Controversial Chico billboard taken down in less than 24 hours
CHICO, Calif. - Wednesday, a controversial billboard on 3rd Avenue and Mangrove Avenue was put up. It depicted President Trump in a Nazi uniform alongside the phrase 'Rouse and Revolt.' Thursday morning, not even 24 hours later, it was removed by Stott Outdoor Advertising.
Rouse and Revolt is a vintage thrift store that opened in Downtown Chico last November, owned by Nicholle Haber Lewis, who purchased the billboard.
She said she chose this image to get people talking. "This should spark a conversation within our community. Why do you feel like Trump is fit to lead? Why do you feel like it's okay that he said more negative things about a comedian and an actress than he did about a group of white nationalists? How safe do you feel in our country if you are LGBTQ, if you are a person of color, if you are a woman?"
Lewis said her intent is not to incite hate or violence, but instead to encourage the opposite.
"Embark in conversations that promote nonviolent speech, promote thought, promote facts," Lewis explained. "Like this isn't about opinions. This is about the state of the world and what you can do to make that different."
But as result, she's received threats not only against her store, but also her life.
Jim Moravec, the General Manager of Stott Outdoor Advertising, released a statement on why they decided to take the billboard down.
"The core business of Stott Outdoor Advertising is providing a unique forum for the expression of ideas, both commercial and non-commercial. In this instance, the advertising message chosen by Rouse and Revolt clearly went beyond a commercial message and was primarily political in nature. Stott Outdoor has accepted and displayed political advertising for many years representing a wide variety of viewpoints, so long as the speaker is clearly identified and the message is legal, moral, and ethical. If those criteria are met, then Stott Outdoor is not going to be the party to limit the advertiser's message." The statement continued, "In this instance, it has become obvious in hindsight that the identity of the speaker is insufficiently clear. While we here at Stott Outdoor have knowledge of Rouse and Revolt, a clothing company which has advertised with us in the past, many others do not have such knowledge of the business, and have interpreted the name of the business as a command or instruction. This confusion over the identity of the speaker, combined with the depiction of violence, prompted us to remove the advertising message."
The owner of Rouse and Revolt said this is a breach of their contract and her freedom of speech.
"It's sad," Lewis said. "The fact that this [billboard] is down shows that, not only censorship is alive and well in Chico, but that people think just because they find something offensive, they have the right to call, complain and get it removed."
The billboard was taken down too quickly for Larry Robbins, who drove all the way from Redding just to see it.
"I think it's the coolest thing I've seen in ages, so I got my camera gear together, hopped in the car and came on down," Robbins said. He called the billboard a statement of dissent that he's been looking to see more of.
Not everyone felt the same.
A local named Pete was at a neighboring store and said he hadn't seen the image, but when he was shown a picture, he was not in favor. "Wow, very inflammatory. I can't stand Trump, but that's not constructive at all," Pete said.
A post about the billboard on KRCR News Channel 7's Facebook page sparked more than 1,000 responses, both in favor of and against the billboard. Some called it disrespectful, while others said people are free to say what they want, with potential consequences of those words.
The owner of Rouse and Revolt said she understood that and reiterated that the point of this billboard was to spark these conversations. Still, she doesn't care whether this will affect her downtown business.
"I'm gonna stand for what I believe in, even if I lose customers. That is American," Lewis said.
Johnny's Chico Lock and Safe is the business directly under and to the right of the billboard. Staff said this isn't the first controversial image that's been posted in that same spot and many locals have come into their store angry, assuming it's their doing.
"There's a lot of opinions going out there. There's a lot of people that think 'yellow is the new black' kind of thing," said Alex Russell, an employee at Johnny's Chico Lock and Safe. "It doesn't matter to me, I mean my opinion is not law, why should anyone else's be?
Lewis has met with her lawyers and is threatening to sue Stott Outdoor Advertising if they refuse to put the billboard back up.