Blake Lebeck constructed the controversial political display outside his east Morgan Hill home not to offend minorities or promote racism, but to draw attention to the perils he says the country faces if President Barack Obama wins re-election in the Nov. 6 election.
“This is the most important election in my lifetime,” said Lebeck, 50, while standing in his driveway with his two dogs on Foothill Avenue Tuesday evening, where he was not short on criticism of the president.
The display started with just an empty chair about a month ago, he said, signifying the actor Clint Eastwood’s mockery of Obama at the Republican National Convention where Mitt Romney was nominated to run for president on the party’s ticket. Then he decided to “spice it up” with more symbolic props and decorations until people noticed, which they did last week when the display went viral on local television news and numerous websites that advocate for civil liberties, though Lebeck hasn’t talked about his intention or motives until Tuesday.
“I’m trying to get a response,” Lebeck said.
Nobody noticed the empty chair, so Lebeck added a watermelon grown from his garden, then a rope hanging from the chair tied in the shape of a noose, then another watermelon, and then a clear piece of glass or plastic representing a teleprompter with the scribbled message, “Go back to Kenya you idiot.”
By Tuesday morning the empty chair had been decorated with an effigy of Obama, made of a “coconut head” with two cutout shapes resembling large ears on the sides, and crudely drawn facial features with a cigarette attached to the effigy’s mouth.
The effigy also shows Obama wearing a pink robe and a pink head scarf on top of the coconut. Lebeck said these images allude to Obama’s support for gay marriage and the claim that the president is secretly a Muslim.
And Tuesday afternoon, an upside-down American flag was attached to the chair – “because we’re in distress,” he said. Lebeck has also pointed spotlights at the display so it can be seen 24 hours a day. The display was vandalized last Sunday he said, when he came home to find the chair knocked to the ground below the fence to which it was attached.
Just a few feet down from the display is a sign supporting Romney for president, with an American flag flying right-side-up.
Lebeck said he is not racist, but he doesn’t get overly defensive at the accusation because his friends and family know who he is, why he holds the political beliefs he holds, and agree with his politics. Lebeck, who is white, said two black men – one a friend of his for 30 years – live on his property in rented rooms. They were not at home Tuesday afternoon, but Lebeck said they don’t have an issue with the display.
The display is meant to mock only one person – the president, he said. Obama has a “thick head” like a coconut, still secretly smokes, and becomes upset when voters make fun of his ears, Lebeck said. Although some critics of the display have worried the noose on the exhibit is threatening to the president, Lebeck said that was just another “spice” to “attract attention.”
But he also wants people to know how the president’s economic policies have failed the country by promoting “socialism,” and that Obama is the one promoting division among the populace.
“My friends all support me – liberalism is the cause of racism,” Lebeck said. “(Obama) is the racist. If you don’t go along with his way, you are a racist (Obama says),” Lebeck said.
“I’ve never seen anything quite that blatantly racist here,” said Swanee Edwards, spokeswoman for South County Democrat Party. “...This is so obvious, people’s jaws just drop when they see it. Before, I said I was shocked, now I’m just sad. And also angry because of the perceived threat to our president.”
Edwards, who has lived in Morgan Hill for 23 years, said if given the opportunity to speak to Lebeck she has something to say.
“I would like to tell him I support his freedom to free speech with every bone in my body, but I do not feel a hangman’s noose is free speech - that is a threat to our president. He has taken it beyond ... he’s stunned and offended the people who live here,” she said. Lebeck lost his job with IBM, where he worked for 30 years, shortly after “Dumbo” took office in 2009, he said, referring to Obama.
He has lived in Morgan Hill for about 30 years, and on his rural property which contains a garden, a couple RVs and other vehicles, since 1999.
Putting up the political display outside his home is the most activist thing he has ever done in support of or opposition to a partisan cause, but he said he has voted in every election since he turned 18. “I’m fed up,” he said.
Lebeck’s political views lean decidedly far right. He thinks the Republican Party has been taken over by “the left wing.” Though he is not an active follower of the Tea Party or Patriots movement, he is “leaning more and more that way.” He strongly believes the government has gained too much power over the populace in recent years, and will continue to do so if Obama is re-elected – and that is contrary to America’s founding principles.
He is passionate about these views as he speaks in a staccato rhythm that becomes faster and louder until he catches himself perhaps sounding too excited to the listener, and he stops to take a breath and lightly observe how lazy his dogs are, or talk about his fishing hobby.
Then he starts over when the discussion turns back to politics.
“We don’t need to invest in a freeloader society anymore,” he said. “Capitalism is the way to go, not socialism.”
He thinks the media and voters have been too easy on Obama the last four years, especially compared to his predecessor President George W. Bush.
“He’s circumventing everything with executive orders. Nobody asks him any questions,” Lebeck said.
Lebeck is offended by critics of his display who might suggest he should remove it, or he has no right to put up what some say is an offensive exhibit.
“How do you take freedom of speech too far? You have the God-given right to say what you want to say.”