Hate-driven sign is just the latest

Published 8:30 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2016

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We had little trouble believing that the only significant anger-driven incident in Isle of Wight County on Election Day was inspired by Herb DeGroft.

Herb has made it his mission for the past eight years to share with the world his hatred of President Barak Obama, whom he has repeatedly called called a “traitor” and “liar-in-chief.” Anyone associated with the president, most recently, of course, Hillary Clinton, has become the subject of Herb’s diatribes.

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Herb’s fanaticism, cloaked as patriotism, has grown more hateful and more hurtful during the two terms of the nation’s first black president, and in 2013 the racial undertones of his views became obvious during the infamous email exchanges.

The blatantly-racist emails that were flying around (and incidentally, there are still plenty out there) were first spread locally by Herb, then forwarded by former Supervisor Buzz Bailey.

Herb blithely described the emails as “funny and interesting,” but later dropped the “funny” reference.

That incident forced him not to seek re-election to the School Board and, for most people, would have been a humbling and even life changing embarrassment. But you can’t embarrass Herb, and from that time until now he has worked tirelessly to demonize anything that was associated with the Obamas and their political party.

So, on Election Day, Herb took large, handmade signs declaring Hillary Clinton a liar and traitor, and posted them at two precincts we know of — Pons and Rushmere.

Anger begets anger and it wasn’t long before another county resident, Howard Holloman, attempted to remove the Pons sign. DeGroft declared his First Amendment right to post the sign, an altercation ensued, and Herb swore out a warrant charging Holloman with assault. Holloman responded with a similar warrant against DeGroft, so it appears a level-headed District Court judge may have to resolve something that should never have occurred in the first place.

Herb loves the First Amendment but, like many of his views, his understanding of the First Amendment’s value is limited to what he believes is “his” right.

For example, the night of the Isle of Wight Education Foundation Dinner, when hundreds of people gathered at The Smithfield Center for the very non-political and community-spirited purpose of raising money to help county teachers teach, Herb went outside and stuck Hate Hillary fliers under the windshield wipers of attendees’ cars.

He has done the same thing at his own church, where most people gather for anything but hateful political speech.

Now, just where does his right end and those automobile owners’ rights begin? Personally, I hate fliers of any kind left on my car, whether they’re political, commercial or religious. It’s my car and people like Herb have no right to plaster messages on it.

The First Amendment does give us privileges in this country that are enjoyed nowhere else on earth, but most of us understand that, with those rights comes responsibility. Free speech, most of the time at least, needs to be constructive speech.

It is not necessary that political speech always be inflammatory, though it may have seemed that way during the past year. At this point, Democrats, Republicans and independents would do well to tone down the rhetoric, and at least begin to try, to understand opposing views.

Hate speech promoted by both sides needs to end. For the sake of our nation, hatemongers need to take a deep breath and finally come to grips with whether they are doing more harm than good to this nation.

And one final point: Herb is justifiably proud to be a former Marine Corps officer, but his use of “Semper Fidelis” at the conclusion of most of his hate-filled letters discredits the Corps and all who have served therein. Out of respect for his fellow Marines, he should at least have the grace to drop that.