VANISHING VIEWPOINTS — An empty frame is all that remains after vandals removed an Angry Taxpayers “Drain the Swamp” sign near Asheville Regional Airport (courtesy Angry Buncombe Taxpayers) 

Petty crime meets political expression in run-up to Buncombe elections.

 

   
“Your Liberty To Swing Your Fist Ends Just Where My Nose Begins” — Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 

The Bust

Just before 10 p.m. on the unseasonably mild evening of Friday, October 5,  a driver spotted two women pulling up political signs around the shopping area at the intersection of New Leicester Highway and Mount Carmel Road in the Asheville suburb of Erwin Hills.  

The driver was prominent Asheville businessman Mike Summey, and he was not amused.  The signs, exhorting Buncombe voters to put an end to county corruption by voting Republican on November 6, were bought and placed by Angry Taxpayers, a recently formed PAC of which Summey is the founder and treasurer.

Summey confronted the women and asked them what they thought they were doing.  Taking the signs, he says they told him.  That, Summey replied, was theft and he was going to report them.  At that point, Summey’s report says, the women scurried to a car, threw the signs in the back, and drove off.  Summey pursued, photographed the car’s license plate, summoned a sheriff’s deputy, and filed a larceny complaint.

The car was registered to Amanda Wray, an associate professor of English at UNCA.  On Sheriff’s Department orders, Wray turned herself in on Sunday morning, October 7, and was charged with a class 3 misdemeanor.  So the 38-year-old professor — whose UNCA website says, “What you say has great potential to contribute to or to interrupt social norms, and students in my classes can expect conversation about everyday strategies for using language to address social oppressions” — now has a rap sheet.  Not for rhetorically addressing social norms, but for petty theft.

“Fortunately for us, this continuing coverage is bringing more attention to the corruption that has occurred in our county under Democrat leadership than we could ever have achieved with the signs alone,” Summey said in a Facebook post.

But while the story of Wray’s arrest and the circumstances of it gained national media attention, backlash against the signs and their message began almost as soon as they went up, Summey told Enquiring Minds.

‘This is organized.”

Around Labor Day the PAC began selling yard-size (18″ x 36″) versions of the signs for $10 apiece via its website and also at about a dozen private businesses across the county.  “We’ve sold about 1,800 of them so far,” Summey said, “but somewhere between 600 and 700 have been stolen or defaced.”

In this photo from a Facebook page, an unidentified woman is shown allegedly removing another Angry Taxpayers sign.

Summey said much of the anti-sign activity appears to be concentrated “between Cane Creek and Fairview” in southeastern Buncombe County.  “We put up thirty signs along Fairview Road and every single one of them was stolen the first night,” he said.

(Fairview is in Buncombe County Commission District 2, where Democrat Amanda Edwards is running against Republican Glenda Weinert for the the seat that will be vacated by Democrat Ellen Frost.  Frost, who was described as a “close personal friend” of indicted former County Manager Wanda Greene, announced early this year that she would not seek re-election, but said her decision had nothing to do with her association with Greene.)

Larger, post-mounted PAC signs began being vandalized almost immediately, some graffitied with obscenities and Antifa symbols, others gouged and smashed.  One larger sign near the Asheville airport was neatly removed entirely, leaving only its empty frame.

“There are people behind this,” Summey said.  “Anytime you can put out that many signs, most of them on private property, and have a third of them stolen and others defaced, that’s not just casual vandalism.  This is organized.”

 

Street Cred?

Buncombe County Republican Party Chairman Carl Mumpower agreed with Summey.  “The volume of missing conservative candidate/issue signage demonstrates a relentless organized enterprise,” he told Enquiring Minds.  

Such an operation would require effective communication and a ready reservoir of volunteers. Neither factor, observers say, would be a problem considering that greater Asheville, which enjoys a national reputation for a highly visible brand of liberal activism, provided the impetus that drove the entire county into the Clinton camp in 2016.  Successive waves of colonizers — super-wealthy retirees, entrepreneurs, outside corporations, and hipsters — have set their seals on the local psyche.  And for the last 20 years or so, observers say, this has meant an increasingly confrontation-oriented “social awareness.”

“They have this Alamo mentality,” said one county resident who asked for anonymity.  “They see themselves as some kind of intellectual, moral saviors holding off the dumb hillbillies.  You take those women that scratched up the [Robert E. Lee] plaque on Pack Square, that got arrested.  And the ones that got arrested when they occupied the damn police station itself.  They got arrested and it made their day.  They got street cred.  They were heroes because they broke the law.

