West Hollywood News
Halloween-Themed Effigy Stirs Controversy And Political Passions
By Staff and Susie Kopecky
Nov 2, 2008 - 8:45:39 PM
WEST HOLLYWOOD—A Halloween-themed effigy of Republican presidential candidates displayed in a West Hollywood residence has stirred controversy and political passions, and has even caught the attention of the Secret Service.
It is hard to imagine that anyone could have anticipated the visceral response and wide ramifications of an act whose motivation was ostensibly, according to the creator Chad Michael Morrisette, to give people a Halloween spook.
Morisette recently ornamented his home with an outside display, which includes an effigy of John McCain rising out of a chimney surrounded by fake flames and a Palin effigy below hanging on a noose. The display has been widely reported by the media, and even trickled across the Atlantic to the UK via the Associated Press’s foreign bureau. The Feds initially sought out Morrisette for questioning to ensure that no plots against Palin were in the works, but are now treating his effigy as a harmless, albeit unusual, display.
Morrisette's actual full name is listed on his SquareDesigns professional website as "ChadMichael Christian Morrisette." His business site also includes an extensive biography of the designer, noting that he is a "freelance designer" who hails from Alaska, like Sarah Palin. According to the SquareDesigns website, Morrisette has been involved in design since the age of 16, and formed SquareDesigns in 2005. He previously worked as a "window dresser" at Saks Fifth Avenue; his full LA-based client list includes Alpha, Fred Segal Flair and The Los Angeles Sporting Club.
Morrisette showcases some of his professional and personal work on Facebook, under the moniker "CM Squared." The Palin effigy had been hanging outside of his home since at least October 14, as Morrisette posted a picture of the hanging mannequin on Facebook on October 14, at 12:03 p.m. Morrisette included the caption "Sarah Palin hanging from our roof. I love Halloween!" Some of Morrisette's friends weighed in on his recent media spotlight. On October 28, one friend, Jennifer Wayne, commented "YOU are the King, Baby! I love your work!" and linked a video on Morrisette. Another friend, Lee Golpariani, commented on October 29, "Just saw you on the Today show. Kat told me about your famous decorations, but you've gone national. Good luck with all this attention!"
This apparently was not Morrisette's first politically-themed design. About one month ago, one of Morrisette's friends, Sarah Kroskrity, posted a congratulatory remark on Morrisett's Facebook wall for another politically-inspired design he had recently planned to do on presidential nominee Barack Obama. Kroskrity posted that it is "awesome that you are doing an [O]bama window. You are so inspiring!!!" It is unknown if the window was ever completed, or where it is or will be showcased.
On the main page of the SquareDesigns website, Morrisette left the following statement, where he described the effigy as “done for our own personal holiday expression,” rather than business-related.
However, unlike the responses of Morrisette’s friends, local residents and city officials have been visceral in their response. A number of local residents reported the effigy’s display as a hate crime, and a special hate crime unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department was formed to investigate, though they have since determined that no crime has been committed.
It is no surprise that an effigy of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin can invoke such passionate responses; Palin has drawn an unusally high amount of personal criticism and focus on her family, since becoming the second woman to run as a major party’s VP. Similar instances involving effigies of Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, have also been reported. Three hanging effigies of Obama have been spotted recently in different regions of the country. The most recent hanging effigy of Obama was found at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, a day after Palin’s effigy headlined nationally. In all of these instances, a Secret Service investigation ensued.
Some local residents also condemned the display because they perceived it as invoking violence. Political passions were stirred, culminating in quite heated discussions of politics during various interviews with Canyon News.
“The effigy of Sarah Palin is not a Halloween front. It’s disgusting. This guy has got an Obama sticker on his car. This is an Obama voter. I want all you people out there that are undecided about who to vote for on November 4th, would you like to see an effigy of Barack Obama. Why don’t we put one up of Barack Obama with a noose around his neck? That’s disgusting,” said Melrose Larry Green, a self-described moderate Republican and McCain supporter and long-time resident of West Hollywood. “This is something they did in Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany. What’s wrong with Sarah Palin? The fact that she supports life? I’m also pro-life. I’m voting for John McCain. I demand that this thing be taken down. I hope somebody rips it down. I’m not going to do it ‘cause it’s against the law, but I hope somebody else has enough guts to come down here and rip it down, and if anybody does it they’ll be a hero. Freedom of speech is one thing, but this is a hate crime to me,” Melrose added.
David Mitchnick, a self-described Obama supporter who was unaware that the display was right around the corner of his apartment, also chimed in with his thoughts, telling Canyon News, “I saw the story and it made me sick, but as much as I am for Obama, it should be about her [Palin’s] ideas and not about hanging her on an effigy — hanging anyone on effigy. It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It should be by conversation and ideas. You don’t like her ideas, well express them that way.” Mitchnick then proceeded to enumerate a list of reasons why he is against Palin, but went on to conclude: “My negative impression of her does not justify hanging an effigy depicting her hanging from a noose. Effigy’s are okay for international war criminals; that I’d be ok with, but not in an American election.”
On October 29, Morrisette and his partner, Mito Aviles, removed the mannequin from the outside of their home. It is not yet known exactly in what order things happened, but during the course of the day, Morrisette and Aviles were visited by West Hollywood Mayor Jeff Pang and Larry Tompkins, who was driving an SUV with an effigy of Morrisette being hanged.
When the Palin effigy came down, Tompkins—who, according to his MySpace page, resides in “Living in the age of consent!, CA”—was outside the house protesting the Palin effigy by hanging his own effigy of Morrisette, which had the inscription, "Chad, how does it feel?" Then the mayor appeared and had a meeting with Morrisette. The police arrived soon after and then Morrisette came out and removed Palin's effigy. In a radio report on Thursday morning, it was divulged that the Secret Service had also visited Morrisette's home.
