The man, later identified by police as 26-year-old James Blight, was charged with grand theft auto and trespassing, according to the outlet.
The incident in Florida is the latest example of increased tensions days before the election, as yard signs and other public proclamations of support for either presidential candidate have become a point of contention — and have occasionally led to violence.
Earlier this month in Dalton, Mass., a man’s giant Biden-Harris sign made of hay bales was set ablaze shortly after the farmer completed the installation. In Commerce Township, Mich., a city employee tasked with moving Trump signs that violated city rules sliced his fingers on razor blades that were affixed to the bottom of a sign.
In Haines City, about 40 miles southwest of Orlando, residents have reported their signs being stolen from their yards, Bay News 9 reported. But the incident on Saturday was the most extreme, residents said.
Police allege that Blight went to a nearby construction site, stole a bulldozer and headed to Burgess’s yard, where the man ran down the fence and seized the Biden signs. It is unclear if the man removed the signs before or after retrieving the machine.
Neighbor Cornelius Marion said he witnessed the man drive the bulldozer up to Burgess’s home.
“I thought somebody was coming to bulldoze down the house, but I knew that couldn’t be right,” Marion told Bay News 9. “So I called the police.”
He said he then witnessed Blight “rev up the engine and just run over this fence.”
Instead of waiting for police to arrive, Marion hopped in his car and followed the man as he rode the bulldozer off Burgess’s yard and down the street.
“He stopped traffic and cussed everybody out,” Marion said. Blight allegedly wove through the streets, continuing to remove Biden signs from other yards.
“He took the front-end loader and he actually dug them up,” Marion said, referring to a home with five Biden signs on the lawn.
Police said that Blight also tore down a city speed-limit sign.
Police soon arrested Blight, who told authorities he was drunk during the incident and couldn’t remember what happened, according to Bay News 9.
“It’s absurd that a grown man could think he had the right to destroy someone else’s property based on a difference in political opinion," Haines City Police Chief Jim Elensky said in a statement to The Washington Post on Monday. "The fact that he was driving this heavy equipment, that he did not know how to operate, down busy roads could have been disastrous. We’re thankful that no one was hurt in this matter.”
Blight remained in custody in Polk County as of early Monday, according to jail records; it’s not clear whether he has an attorney yet.
Burgess, a former vice mayor of Haines City, said the charges against Blight weren’t strong enough. In a Facebook Live video on Saturday, Burgess said Blight’s actions were racially motivated, given that the neighborhood is mostly made up of Black residents.
“There needs to be more punishment,” Burgess, who is Black, told Bay News 9. “This was a hate crime.”
Burgess said he believes that the destruction of his property is directly correlated with President Trump’s rhetoric around intimidation and violence.
“It speaks to the dog whistles that Donald Trump has been putting out his entire campaign. ‘Stand back and stand by.’ And we have guys in bulldozers doing this,” Burgess told Bay News 9, referring to Trump’s comments about the Proud Boys, a far-right group that supports the president. He added: “We want to make sure that the democratic process is intact, that we can vote without fear of issues and live in our community without fear of things happening like this. It’s terrible.”
Undeterred by the event, Burgess and his friends responded by putting up about 30 Biden signs around the house a few hours after the incident.
“You can’t keep a good dog down,” Burgess said in the Facebook video.