After designing a controversial billboard that appeared in Phoenix, Arizona, last week, artist Karen Fiorito has received a lot of death threats.
Her billboard, on view since March 17, features President Donald Trump’s visage surrounded by swastika money signs and twin nuclear mushroom clouds. On the backside, it showcases an image of five hands signing “unity,” but that’s not the part of the billboard that’s provoked critics, who have suggested over phone, email and social media that Fiorito sleep with a gun under her pillow.
“You are a sick, disgusting person to compare President Trump to anything like this,” one Facebook user commented on Fiorito’s page, referencing her Nazi imagery.
“Regarding your SWASTIKA billboard in my town [...] I’m going to tell you that no, they symbolize hate and anti-semitism. Shame on you,” another wrote.
The billboard space was provided by owner Beatrice Moore, who, according to local outlet 12 News, will keep Fiorito’s divisive image up for the remainder of Trump’s presidency. Despite the torrent of harassment she’s experienced, Fiorito is on board. In fact, she has plans to make more billboards ― trolls be damned.
“I think a lot of people are feeling this way and I’m just trying to express what I think is on a lot of people’s minds these days,” explained the artist, who’s also responsible for a series of 12 billboards addressing California’s drought. “Something that really concerned us was this idea of a dictatorship where things were going in a certain direction.”
“There are people who say, ‘Well, it’s offensive,’” she added, “but the current administration ― its policies, the people that are put in power ― are offensive to me.”
We checked in with Fiorito not long after her billboard went viral to discuss the wave of backlash she’s encountered and her persistent desire to make more billboards. It’s safe to say Americans will probably be seeing other Nazi-themed Trump billboards in the future.
There are some people telling me I should die, or they are “coming to get me.” Others say that I’m “disgusting,” “not an artist,” a “traitor,” a “Nazi,” a “Communist,” a “Feminist,” and my favorite, “Fake News.” Most are just the uneducated insults, and there is a lot of crass and vulgar language so I can’t really say much more than that.
When someone says, “You should sleep with a gun under your pillow” or, “Me and my boys are coming to get you,” it’s a little scary. What’s scarier is when they have your home address, email and phone number. I know most of this is hot air, but it only takes one crazy person. I am not too afraid, but my family members are afraid for me.
Have the threats been lodged anonymously, or are individuals or groups using their names or other information to identify themselves? Are they happening online, or via other forms of communication?
I’ve gotten hundreds of phone calls and emails. I’ve gotten hundreds of threats on every page I have on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. They tried to hack my accounts (Facebook, Gmail) and my social security number. They never identify themselves unless it is on social media. Many have called from blocked or “anonymous” numbers and emails. I have kept a call log of every number along with its corresponding message and am reporting them to the police, just in case.
KPNX claimed that you did expect “blowback” from Trump supporters before installing the billboard. Was the reaction in line with what you expected?
This is not my first political artwork. I have a history of political posters and billboards. I did an anti-Bush billboard in 2004 and an anti-Fox News billboard in 2005. Each of these caused me to receive many death threats and hate. [People] also hacked my email and posted my personal information online. These are their tactics. They will do anything to scare and intimidate you because they know you are right. They want me to be silent. They want me to live in fear and take the billboard down. That is not going to happen.
What has been the general local response to the billboard in Phoenix?
I heard ― I am in California ― from the owner that there has been a line to take selfies with it every day and a line of traffic around the block all day. People have been traveling from all over Arizona and California to visit it. People are hanging signs around it and leaving candles. It’s been very popular.
Are you planning on installing anymore billboards?
Yes. We are compiling a list of cities right now and doing research on costs, etcetera. We will be announcing something soon!
Have you received commissions for more?
I have had many people ask me to put it up in their home town or city, even some who have offered me money, but nothing confirmed yet.
What is your advice to artists who wish to resist Trump, but might be afraid of potential retribution from Trump supporters?
Join a group or local organization against Trump and his policies. Lots of artists are forming groups, and there is power in numbers. If you are still afraid, do what I wish I would have done: remain anonymous (like Banksy).