Republican Lynches Empty Chair in Racist Presidential Effigy in Northwest Austin

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Update, 9:26 a.m. Friday: the homeowner has cut down the lynched chair, placed it on the lawn, and — wait for it — claimed it wasn't racist. Click here for more, including a video confrontation with the homeowner.

Update, 10:00 a.m. Thursday: the homeowner has added an American flag to his display. Click here for more.

Today, Burnt Orange Report received the photo at right, taken in front of a home in Northwest Austin. The resident, a Republican, lynched an empty chair from a tree in his yard, which one can easily interpret to represent a racially motivated act of violence against the President.

Now, one could easily argue “it's just a chair, what's the big deal? That's not racist!”

However, in light of Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention, in which he had a largely one-sided conversation with an empty chair he pretended was Barack Obama, this imagery is now associated with the President.

The image of the chair is associated with the President. Now, lynch that chair from a tree, and you've got a pretty awful racist sentiment calling for lynching the first African-American President!

Lynching was a horrific and commonplace act in Reconstruction-era Texas and continued until the mid-1940's, spurred on by Ku Klux Klan groups. Texas is third amongst all states — behind Mississippi and Georgia — in the total number of lynching victims between 1885 and 1942. Of those 468 victims, an overwhelming number were African-American.

Perhaps the most well-known and horrific lynching in Texas occurred in 1916, when Jesse Washington was accused of raping and murdering a woman near Waco. He was sentenced to death, and lynched in front of a crowd of onlookers, after which members of the mob castrated him, cut off his fingers, and hung him over a bonfire. Pieces of his body were sold as souvenirs. The gruesome event became part of the NAACP's anti-lynching movement.  

Most recently, in 1998, James Byrd Jr. — for whom the Texas Hate Crimes Prevention Act is named — was lynched by being dragging behind a vehicle in East Texas.

We have a sad and awful history of white people lynching African-Americans in Texas, and this history is exactly what this Republican's front yard display taps into.

There are folks who will claim that this isn't “racist.” Republicans, especially the Tea Party types, like to claim that liberals think every attack on the President is racist. Folks like to claim that hanging a noose up as decoration is “honoring the past of the South,” blithely ignoring the context in which those same nooses were used during the pre-Civil War and Reconstruction eras — by white men to hang African-Americans. Some folks will undoubtedly point out the burning of Bush effigies throughout his administration, especially during anti-war protests.

This is different. This is the specific and deliberate use of a racially charged act of violence — lynching — perpetrated by white men against African-American men and women. When you add a Republican symbol for the first African-American President into the mix, you get a pretty awful picture — the one you see at right, and one that can be seen on a front lawn here in leafy, quiet Northwest Austin.

We're a state that has a horrific history of hate crimes, and given the new context of the “empty chair” created by the Republican Party during their own convention gives this image of a chair hanging from a tree a decidedly sinister, and yes, racist, meaning.

It's awful. Republicans should call out this imagery and the racist rhetoric that has come to pervade their party. But I'm not holding my breath.

Updated 6:28 p.m. Wednesday I called the homeowner to ask about his display, citing my concerns as a fellow Austinite. He replied, and I quote, “I don't really give a damn whether it disturbs you or not. You can take [your concerns]and go straight to hell and take Obama with you. I don't give a shit. If you don't like it, don't come down my street.”

Ironically, the homeowner in question, Bud Johnson, won “Yard of the Month” in August 2010 from his Homeowners Association. I guess his display was a little different that month?

Update, 10:00 a.m. Thursday: the homeowner has added an American flag to his display. Click here for more.

Update, 9:26 a.m. Friday: the homeowner has cut down the lynched chair, placed it on the lawn, and — wait for it — claimed it wasn't racist. Click here for more, including a video confrontation with the homeowner.


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.


  1. report it to the FBI
    threats to lynch someone should be counted as dangerous.  But first someone should report this to Rep. Paul Workman – it's in his District (47).   People in that District should call and ask him to do something about it.  

    (I know, I'm not holding my breath either)

    • why claim racism?
      Are you aware that in 1700's that political protests involved hanging dumies of political figures as a symbol of distaste? Are you claiming racism to discredit this individual without basis for these claims? How  many white people were hung by the neck until dead? Don't misinterpret what I am saying, I do not condone racism but do not throw things out just because they sound good and will cause response.  Do some actual research into the matter before you claim atrocities that will harm an individuals credibility.

      • So thats what he meant!!
        I'm sure this protest was a throw back to the 1700s and not the more recent lynchings in subsequent centuries..If you read the story you should know she did do research, even talked to the guy personally.

    • not sure it is a threat
      I'm not sure if this would legally constitute a “threat” as it is not SPECIFIC enough. Usually to have legal traction a threat must be SPECIFIC in the sense it names the person targeted and usually indicates what kind of violent action would be perpetrated upon the targeted individual.

      To regard this as a threat against Obama requires a bit too much imaginative association to be regarded by police as a “serious” threat of bodily harm.

  2. Very similar insanity just happened this past weekend
    at Bull Run Park in Virginia, where a chair with “Nobama” written on it was symbolically “lynched” at the entrance to a major festival (not sure how long it was up, or why it was allowed to be there).

  3. This guy sounds like a real jerk, huh?
    Looks like he thinks it's cool to suggest the President ought to be lynched. Typical GOP racist attitudes.  I wonder how he would like it if someone burned a cross in his lawn.

    Lynching isn't that far back in our history. Remember, it's as recent as 1998 that James Byrd was killed by three white racist ex-cons in Jasper.  

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