‘Liar, Traitor’ sign leads to poll altercation

Published 1:27 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Except for a single incident that ended in assault charges, the election went smoothly in Isle of Wight County, according to William Bell, secretary for the Isle of Wight County Electoral Board.

The alleged assault occurred around mid-day Nov. 8 at the Pons precinct. Political activist Herb DeGroft, 76, decided to put up a sign at the precinct calling Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton a “liar” and “traitor,” and vice presidential candidate and former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine “just a puppet.”

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Another man must have removed the sign, because there was a confrontation that also elicited the attention of an Isle of Wight County deputy, said Lt. Tommy Potter with the Sheriff’s Office.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

DeGroft went to the magistrate’s office on his own, however, and got a warrant for Howard Holloman for assault and battery. Holloman was arrested and released, Potter said. 

Holloman then obtained a warrant for assault against DeGroft, who was similarly arrested for assault and battery on Nov. 9, the day following the election.

“That was the only home training issue we had,” said Bell.

“I was really pleased by the way everyone acted,” he said.

Bell said any items located outside the 40-foot circle around the precinct are covered by the First Amendment. It was not known precisely where DeGroft posted the hate sign.

DeGroft defended his sign, saying it was “unique” and located an adequate distance from Mt. Tabor Church of God in Christ, which was used as a polling place.

DeGroft said it was his First Amendment right to post the sign. He also posted a similar hand-made sign at the Rushmere precinct, according to one poll worker.

Isle of Wight Democratic Committee Chairperson Debra Church criticized DeGroft’s actions, and believes the sign was put at a predominantly black precinct as a way to intimidate those voting for Clinton.

“This is a glaring example of what is not the best of America,” she said.

“Hogwash,” said DeGroft.

“This was in my Hardy District, period …there’s not a racially biased bone in my body,” he said, adding that he recently distributed flyers along the same lines on car windshields.

Efforts to reach Holloman were unsuccessful.

This is not the first time that DeGroft has gotten in trouble for comments. He was sued for defamation in 2010 by former Isle of Wight County Schools Superintendent Michael McPherson, who took issue with then school board member DeGroft’s repeated messages, flyers and statements about him, including being accused of allegedly committing 10 Virginia code violations. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2011.

Two years later and while still on the Isle of Wight County School Board, DeGroft was asked to resign due to a series of offensive emails sent to county staff. One of the racist emails, a photo of bare-chested native women carrying spears, included a reference to First Lady Michelle Obama’s high school reunion.

The case ended up in court, but was removed due to a lack of valid signatures on the petition filed by the Isle of Wight Chapter of the NAACP. Following the court’s decision, DeGroft withdrew his candidacy for another term on the school board.

This contentious campaign between Clinton and Trump has led to a series of letters to the editor of The Smithfield Times from DeGroft, calling Clinton a “ding-bat,” “lying traitor” — among other things — and that Trump may have a “potty mouth” and acted like a “jerk,” but is a successful business man.  Other letters warned readers about allowing Muslims in the country.

The only other glitch on Election Day was a voting machine that went down in Carrollton about 30 minutes before the polls closed. That shutdown affected 471 votes, which were scheduled to be tallied last Thursday.

Plus, there were 41 provisional ballots, and those were to be ruled on yesterday, Bell said.  {/mprestriction}