"Well, actually, theirs didn't come down until I showed up," said Tompkins in an interview with CBS. "As soon as I showed up the Mayor was here, the police came, and they took theirs down and they asked me to take mine down. It's not about Obama, it's not about McCain. This is about being nice, and it wasn't very nice what they did. I thought it was disgusting."
West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Pang made the following statement: "I respect that we all have the right to freedom of speech. However, with that right comes responsibility," he said. "While these residents have the legal right to display Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin in effigy, I strongly oppose political speech that references violence—real or perceived. Politics in America has become extremely polarized in recent years and we all have a responsibility to focus on our political differences in a thoughtful and peaceful manner. I urge these residents to take down their display and find more constructive ways to express their opinion."
It is now being widely speculated within West Hollywood circles that the reason the mayor came to speak to Morrisette was over concern that the effigy may have been drawing too much negative attention towards West Hollywood. Pang was reportedly apprehensive that such negative attention could affect the city's chances of a locally-desired outcome on a number of upcoming propositions, including Proposition 8. Both Morrisette and Tompkins were contacted for further information.
In an exclusive interview with Canyon News, Morrisette and his partner, Mito Aviles, spoke to Canyon News about the entire course of events. Morrisette and Aviles confirmed that the Secret Service did come to their West Hollywood home, about one hour after they removed the hanging effigy. They noted that the Secret Service agents were "incredibly nice guys... very civil and calm" who stayed for about fifteen minutes.
The men stated that when talking to Prang, he said he defended their right to keep the effigy, but suggested they consider the possible impact on the outcome of Proposition 8, among other things. Morrisette and Aviles stated that the deputy mayor of West Hollywood had come by, requesting that the two men call the mayor of West Hollywood. Morrisette said that the number one reason he ultimately took down the effigy was because the captain of police estimated the daily cost of protecting the house at $100,000. Morrisette stated that the mayor had been outside of his home, and he invited the mayor inside. Morrisette told Canyon News that the mayor was in their home, speaking to the captain of police on the phone, and relayed the message of the daily price tag of protection, including police protection and helicopters. The mayor spoke with the men multiple times. Over the course of their conversations, the outcome of Proposition 8 became a factor as well. Morrisette did say that “He [the mayor] did mention to me the night before... to think about the election... think of [the] propositions... but think of other things.” Once the man nequin was removed,, Morrisette confirmed that Mayor Prang sent him a text message, “thanking me, saying you did a great job.” He also stated that they were contacted by Proposition 8 headquarters, and a man there whom he described as a “pioneer in gay rights” urged them to consider their impact on the outcome of the proposition, as they already “had 40 percent of the voters locked down,” and an additional “16 percent unsure,” and felt it would be best if Morrisette and Aviles either took down the Proposition 8 sign from their yard, or took down the effigy. The men initially decided to remove the sign. The NAACP also sent representatives, according to Morrisette, who supported his right to showcase the effigy, but suggested he showcase it in a different way, rather than from a noose.
Morrisette is an Alaskan, like Palin, but noted “I left Alaska 15 years ago.” She was chosen as “the last piece” after a mannequin of John McCain, “screaming” in the chimney, was placed. He noted that an effigy of one of the other prominent politicians was not used, as “Obama’s policies are more in sync with my views,” though also stating that “it would be crazy if someone internalized this to acting any violent act out... if people interpreted it as domestic violence... it would he horrible.” When asked his opinion on effigies that have sprung up, representing Obama, Morrisette stated he hasn’t seen what they look like, and added “I don’t know why they put them up... the media should question them, we went through intense questioning...”
The two men described themselves as life-long lovers of Halloween, and alleged that with every other interview they had completed over the last week, members of the media expressed understanding in "every interview, stating that 'we get it, it's Halloween,'" even though ultimately, the two men felt that an overwhelming amount of the publicity they received was negative, as they believe their actions were later "represented as hateful and violent." Morrisette claimed that the hanging effigy was "never done out of hate, spite or malice." Neither Morrisette nor Aviles gave a specific reason as to why Palin’s hanged likeness was deemed an appropriate Halloween display, rather than the hanging likeness of any other celebrity, male or female.
In a phone interview with Canyon News, Mayor Jeffrey Prang was asked about his role in the removal of Palin’s effigy. He explained that on the day the effigy went down, he went over to Avila and Morisette’s home to survey what was going on. He went in and talked to them about the situation and attempted to persuade them to take the effigy down on the basis of a variety of factors. He first mentioned the escalating nature of the affair and the fact that it had become a public safety issue, both to neighbors and to their own house. The second factor mentioned was the impact it was having on neighborhood resources. Specifically, he cited the additional police patrols that were required. Finally, he argued that they had sufficiently made their point about free speech; prolonging the effigy’s hanging for that purpose was no longer justified given the costs to the community. The mayor said that his overall impression of the two was that they were taken aback by the response and wanted to return to a sense of normalcy.
Canyon News then asked the mayor what he thought about the potentially negative costs to the passage of Proposition 8, and the role this played in the removal of Palin’s effigy. He began his response by citing the fact that he was an Obama supporter and that the spectacle was not helping the Obama campaign, even though he was not prompted to comment on that. He then went on to agree that the spectacle was serving to reduce the chances that Prop. 8 would be approved, and candidly declared in a release that it was only one of a cluster of factors responsible for the effigy’s being taken down. “It was not helpful to the passage of Prop. 8, but it is not any one single thing that was the reason why the effigy was taken down,” he said.
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