Virginia stamps out license to hate: DMV recalls plate with coded racist message

A photo of the truck went viral online.
A photo of the truck went viral online. (Courtesy of CAIR)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 22, 2010

Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles is so accustomed to drivers trying to sneak lewd, gross, hateful or racist messages onto personalized license plates that it has a rigorous process to root them out.

A manager in the Personalized Plates Work Center reads through every application, putting any suspicious combination of letters and numbers into a computer program that analyzes the potential plate for hidden meaning. Questionable messages go to a 20-person Word Committee for review and a vote. Among the few printable examples of rejected license plates, according to Melanie Stokes, a member of the Word Committee, are "JERKA55," "IPOOPD," and "HORNI1."

But sometimes, the system doesn't quite work.

The owner of a Ford truck bearing the license plate 14CV88 will have to find a new message after the DMV on Wednesday canceled its earlier approval of that series of letters and numbers.

A photo of the truck hit the Web a few days ago, went viral on car and other blogs and finally came to the attention of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group for American Muslims. On Wednesday morning, the group complained to the DMV that the plate contained a white supremacist and neo-Nazi statement.

A few hours later, the DMV agreed that the plate contains a coded message: The number 88 stands for the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, doubled to signify "Heil Hitler," said CAIR's Ibrahim Hooper. "CV" stands for "Confederate veteran" -- the plate was a special model embossed with a Confederate flag, which Virginia makes available for a $10 fee to card-carrying members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And 14 is code for imprisoned white supremacist David Lane's 14-word motto: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."

The giveaway that something was amiss, Hooper said, was the truck itself. An enormous photo of the burning World Trade Center towers covers the entire tailgate, with the words: "Everything I ever needed to know about Islam I learned on 9/11."

Hooper at first thought the picture was a Photoshopped hoax. But when he called the DMV and discovered the plate was registered in 2005 to a Ford F-150 pickup truck, Hooper started to worry.

"If the license plate had been on a VW Beetle with nothing else on it, or a Volvo station wagon, no one would probably have noticed," said Hooper. "But when the Confederate flag is thrown in . . . it shows the convergence of anti-government and anti-Islamic sentiments that unfortunately seem to be growing."

The DMV would not release the identity or location of the vehicle owner, citing privacy laws. Virginia has the highest percentage of personalized plates in the nation.

"Even with our rigorous process, we miss a few," Stokes said. "And we missed this one."

No word on whether the truck, shown in the photo in a parking spot reserved for the handicapped, has the requisite disability tags.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company