Business sign linking Trump with Nazism: Free-speech or code violation?

Brian Donoghue and Angie Minew discuss their positions in front of the store. (photos by David Gordon)

Brian Donoghue and Angie Minew discuss their positions in front of the store. (photos by David Gordon)

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.

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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…’

Related: Letter: Harry Potter & and the Saugerties Trump-Swastika window display

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.”

Protester Angie Minew

Protester Angie Minew

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.

There are 7 comments

  1. Tom Katz

    It is a Nazi flag first a big swastika in the window of Saugerties HOW HATEFUL IS THAT!
    All Woodstock People all Jews and people of conscious will now boycott Inquiring Mind forever! We will never go into that store again – The owner must love Adolf Hitler – Such a hateful thing… We all know what a big Nazi flag represents – It drives people crazy for the love of god take it down!!! ALL WE SEE IS A BIG NAZI FLAG…

  2. Alain Dousset

    Saugerties : the only one of the 10 coolest little towns in America with a nazi flag in the center…how cool is that? Worst taste ever for a window display. Political thinking at its lowest. A disgrace.

  3. Steven Lance Fornal

    It’s clearly free speech and, therefore protected. Also, the statement “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.” comes from where? From who? Because, it is wrong information. Government cannot ban Free Speech. The sign is a clear example of Free Speech therefore it can be displayed for as long as Mr. Donoghue desires to display it and not just during the political season. Government can NOT legislate content of signage unless it calls for violence. This sign doesn’t do that by any stretch of the imagination.

    Angie Minew holding up a sign of protest quoting Maya Angelou, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world but has not solved one yet” is a typical Republican/Tea Party tactic. The WHOLE point is Donald Trump’s HATE and bringing focus on it so that people can understand that hate and reject it. To paint the person pointing out Trump’s hate as being hateful is simply nonsense appealing to minds unable to parse nuance or to see beyond their own prejudice.

    This was a fantastic display for engaging citizen discussion and, hopefully, it has created a learning experience. That Trump’s “Bull in a china shop” method of discourse engages some because of its non Political Correctness creates a rather bizarre situation as we see in Saugerties: Trump supporters DEMANDING political correctness vis-a-vis a sign that points out Trump’s Political Incorrectness.

    Kudos to Mr. Donoghue. Keep strong. And, keep adhering to your First Amendment rights.

  4. Ben

    The use of the swatiska is injurious and not defensible under the first amendment. Do we allow any politician with a value system we do not agree with to be subjected to association with a hate symbol so vile ?

    1. Derek

      “The use of the swatiska is injurious and not defensible under the first amendment.”

      Um. Wrong. National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie

  5. Brian Donoghue

    The point of the banner is to alert people that the rise of Donald Trump to power is akin to the rise of Adolf Hitler to power. The parallels between the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and the Trump candidacy are truly frightening to me. Hitler was able to tap into the Germans’ frustration by zeroing in on an enemy, the Jews. Now that America’s minority population is becoming a majority, Trump is able to tap into that same fear among its disenfranchised, except now it is not the Jews but simply the “other”. Muslims, Blacks, Latinos, Women, LGBT or anyone who does not agree with him.

    As a business owner and family man with a Jewish wife and children, 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 wide-spread scale. My Jewish family members, who lost family in the Holocaust, understand my motivation for this display is to raise awareness of a grave risk that our country faces.

    The symbol on the banner is the most potent and relevant representation of what is happening in America today. If the display of this banner causes you or any other member of our community pain, I am sorry for that. Sometimes the truth is uncomfortable and painful. We must not bury our heads in the sand.
    As the sign in our window says:

    “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Pastor Martin Niemöller

    So I am speaking up now. Exercising my First Amendment rights, while I still can, for the purpose of waking up my community to the clear and present danger of electing a potential dictator who I am concerned will jeopardize the health and well being of my family, my community and my country.

  6. Upstater

    With the burning of a black church in Mississippi today, and pro-Trump message painted on the shell of the building; with Confederate Flag waving militias ready to ‘guard the polls’ in Georgia’s Atlanta suburbs; voter obstruction by the GOP in North Carolina and Florida as we speak, with the KKK openly endorsing candidate Trump, the proven money trail and questionable ties to Russia…there is no debate, no question, and no argument that Trump’s tactics, Trump’s behavior, Trump’s message is in fact attracting
    a very dangerous following who have no problem resorting to violence and coersion.
    It is a fundamentally fasciest and dangerous mindset that is a real risk to public safety and national security – both within our borders and outside. If you vote for this man you are risking far more than you can even imagine. Be warned. Unless you are the most radical of fundamentalist Nationalist Conservatives you are absolutely in harm’s way should Trump, Pence, Giuliani, Christie and the others are in office and deporting people. Next will be the stripping of rights, not to mention the global economic free-fall that will ensue. Global markets are already sagging with the prospect of him possibly winning the election. You think the Bush generated housing and banking collapse was bad?! It was nothing.

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