By the time I talked to Kevin Chambers on Wednesday, he’d already done eight interviews and had more left to go. Some of his interviews were with national media outlets, others local, but the subject was all the same: a 15-foot high Trump sign that is currently towering over Chambers’s yard in Bremerton, a story that was first reported by the Kitsap Sun and quickly went viral.
This sign—which started out as a prank—has now become a symbol in a battle over politics, private property, and free speech unfolding in Kitsap County. But it all started in November. While Chambers, who hosts Outlaw Radio on KITZ FM, was out of town, his buddy, a local Republican whom he often spars with over politics, told Chambers that he was going to put a Trump sign in his yard. Chambers thought he was kidding, but when he got back home, there it was: TRUMP/PENCE 2020, in all caps, right there in his front yard for everyone to see.
“I thought it was hilarious, honestly,” Chambers told me. “I wasn't intending to leave it up for very long and then somebody in a Bremerton Facebook group posted that they were trying to rally the neighbors to come over to the house and tear down the sign and egg the house. When I saw that, I decided the sign was going to stay up. I don't want to be bullied into taking it down.”
His house wasn’t egged, but not long after, the sign was vandalized with spray paint. In response, Chambers decided to replace the sign and make it even more visible. He and his friend spent an afternoon building 15-foot stilts for the sign, and now it towers over the street, well out of the reach of prospective vandals.
But the attempts to get rid of the sign didn’t end there because the following month, Chambers received a notice from the City of Bremerton: The sign violated a local ordinance requiring that noncommercial signs be no more than six feet off the ground, and he needed to remove it, lower it, or faces fines from the city. The deadline to comply is January 21st.
“That's where we're at now,” Chambers told me. “They only enforce the rule after they receive complaints, so someone definitely complained to the city.”
Chambers is not exactly a Trump fan—during our conversation, he referred to the President as a “shiny orange turd”—but he did vote for him in 2016. In fact, Chambers is part of the 12 percent of former Obama voters who then voted for Donald Trump. This transition—from Obama to Trump?—can seem almost inconceivable to those of us who see Trump as both dangerous and unqualified, but Chambers says that for him, the election was less about Trump than it was about his opponent.
“I can't stand the guy, but I thought Hillary was the worst of two evils,” he said. “You could have put a literal paper bag against Trump and I would have voted for the paper bag. But I just couldn't justify voting for Hillary Clinton.” (His reasons for this, he says, are mostly due to allegations of corruption in the Clinton Foundation and her response to the 2012 attack of an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, both of which became talking points in the campaign against her. And before you accuse Chambers of sexism or misogyny, he says his preferred candidate this time around is Tulsi Gabbard.)
Chambers is opposed to many of Trump’s policies. He’s against the border wall, believes in climate change, and calls himself “pretty liberal” despite his vote in 2016. But for Chambers, this sign is about more than the President.
“The things Trump does inspire a strong reaction, both in people who agree with him and disagree with him,” he told me. “But the larger issue is, are we willing to mortgage the foundations this country was built upon because of Donald Trump? The people who hate Trump so badly are nearsighted to the fact there is a larger issue at stake: the freedom of speech and the freedom to have your own opinion. We're creating a climate where now it's ok to attack, defame, and libel your opponents just because you disagree with them. That's dangerous.”
Of course, Donald Trump is the master at attacking and defaming his opponents—he spread the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. and he said that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assassination—so there’s some hypocrisy in Chambers’s concern over the state of American discourse considering who he cast his vote for last time around.
Still, Chambers says that this experience has taught him something. “I didn't believe in Trump Derangement Syndrome before this,” he says. “I thought that was just Republicans making themselves feel like victims. But I totally get it now. If this was a Warren sign or a Sanders or a Clinton sign, I don't imagine anyone would have complained about it.” He may be right: While you’re more likely to see MAGA hats in Bremerton than nearby Seattle, Clinton won Chambers’s district by 25 points.
As for the city, the rules are clear: This sign is illegal—not because of the content, but because of the height. “We have codes that all of our residents are required to follow,” Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler told me. “It helps regulate things. That’s it. There are codes about lights and other things, too. The way I look at it, everything we do is meant to create good neighborhoods. It’s nothing against the content of the sign. People are allowed to express their political views.”
But are they? It’s not hard to see why this sign enrages people. Trump is a dangerous, narcissistic mad man who acts on ego and whim despite the consequences to anyone—or everyone—else on the planet. He separated parents and children at the border. He’s currently courting a war with Iran. He’s stalled global progress on fighting climate change. He sucks up to dictators and despots. And he lies so often it’s stopped being a shock.
I get enraged when I see Trump signs. If you’re reading The Stranger, you probably do, too. But Chambers’s point is valid: People are entitled to express their political beliefs in the U.S., no matter how wrongheaded other people think they may be. That’s one of the few things that really does make this country unique, and every time someone is assaulted for wearing a MAGA hat or someone’s Trump sign is torn down, that most vital of American norms becomes a little bit weaker.
Trump will be gone one day, as will the sign in Kevin Chambers’s front yard. The question that remains is, will we—as communities, as neighbors, as families torn apart by the election of 2016—ever manage to come back together?