Amid attempts to remove and even burn down a local signboard festooned with an image of Uncle Sam, about 100 residents in Lewis County, Washington rallied on Tuesday vowing to protect the space from any attempts to mess with the highly visible landmark along Interstate 5. The Hamilton Corner Uncle Sam has been around for 53 years now, and the messages regularly posted on the space have been bugging some people (mostly on the Left) ever since.
The first news story about the billboard ran on Nov. 24, 1967, in The Chronicle, the newspaper that serves Lewis County, population 76,000.
It showed a photo of the billboard carrying the message, “THERE ARE NO BILLBOARDS IN RUSSIA!”
The caption explained that turkey rancher Alfred Hamilton, “who owns property adjacent to Interstate 5,” had put up the billboard “in apparent protest against a federal-state move to rid sections of interstate highway of billboards.”
On Dec. 20, 1979, it ruled in favor of Hamilton, further cementing the legend of the Uncle Sam Billboard.
The state had argued that the billboard broke the Scenic Vistas Act of 1971. Hamilton said he was simply advertising his 200-acre farm’s product, which was not only turkeys, but also cattle, corn, grain, peas and hay. That was allowed by the vistas law.
And it was true. In small letters, the billboard would state, “Hamilton Farms,” or “Angus-Holstein Springers,” or even “Hamilton’s 7+,” the registered brand of his livestock.
In the past, the objections have centered over the politically incorrect and sometimes outrageous comments on the billboard, not the image of Uncle Sam itself. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if those now trying to remove the billboard aren’t just upset about Uncle Sam himself. In recent weeks there’ve been several online petitions calling for the removal of the Hamilton Corner Uncle Sam that have garnered tens of thousands of signatures, though so far nobody’s signed up to speak about removing the billboard at the local city council meetings. Given the fact that the courts have already ruled the Hamiltons can have the sign on their own property, I don’t know how the local government could try to remove it anyway. Unfortunately, at least one individual’s attempted to take down the billboard on their own. Actually, “burn it down” is more accurate.
According to Lewis County Fire District 5 Chief Dan Mahoney, there was an attempt to set fire to the base of the sign at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning. He said the fire wasn’t extensive and it remained in the grass around the wooden support poles.
The poles were slightly charred but otherwise, Mahoney said the fire was extinguished before substantial damage could be done.
“We did an in-house investigation and the sheriff’s department is doing an investigation,” Mahoney said. “That’s about all we know.”
A picture of the base of the sign following the incident was shared on Facebook by Winlock resident Wes Prater. The post garnered support and opposition online, where it now has 639 comments from people on both sides of the discussion. He said in looking at the sign, it looks as if someone dumped gasoline on wet ground, which is why he believes it didn’t do more damage.
With that as the backdrop, supporters of the Hamiltons and their freedom of speech converged on the billboard Tuesday. Among those addressing the crowd was Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza, who riled up local media when he referenced Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask mandate, and told those in attendance, “don’t be a sheep.”
The video, shot by the Daily Chronicle newspaper is short. In it, Sheriff Robert Snaza addresses a small crowd through a bullhorn. “In case you guys didn’t hear, Governor Jay Inslee, in his infinite wisdom, had decided after over a hundred some-odd days that we should all wear face masks inside and out. Here’s what I say. Don’t be a sheep,” Snaza said to applause.
Afterward, he shook hands, no one wore a mask and there was no social distancing. On Wednesday, Snaza went into more detail about his statement.
“When I said don’t be a sheep it means you don’t have to be a follower, it’s OK to be a free thinker. It’s OK to ask questions. It’s OK to say why,” Snaza said in an interview in his office in Chehalis, where he wore a protective face mask.
Snaza said his comment wasn’t just about Inslee’s order to wear protective face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus even when outside, if social distancing isn’t possible. He says it came after a wide-ranging conversation with the crowd that included discussion of the Hamilton Corner “Uncle Sam” sign just outside Chehalis that was recently the subject of an online petition to remove it and an attempt to burn it down, to the occupation of Capitol Hill in Seattle known as CHOP.
“And I just want them to know it’s OK to speak up, it’s OK to say how you feel, it’s OK to say you support the First Amendment, it’s OK to support the Second Amendment. It’s OK to say I don’t like what’s going on right now,” Snaza said. “Now I understand where he’s coming from. He saying science and data. But then to say outside in the environment every day when they’re just walking down the sidewalk? I kind of have disagreements with that.”
I appreciate the shoutout to the Second Amendment, and I’m sure many in the crowd did as well, given that the local paper seemed to be fascinated by the number of armed citizens in attendance. And I actually agree with the sheriff about not being a sheep when it comes to wearing a mask. It cuts both ways, however. You should do what makes you most comfortable, not what people on the Left or on the Right are shouting at you to do. After all, being a free thinker means ignoring the bleating coming from all of the flocks in the field.
I doubt the Uncle Sam billboard is going to come down via a city council or court decision, but it’s clearly become a target of the angry Left, and their desire to destroy the speech they disagree with is yet another glaring example of the illiberal nature of the current protesters. Their idea of freedom of speech is the right to get in the face of a police officer and call them a piece of sh*t and a disappointment to their mother; the right to destroy property that offends them; and the right to shut up those they disagree with.
Like the Second Amendment, the First Amendment exists for all, or it doesn’t really exist at all. Freedom of speech is ultimately the right to speak your mind without government interference. It doesn’t cover angry mobs destroying an abolitionist newspaper, and it doesn’t protect arsonists from setting fire to a billboard that offends them. Those are simply crimes. Taking an unpopular position is not. It may not be protected in the court of public opinion, but it is protected by our Bill of Rights.