“I’m sure they have a core group,” she said.  “The same names show up on Facebook all the time, and they do the same rants.  They have supporters on city council and county commission that just egg them on.  [If] they want to stir something up they just put out the word.”

“The left is increasingly taking an ‘ends justifies the means’ approach to our political differences. That licenses about any behavior one can imagine – as evidenced by a college professor who feels validated in theft as a form of imagined activism,” Mumpower, a clinical psychologist, said.

Poison Ivy in the Groves of Academe?

“My question is real simple,” Summey said in an interview with WLOS-TV.  “What is a 38-year-old woman with a Ph.D., that’s a college professor, doing out at 10 o’clock at night stealing political signs? What does that say to our young people? What does that say to the community about some of the people that are working down at our local university?” Summey asked.

Colleges have traditionally been at the forefront of American liberal thought and action.  But since the 1960’s, educators, political scientists, journalists, and dismayed parents have noted a seismic on-campus shift from academic discourse to herd-like activism.  Colleges, they say, no longer teach students how to think but what to think, abandoning old canons as patriarchal and repressive, and replacing them with material they consider more relevant and inclusive.  Hence Prof. Ray, a member of the English faculty, is the author of  “Teaching Professional Writing and Anti-Oppression Rhetorics,” did her doctoral dissertation on “Lived Histories and the Changing Rhetoric of White Identity,” and teaches courses titled, “Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies” and   “Women’s Life Writing and Social Activism.”

Not all of Wray’s students endorse what and how she teaches, however.  “There was too much writing and too much discussion on racism and feminism,” one said.

The college review and ranking website http://www.niche.com lists UNCA as the fifth-most-liberal campus in North Carolina.  (Warren Wilson is rated #1; UNC-Chapel Hill lags at #8.)  And any college town is to some degree liberalized by the very presence of its colleges,  It follows, then, local analysts say, that that in a city already as inherently “progressive” as Asheville, the town-and-gown association would be one of commonality rather than opposition; the school’s and the city’s institutional liberalism would feed each other.

“It’s not partisan.”

Angry Taxpayers was formed by Summey and what he terms “some of the most influential people in this county” in late summer, after an FBI investigation that resulted in federal indictments against several senior county administrators for taxpayer fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and related charges.

The signs originally read, “Stop Theft and Corruption!  Drain the Swamp in Buncombe County!  Vote Republican November 6,”  though the PAC’s website stoutly maintains that it is partisan only by coincidence; that the malfeasance comes from the ineptness and self-serving of a Democrat-run political machine that has controlled both city and county politics for a dozen or so years.

“Had this happened under Republican control, we would be just as angry and appear just as partisan in favor of Democrats. The issue is not politics, it’s public corruption regardless of the party,” the website states.

And in an open Facebook post “to our Democrat friends,” Summey said, “Sorry to have to call you out on this very sensitive issue, but had the theft and corruption occurred while Republicans were in control, you could exchange Democrat with Republican and the message would be the same.”

But county Democratic Party chairman Jeffrey Rose immediately countered, calling Summey’s remarks “an unfortunate distraction” designed to divert attention from “the issues we have in Buncombe County.”  He did not elaborate.

They go low … we go high.

Among his other enterprises, Summey founded Summey Outdoor Advertising.  He is credited with inventing the single-post mounting system for outdoor boards that is now in use worldwide.

So when Angry Taxpayers’ ground-level sign campaign began suffering casualties,  he decided to go vertical.  Asheville is now dotted with full-size painted boards, in the same high-visibility yellow but with the original copy changed to endorse Republican candidates Weinert and incumbent Robert Pressley.  The boards are floodlit and accessible only by ladder.

The Angry Taxpayers’ campaign now includes full-size outdoor boards endorsing specific candidates.

Meanwhile the Angry Taxpayers website, https://angrybuncombetaxpayers.com/,  continues to offer signs for sale, emphasizing that all proceeds will go “to further educate the public about this corruption.”  Also, the site says, paying for a sign makes it the personal property of the donor; as such, anyone caught stealing or vandalizing it could be prosecuted.

According to the site, Angry Taxpayers’ ranks have swelled to several hundred contributing members.  Even Asheville Citizen-Times columnist John Boyle was impressed.

“Sometimes, a little righteous anger can pack a wallop,” he said.

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