Small newspapers in some Southern and Midwestern states have recently issued a cluster of apologies, explanations and resignations over controversial cartoons commenting on protests and police brutality.
The June 11 cartoon, created by veteran contributing cartoonist Peter Evans, depicts President Trump saying, “Chuck the Constitution.” The caption puts Trump’s urging to “dominate” and “arrest and try” Black Lives Matter protesters in opposition to the First Amendment’s protection for peaceful assembly.
To try to drive home his point, Evans drew a partially obscured swastika on Trump’s suit jacket.
The opposition to his use of the Nazi symbol was swift and sizable.
“I have never received such a large response,” Evans told The Washington Post. “This touched a nerve that surprised me. Not so much from Republicans, but from the Jewish community.”
The newspaper ran a sampling of letters the following week. One offended reader called the cartoon anti-Semitic, writing: “Never expected our local newspaper to be so out of touch with many, if not most, of the Key Biscayne residents.” Others wrote letters of support.
The next week, the Islander News ran several pages of letters and commentary. A notable guest column was by Avremel Caroline, rabbi of the Chabad Key Biscayne Jewish Center, who noted that many in “our Jewish community found [the swastika] to be completely unnecessary, inaccurate and insensitive.”
“For many, the swastika is a deeply personal symbol,” Caroline wrote June 18. “It is a representation of the greatest evil that modern history has witnessed, and it is an atrocity that has a direct impact on so many of our lives. ... The use of a swastika as the symbol for everything dictatorial (or even fascistic) greatly diminishes the true scale of evil that Nazism represented, even when compared with other dictatorial or fascistic regimes.”
Tom Clifford, the newspaper’s associate publisher, defended the political cartoon in an article on June 18, noting “the best ones are provocative.”
Because the swastika “remains associated with white power extremists worldwide, including the U.S. — groups that support the president, and who Trump has refused to condemn,” Clifford wrote, “it’s clear why the cartoonist employed that symbol to hammer home his point.
“It was also heavy handed, inelegant and inadvertently insensitive,” the associate editor added, noting: “But it was not libelous or slanderous.” Clifford said the paper respected Evans’s right to express his opinion.
On June 26, Evans published a response to the controversy. “The partial swastika was not meant to offend,” he wrote. “It was cartoon shorthand for what can happen when we ignore dangers the Constitution protects us from.”
“If you think that could never happen here and are not old enough to remember, I urge you to Google ‘McCarthyism,’ “ added Evans, noting that he has lampooned both major political parties during nearly a quarter-century at the Islander News.
Evans said that for him, the swastika is not a symbol out of impersonal history.
“I was born in 1935 and grew up in England during World War II, so the swastika was very real to me,” he told The Post. “It appeared daily in newspaper cartoons, which perhaps made me more casual about its use.”
In trying to spotlight the First Amendment right to assemble to redress grievances, Evans said “the swastika was actually an afterthought. I saw parallels between what is happening today and 1933 and tried to communicate that visually.”
Evans said that during his “long tenure with the Islander News, I have had unequivocal support from my editorial bosses through thick and thin.”
Evans — who has been honored by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists — emphasized that he did not intend to take aim at either major political party, but rather at what imperils the Constitution.
“Like most Americans, I believed the Constitution to be an impregnable fortress against despots and demagogues,” he said. “But I recall how all America cowered in fear over Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade during the ‘50s.
“The swastika is a detestable symbol. But it is only a symbol. I feel we should be more focused on what brought the symbol about.”