Metropolis: Wednesday, October 6, 2004
Willing to shake that thang while gazing at the stars: John LaMonica.
Poison Pens for the President

Kerry supporters are finding nasty letters in place of their stolen signs.


Turning into their driveway on a night in late September, Harold and Romelee Harris noticed something missing — a campaign sign touting John Kerry for president. It wasn’t the first Kerry sign to be stolen from their yard in this well-to-do neighborhood in south Arlington, and so the couple wasn’t surprised.

Surprise came when they checked their mailbox and found a mean-spirited, vaguely threatening letter from an anonymous sender. The letter accused Kerry of lacking leadership, standing against God and the military, and favoring abortion, homosexuality, big government, welfare fraud, and high taxes. “Seven out of 10 people in Texas will vote for George Bush,” the typewritten letter said. “Remember that as you advertise your support for John Kerry and all the issues above. People see your sign or bumper sticker and think, What an IDIOT!!!”

Included was a copy of a newspaper editorial that criticized Kerry for claiming Bush misled the public about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

The Harrises are originally from the Caribbean but have lived on Wimbledon Drive for 20 years. The philosophical Harold didn’t say much, and viewed the situation as another example of an America that says one thing and often does another. “We value everything the country stands for, like freedom of speech, but I know this country has a history of being disrespectful to other views,” he said. “I’m not surprised the signs disappeared, but I’m disappointed they did.”

Romelee wasn’t so calm. The letter angered and unnerved her. “This letter really hit me to the core,” she said. “Even some of my Republican friends couldn’t believe someone would stoop this low. I want to do everything in my power to find this person, expose this person. We are living in a free country. They have their rights and I have my rights. I’m just appalled that this will go on.”

She called police, but a letter calling someone an idiot isn’t a legal threat and mailing it isn’t a crime. She was relieved to learn that she hadn’t been singled out — other residents in other neighborhoods have received identical letters, in envelopes addressed to household members by name, and with a return address from a post office box with a 76094 zip code.

Several miles away, on Briarwood Boulevard in central Arlington, Jeff Dalton was steamed that an anti-Kerry letter was addressed to his wife as well as to him.

“The idea that somebody is trying to intimidate my wife — I can’t have that,” he said. “Somebody had to pull up to our house, look at our sign, Google us or whatever they had to do to get our names. And then the idea that the only reason I would vote for Kerry was for those things mentioned in the letter — atheists, gay lovers, weak military, higher taxes, or I’m on welfare with no intention of getting off — it’s simplistic and so mean-spirited.”

Dalton would have gladly discussed the issues with the letter-writer, he said. “There is nobody who loves a political debate more than I do,” he said. “This cowardly, cockroachy, smarmy thing pisses me off.”

Dalton’s mother lives nearby and also sports a Kerry sign. The thought of her receiving such a letter made him even angrier.

The Nov. 2 election is shaping up to be as contentious as that of 2000, which was among the wildest and most venomous in American history. Much is at stake: war in the Middle East, terrorism at home and abroad, a growing divide between the rich and poor. Hard feelings remain from four years ago, when Bush and Al Gore fought neck and neck for the presidency in a race whose outcome rested on Florida, a state governed by Bush’s brother. Questions quickly arose about the ballot process, leading to a recount, accusations of uncounted votes and wrongly disqualified voters, a Supreme Court decision, and Gore’s eventual concession — even though he actually won the popular vote.

“There is more mean-spiritedness in this campaign than in the past,” said Texas Christian University political science professor Ralph G. Carter. “I think it lingers from the 2000 election. There is nearly half of the American public who didn’t want Bush to be president and didn’t think he won the election. On the other hand, you’ve got about half the public that believes fervently he is the best man for the job.”

A spokeswoman for the Tarrant County Republican Party said she had not heard anything about letters being sent to Kerry backers. The Democratic Party reported complaints from residents in Fort Worth, Southlake, and Arlington.

The Harrises said only Kerry signs have been tampered with in their neighborhood. A Democratic headquarters volunteer told Fort Worth Weekly that someone wrote, “Kerry is a Fag” over his yard sign in Fort Worth. More than 1,000 Kerry signs have been reported stolen or defaced in the past couple of weeks.

Carter said a friend who lives near TCU had his Kerry sign stolen — and his house egged.

Considering the bruising, Byzantine nature of presidential politics, some suggested that it’s Kerry backers stealing the signs and sending the letters, to cast aspersions on Bush and his Republican supporters. But that’s unlikely, Carter said.

It’s also unlikely that Kerry will win in Texas, Bush’s home state and a Republican stronghold. So why all the vitriol and vandalism? Carter offered a theory. Some veterans and their families believe Kerry committed treason by testifying before Congress about military abuses during the Vietnam war. Perhaps only Jane Fonda is still regarded with more disgust for her actions during those emotional war-torn years.

This year’s election probably won’t end the divisiveness. “What we need to get past this polarization of the public is for someone to win the presidency by a landslide,” Carter said. “It didn’t happen in 2000 and it’s not going to happen in 2004. The public seems split down the middle.”

The letter-writer who targeted the Harrises probably didn’t know that Harold, in contrast to his wife, leans to the right. “I’m a registered Republican,” he said.

At his wife’s request, Harold replaced the Kerry sign in their yard. He hasn’t yet decided who he will vote for, only who he will vote against — Bush. The letter had nothing to do with his decision. He has come to view Bush as arrogant and uninterested in listening to the American people. Nasty letters are just another example of a nation beginning to quake at its foundation, a nation needing new leadership, he said.

“Divisiveness is rampant,” he said. “Four more years of Bush will reduce this country to misery. We’re close to it right now.”

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