I cherish Freedom, more than anything."

As the proliferation of James Holmes Facebook tribute pages proves, the First Amendment has been getting a real workout lately.

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "James Holmes Facebook tribute pages: Most notorious one down, plenty remain."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts