Virginia driver denies license plate had coded racist message
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Douglas Story, a Chantilly dump truck driver for the Virginia Department of Transportation, says he wanted to grab people's attention when he paid $224.90 to have a mural of the burning World Trade Center detailed onto the tailgate of his Ford F-150 along with a sticker that reads: "Everything I ever needed to know about Islam I learned on 9/11."
But he got more than he bargained for when a photo of his pickup went viral on the Web last week. Motorists and Muslim groups complained that his Virginia vanity license plate -- 14CV88 -- was really code for neo-Nazi, white supremacist sentiments. The state Department of Motor Vehicles voted last week to recall Story's plates and force him to buy new ones.
"There is absolutely no way I'd have anything to do with Hitler or Nazis," Story said Wednesday. He contacted The Washington Post after an article about his plate appeared last week; the state, citing privacy rules, had declined to release the identity of the plate's owner. "My sister-in-law and my niece are Jewish. I went to my niece's bat mitzvah when she turned 13 three years ago. Does that sound like something an anti-Semite would do?"
Story says the numbers 14 and 88 on his plate were not references to a white power slogan or "Heil Hitler," as the Council on American-Islamic Relations theorized, but an homage to his favorite NASCAR drivers: Tony Stewart, who drives car No. 14, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who drives No. 88.
Story applied for the vanity plate in March 2009, shortly after Earnhardt changed his car number from 8 to 88 and Stewart changed his from 20 to 14.
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said his group looked into the meaning of the numbers 14 and 88 after receiving complaints about Story's license plates. He said the group found that among neo-Nazis, 88 refers to "Heil Hitler," because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. White supremacists sometimes use the number 14, Hooper said, as shorthand for the 14-word motto, "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."
Story says that his truck has long been decorated with the Confederate battle flag and that he does have "CV" Sons of Confederate Veterans plates, which he obtained after discovering that his great-great-great-grandfather was a second lieutenant with the Alabama Partisan Rangers during the Civil War.
The flag "celebrates my Southern heritage," he said. "And the numbers recognize my favorite drivers in that southernest of sports, NASCAR."
He says he doesn't know who took the photo of his truck, in a handicapped parking spot, that became a viral sensation on the Web. "Probably someone who obviously has a soft spot for Islam," he said, pronouncing the word "I-slam," "because if you pronounce it 'Ih-slahm,' it's not disparaging enough."
He said he has a permit that allows him to park in handicapped spaces because of injuries he suffered in a 1985 motorcycle accident.
Hooper said he doesn't buy Story's version "given the overt anti-Muslim bigotry displayed on the truck and the Confederate flags and their historic connotation of racism. But it's his right to make that appeal to the Virginia DMV."
Story said he has no intention of appealing. "I don't want my truck firebombed," he said.
Story received a certified letter last week from the DMV ordering him to get new plates. And his boss told him that he could no longer park on VDOT property with the anti-Islam mural. So Story spent an afternoon getting new randomized plates and peeling the mural off by hand.
"I feel naked," he said.