This week, a Republican group in Lawrence County, Alabama, is offering an apology after they published an image featuring a GOP-styled elephant that included, intentionally and by way of a clever graphical trick, a series of Ku Klux Klan hoods.
The image was posted as part of a congratulatory Facebook message to honor the group’s new chairman and thank its previous leader for his service. But as soon as the hood imagery was noticed, the group took it down and offered an apology, saying the image was pulled from the internet without seeing the details or inner meaning. “I would like to offer a deep and sincere apology for a picture that temporarily appeared on this page last night,” the new chairman, Shannon Terry, posted to Facebook. “A google search picture of a GOP elephant was used and later found to have hidden images that do not represent the views or beliefs of the Lawrence County Republican Party. The picture was then immediately replaced. As chairman I take full responsibility for the error.”
But here’s the thing: That’s our illustration. Our Editor-in-Chief explains:
Two years ago, we commissioned this art from Woody Harrington to reference how white supremacy was taking over the GOP. Not only didn't they not get it, they appropriated copyrighted art. https://t.co/lxEJoXjhap https://t.co/FxwRMo9Mqd
— Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery) August 18, 2022
In 2020, Mother Jones commissioned Woody Harrington to illustrate a story that explored how the chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, Stuart Stevens, was reckoning with how the GOP was weaponizing bigotry during the 2020 campaign. The piece, by our Washington DC Bureau Chief, David Corn, was titled “The Republican Party Is Racist and Soulless. Just Ask This Veteran GOP Strategist.” In it, Stevens was scathing. “We created this. It didn’t just happen,” he told Corn.
“Republicans only exist to elect Republicans,” Stevens said. “They are down to one idea: How can we win?” Playing footsie with white supremacy, Corn argues, was part of the strategy.
Thus, this image.
So we got in touch with the artist, Harrington, to see what he felt not only about the apparent copyright infringement, but its underlining implications.
“It is nearly impossible to find my image in a standard Google search excluding terms like ‘racist,'” he told us by email. “My goal was for the reader to recognize the classic Republican symbol, and reveal the sinister message of racism upon closer examination, unfortunately, some people never made it that far!”
There’s some evidence it’s happened before. A Republican candidate for Union County Sheriff in Indiana went even farther, using the image on election posters in May of this year. Dozens were printed before the mixup was caught and eventually fixed, according to a Reddit user who knew someone at the printing company.
And HuffPost politics reporter Liz Skalka tweeted that a GOP club in Arizona accidentally used it too.
Saw this same logo used at a GOP club event this summer in Arizona. A graphic designer in the room noticed and alerted them to take it off a projected screen — and they did. Club officials seemed genuinely shocked when they realized. https://t.co/eoQDqT7I4k
— Liz Skalka (@lizskalka) August 18, 2022
And while Harrington hopes it can be “a future lesson to all about fair use of intellectual material, and the karma that comes along with copyright infringement,” he notes that “there are positive takeaways from this whole debacle.”
“This can be a moment for reflection, accountability,” he said. “And should allow for more discussion on the issues the image first intended to bring to light.”
If you’re interested in reading the piece that started it all, here you go.