DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — Leaders in Davenport, Iowa, on Monday condemned a homeowner’s snow display depicting a figure gunning down a snowman wearing a Bernie Sanders shirt and another adorned with a Democratic Party hat.
Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said he’s asked the police chief to investigate the display.
“My personal reaction is that it’s terribly wrong and an embarrassment to our city,” Matson told the Quad-City Times. “All hate speech is wrong.”
Homeowner Donald Hesseltine laughed off such concerns, saying he created the display over the weekend to “mess with” friends who support Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president.
The first votes in the nomination process will be in two weeks when the Iowa caucuses take place.
“It’s just to make people cry I guess,” said Hesseltine. “They’re crying, so I win.”
The display includes a mannequin topped with a military helmet that’s holding a rifle and chainsaw, as well as a can of beer. The rifle is pointed toward the Sanders snowman, which has red-dyed snow near its head.
Another figure wearing the Democratic hat is stained red. Two signs at the display read “Hesseltine 2020.”
Asked if the display was intended to incite violence, Hesseltine, who said he’s an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, responded, “No way.”
Despite his concerns, Matson said he doubts there’s anything the city can do about the exhibit, given Hesseltine’s free speech rights.
Alderwoman Marion Meginnis, who represents Hesseltine’s neighborhood, called the display “bad taste, unneighborly.”
David Millage, chairman of the Scott County Republican Party, found the display “terrible” but said it was protected as free speech. Millage noted there’s no affiliation between the display and the Republican Party.
Elesha Gayman, chair of the Scott County Democrats, argued the display amounted to “a hate crime and hate speech.”
“It’s as bad as if someone burned a cross in someone’s yard,” Gayman said. “We have got to stop this. This is not the Wild West. We should be able to civilly disagree with one another, where you’re not displaying acts of murder on your front lawn.”
City offices were closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and police didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the matter.