'No-Bama' hanging chair: Is it a protest? Or a symbolic lynching?

October 05, 2012|By Kim Murphy | This post has been updated, as indicated below.
  • blank">The Columbian
blank">The Columbian (Zachary Kaufman /

SEATTLE -- If a chair hangs in a tree, does it represent murder?

The debate on whether lawn chairs with the president's name on them and hanging from trees are innocent references to Clint Eastwood's famous "empty chair" rant at the Republican National Convention -- or symbolic lynchings of America’s first African American president -- now spans the country.

A white plastic chair suspended above a yard in Camas, Wash., is the latest exhibit. Like the others before it, including in Austin, Texas, and Centreville, Va., the chair is marked "No-Bama."

Next to it, a large chalkboard says: "Are you better off now than 4 years ago? The king is a joke."

Critics have said the so-called chair lynchings are an obvious reference to the nation's ugly history of mob executions targeting African Americans; the chair-stringers tend to say they’re innocent and humorous replays of the countless jokes spinning off Eastwood's address to President Obama, represented by an empty chair.

In the case of the chair in the yard of George and Kathryn Maxwell in Camas, about 20 miles up the Columbia River from Portland, Ore., the chair was initially on the ground -- but kept getting knocked over, the couple said.

"The reason we hung it up was because people kept stealing it. ... We just have to take extra precautions,” Kathryn Maxwell told the local newspaper, the Columbian. Repeated attempts by the Los Angeles Times to reach the couple were unsuccessful.

Maxwell told the paper she didn't like Republican nominee Mitt Romney much --  she would have liked to have seen Michele Bachmann as president -- but in any case she was free to express her views via a chair if she so chose.

"There's a Constitution,” she said. “Some people forget that.”

But Katherine Haenschen, writing in the progressive/Democratic Texas political blog Burnt Orange Report, wrote that the sentiment is unmistakable. She was one of the first to report on the chair-hangings, after a metal folding chair was found hanging in northwest Austin.

“The image of the chair is associated with the President. Now, lynch that chair from a tree, and you've got a pretty awful racist sentiment calling for lynching the first African-American President!” Haenschen wrote.

In Camas, Clark County Republican Party chairwoman Stephanie McClintock said the party did not endorse the suspended chair.

“I understand that it comes from where Clint Eastwood used the chair at the Republican convention. So I know where they’re coming from, but hanging a chair in a tree is bad taste, and something the party here in Clark County does not support or condone,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

The Clark County GOP has on its website an image of a chair festooned, as are many of the so-called lynching chairs seen around the country, with U.S. flags. This one, though, is a small wooden chair sitting squarely in the grass, with a quote from Clint Eastwood tacked to its back: “We own this country. Politicians work for us. And if someone is not doing their job, we've got to let them go.”

That people had been messing with the Maxwells’ chair is not outside the realm of the plausible.

The Clark County GOP office had rocks thrown through its windows in September, the Columbian reported, and the offices of the teachers union in nearby Vancouver, which had prominent signs supporting Obama and the Democratic nominee for governor in Washington, got hit with tomatoes three days later.

The chalkboard standing below the Maxwells’ chair obviously had been erased and written-over, signaling that it too had been messed with.

It bore a warning: “Leave my board alone.”

[Updated, Oct. 5, 2:16 p.m.: Clark County Republican Party chairwoman Stephanie McClintock responded directly to The Times with the party's position after this post was published.]


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