Is the sign in the window of the Inquiring Minds bookstore depicting a large swastika and comparing Donald Trump’s campaign to the Nazi takeover in Germany political speech or a commercial sign?
Inquiring Minds owner Brian Donoghue was cited for an illegal sign on October 17; he has 14 days from that date to respond, meaning an answer is required by October 31.
If it is a political statement, it is protected by the First Amendment, but it will have to come down the day after the election is over. If it is not a political sign it may violate the village sign law, due to its size. The matter is currently under discussion with the Historical Review Board (HRB), which would rule on the matter, Mayor Bill Murphy said Wednesday, October 26.
Donoghue said that the intention of placing the sign was to stimulate discussion. And it has apparently done that. “Seth Turner [the school superintendent] has said the students are talking about it. That’s the point, to have a discussion,” he said.
Murphy also said that Turner and High School Principal Tom Averill had spoken to him about the fact that students are discussing the meaning of the sign and the Nazi era. “It has got people talking, and that’s a good thing. My daughter said she discussed it in her 10th grade history class… I just wish he had chosen another symbol…’
The sign drew a criticism from Saugerties Code Enforcement Officer Eyal Saad, (who’s office did not issue the violation notice). He wrote in an email to Donoghue, “…of all the anti-Trump banners, you chose to display the most hateful sign in history to all people. As a Jewish person who has lost family members it is very upsetting to me to see such a hateful poster in your establishment.” The email is not an official citation, Saad states, and it is written “not because it is illegal to have banners not approved by the Historical Review Board but because it is emotionally hurting to people.”
In a response to Saad, Donoghue states that “the point of the banner is to alert people that the rise of Donald Trump to power is akin to the rise of Hitler to power. The parallel between the National Socialist German Workers Party and the Trump candidacy are truly frightening to me.”
Donoghue sees a similarity between Trump’s comments on Muslims, black people and others and Hitler’s comments on Jews. Noting that his wife and children are Jewish, Donoghue states that “I am deeply concerned that the divisiveness and hatred cultivated by Donald Trump and his followers will give rise to prejudice and violence on a widespread scale.”
Donoghue’s letter and the building inspector’s response are posted in the window of the bookstore. “That is the whole point, to have a display and get people talking about what is happening in this country,” Donoghue said. And, while there are detractors, “the responses have been so positive and heartwarming,” he said.
Some of presidential candidate Trump’s rhetoric is having a very negative effect on immigrant communities, Donoghue said. “One shop keeper, a Muslim, said he is afraid, and he wondered whether he should sell his business before they take it away from him.”
The display wasn’t intended to stay up this long, but it has become an issue, so it is staying up, Donoghue said.
Murphy said Donoghue is “a good businessman in town, but I think he is wrong on this sign. I don’t like it, but I can’t deny his right to free speech.” As to the picketing of the store, Murphy said it has been done with decorum. “Chief [Joseph] Sinagra said everybody behaved peacefully, and there was only one incident where voices were raised and he had to ask the individuals to quiet down.”
Donoghue said he has no problem with pickets. “They have the right to express their point of view in a peaceful manner.”
Donoghue said he has had positive responses from other businesses and individuals in the village, but he acknowledged that he has had negative reactions as well, and not just within the community. “The Anti-Defamation League has come out against it, but it’s not about being Jewish. My wife is Jewish. And there were a couple of neo-Nazis in the group protesting it.”
On the other hand American Booksellers for Free Expression is providing legal assistance to Donoghue, and has been presenting the case for deeming his display a matter of First Amendment rights to the village, he said. And, he said, the display is clearly meeting the objective of stimulating discussion.
Murphy said he understands both the message Donoghue is presenting and the point of view of the people who are against it.
A call to School Superintendent Seth Turner was not returned in time to be included. Angie Minew, the organizer of last week’s rally, could not be reached by deadline.