An eye-catching billboard featuring a photoshopped image of President Joe Biden dressed as a member of the Taliban recently popped up on Interstate 83 in York County.
And a familiar face has taken credit: onetime GOP gubernatorial hopeful Scott Wagner.
“I believe the pull-out was done very badly,” he said Tuesday. “I think the president thinks he might have made a good decision but I think he made a very bad decision.”
The billboard, which has drawn both criticism and praise on social media, features a tongue-in-cheek slogan — “Making the Taliban Great Again!” — riffing off the familiar refrain used by both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.
“I think we’re going to pay for this,” Wagner said, of the recent withdraw from Afghanistan, which was also a key campaign promise of Trump. “I think probably in the form of more terrorists activities around the world and possibly this country.”
There had been some initial confusion over who paid for the billboards, even among local Republican officials but, when asked by The York Dispatch, Wagner did not try to deflect or dodge the question.
“I’m not hiding from anybody and that’s how I feel,” he said, “and I decided to put the billboards up.”
Wagner paid for more than a dozen of these billboards throughout Pennsylvania including on the Turnpike, Route 15 and in areas north of Harrisburg. Only one, a two-sided billboard near the Emigsville exit, is in York County.
The billboards were placed sometime last week, said Brian Scott, vice president of Trone Outdoor Advertising, the company that oversees the billboards.
“Listen, we stay in the middle. If people want to call up and put up a billboard like this, as long as there’s not any cuss words or slang for cuss words, you know, we will do it,” he said. “If somebody wants to call up and put a billboard up praising Joe Biden, we will do that as well. But we he haven’t gotten any phone calls to do that.”
York County Democratic Chairman Chad Baker said the billboard “is a mockery of a serious situation,” noting that both Democratic and Republican presidents have struggled with how and when to withdraw from Afghanistan.
This kind of overheated rhetoric, Baker said, does no one any good.
“While we are entitled in this country to freedom of speech,” he said, “this billboard continues to fuel the flames of vitriol and hate that has clearly stemmed from the previous administration in the White House and by many of the local state and congressional legislators.”
Wagner said he paid about $15,000 for the billboards. Someone had sent Wagner the image and he liked it, he said. He hopes that other billboards with this same image might pop up in other states, noting that people have called him asking permission to use the image.
Manchester Township Manager Timothy R. James said Tuesday that the township, where the billboard was located, wasn’t aware of the existence of the billboard.
Scott said he’s received few complaints, at least so far. Such signs are fairly routine, he noted, given the current political climate.
“I think just the state of where we are right now in the country,” he said. “I think it’s certainly sensitive and I think that’s why maybe you see it on social media as much and everything that’s going on in Afghanistan.”
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