The exhibit sits in a field between a popular seafood restaurant and an elementary school along one of Polk County’s busiest roads.
A life-size cutout of a smiling Polk County Sheriff, Grady Judd, in uniform, is posed near a matching figure of former President Donald Trump, with a sign above them proclaiming: “MAKE IT L ‘AMERICA BIG AGAIN’.
The display has been in place since before the 2020 presidential election. Last fall, however, an addition appeared. A banner affixed to the wooden platform holding the cutouts reads in large print, “LET’S GO BRANDON. “
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To the left of those words is an image of President Joe Biden depicted as a clown with a red ball nose and purple bow tie surrounded by the words “Elect a clown, expect a circus.”
Thousands of vehicles are driven daily on the stretch of US 98, where the display is on the west side of the road, slightly south of CR 540A.
Many Republicans and Trump supporters have adopted the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” as a nod to a crass insult to Biden. Catherine Price, chairman of the Polk County Democratic Party, said residents of any party affiliation should find the message offensive.
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“It’s so vulgar,” Price said. “I don’t know where our company is. At the height of Trump’s parodies, I never put anything vulgar about him in my backyard. He was the president and I respect the office, to say the least. “
Those viewing the exhibit might wonder if Judd, perhaps Polk County’s most popular resident, played a role in its installation. Judd’s office says the answer is no.
County records show that the grassy land containing the exhibit is owned by Robert R. Baker Sr. of unincorporated Lakeland. Reached by phone, Baker said he did not seek Judd’s approval when he created the board ahead of the 2020 election.
Baker said he knew Judd and told him about the display.
“He thinks it’s funny,” Baker said. “Anyway, he likes it. I’ll say it like that. … The first time I saw him after the end he said, ‘That’s pretty cool. So this is your property? I said, ‘Yeah.’ I mean, it didn’t bother him at all.
When asked if it wouldn’t be inappropriate to combine Judd’s resemblance with a phase that many consider vulgar with a portrayal of President Biden as a clown, Baker replied, “He (Judd) knows who I am. And he might say, “Hey, I’d appreciate it if you take it off” or whatever. And if he did, I would.
Scott Wilder, communications director for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, responded to questions about the display sent by The Ledger. He said Judd was not interested in a political discussion involving the First Amendment principle of free speech.
“He knows the sign – he didn’t notice the additions,” Wilder said via email. “He did not give prior authorization and was not aware of the exhibition until he saw it. He’s not friends with, but he did meet the person who put it up at a public gathering (after the signs were put up).
As a public figure, Judd has less legal control over the use of his image than a typical citizen.
“The image of the sheriff has been used millions of times in memes, TV, newspaper articles, social media, T-shirts, signs and more. each of those uses, ”Wilder wrote. “As a public figure, he has little control over how his name and image are used.”
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Wilder said Judd told him a few people mentioned the display to him. He said he was not aware of any comments or complaints the sheriff’s office has received on this matter.
Judd has had varying reactions to other uses of his image. He expressed his amusement at the inclusion of his likeness in a video for the rap song “Ducking Grady” and appeared in a remixed version. The Sheriff’s Office marketed bobblehead dolls of Judd, and last Christmas season they sold “Grady on a Shelf” figures to raise money for Polk Sheriff’s charities.
Judd complained when Congressman Ross Spano of Dover included a photo of him in a 2018 campaign mail. Judd criticized Spano for suggesting he had the sheriff’s approval, and Judd did. campaigning for challenger Scott Franklin, who ousted Spano in the 2020 Republican primary before winning the parliamentary election.
When Lakeland mayoral candidate Saga Stevin inserted a photo of herself with Judd in a campaign direct mail last year, placed between photos and endorsements from a county commissioner and former mayor , Judd said he did not support a candidate in the race but did not. oppose Stevin’s use of the photo.
The phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” appeared last fall as an accidental slogan expressing criticism of Biden, often in the context of backing Trump, who said he was planning to run for president. in 2024.
The origin story is as follows: Crowds at some sporting events had started chanting “F — Joe Biden” and this happened at the Sparks 300, a NASCAR race held on October 2nd. at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. NBC reporter Kelli Stavast was interviewing driver Brandon Brown after the race as the vocals could be heard in the background.
Whether through an honest misunderstanding or an attempt to sanitize the audio, Stavast suggested to Brown that the audience was chanting, “Let’s go, Brandon! Conservatives and critics of Biden, including some Republican politicians, took hold of the phrase and began using it as a code for the most vulgar phrase.
The initials “FJB” are sometimes added to uses of “Let’s Go Brandon” on bumper stickers, signs and clothing, including hats sold at convenience stores in Polk County.
Baker said he hadn’t heard anyone object to his display.
– No, nobody bothered me, he said. “Everyone finds it funny, except the Democrats. They probably don’t like it at all.
Ron Martin, a longtime Democrat from Fort Meade, said he was grateful he didn’t see the display. Martin said he hasn’t driven this stretch of road lately due to car issues.
Martin said he found the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” offensive.
“It’s unwarranted,” he said. “It’s anti-American. And we have to stand up for America now because people all over the country voted for a president, and you called my president a clown – it’s a shame. “