UNION TOWNSHIP, NJ — A billboard in this suburban town calls President Donald Trump an idiot. While it's certainly provocative, the question of whether it's political speech upheld by the First Amendment, or offensive, hateful content that should be condemned -- or both -- is what the government of this suburban town, as well as its residents, are debating now.
"It's disgraceful they got that sign up there," said Nick D'Amico.
D'Amico was one of several local residents who’d approached PIX11 News to comment when they’d observed the camera crew taking video of the billboard on Morris Avenue near the intersection with Elmwood Avenue.
Larry Sohn is another local who came up and expressed his opinion. He said he'd come to take photos of the ad out of concern that it might get removed.
"All of us should have the ability to speak our minds and our opinion," he said, adding that the billboard, he feels, fits the definition of free speech, “as long as it is not designed to promote racism,” he said, “and does not do harm to others.”
Another local resident, who would only give his first name, Victor, called the billboard hateful.
“[It] says he's an idiot,” said Victor, as he pointed to the image of the president on the ad.
Next to Trump's photo is the phrase, “Our President The Idiot — A New Film - Coming Soon.”
“What does that mean?” Victor asked.
He also said that citizens should have unwavering support for the President of the United States.
Sohn interrupted him, saying that Hitler had demanded unquestioned loyalty from citizens.
“How did we get to Hitler here?” asked Victor. “This is what I mean,” he said, gesturing to Sohn. “This is an idiot.”
Below the slogan calling President Trump an idiot, the billboard shows that it was paid for by Neil Harrison. He’s a filmmaker based in the Bronx.
Harrison spoke with PIX11 News via FaceTime, and said that he’d tried to run the ad elsewhere.
“I was unable to get any political messages in New York,” he said, citing an MTA policy that restricts the posting of strong political content on ads that are displayed in its system.
The MTA owns the majority of the billboards Harrison was interested in and he picked the location in Union instead.
As for Union itself, the township has received hundreds of comments, both positive and negative, on its Facebook page, but its spokesperson said that she wanted to make one thing clear.
"We are very much about respect and common decency, no matter who you are or what you believe in," said Natalie Pineiro, Union Township's public information officer. As for calling the President of the United States an idiot, she said, the city’s policy “is completely against that."
For now, the billboard remains on display, as it has been for more than a week. It is fully paid for, by Harrison, to the outdoor advertising agency Outfront Media. The company has not responded to a request for comment from PIX11 News.
Harrison called the ad firm an "excellent company," and said that his aim was to get people talking about his Trump documentary, which he said is scheduled for release in December. If the number of comments on social media, statements by passersby, assertions to local government officials, and media stories are any indication -- and they are -- Harrison has achieved his objective.
He is unapologetic.
"If you can wake up in the morning and smell the coffee and say you believe in this commander in chief, trust me, you can deal with a billboard that calls him whatever it calls him."