Naturally, people are furious.
“If George Zimmerman can find a way to make himself even LESS likable, you can accomplish anything,” one user tweeted. “He makes me sick,” tweeted another. “We should crowdfund a project to launch him into the sun,” suggested another.
But this is far from the first time Zimmerman has stoked the fires of controversy by somehow nodding to the trial that burned his name into the public consciousness.
On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Martin, a black teenager dressed in a hoodie, was unarmed when Zimmerman killed him. All the boy carried were Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea, items that became symbols as the world reacted to the delayed arrest of Zimmerman. A petition on Change.org calling for his arrest gained more than 2 million signatures, and a rally in New York calling for the arrest of Zimmerman attracted hundreds. Zimmerman was eventually arrested and charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. On July 13, 2013, he was acquitted by a Florida jury.
The country responded to the verdict with nationwide rallies. From sea to shining sea, men and women gathered in black hoodies and protested the verdict and the controversial “stand your ground” law that seemed to protect Zimmerman. Throughout (and even after) his trial, a multitude of comparisons between O.J. Simpson and Zimmerman — and their trials — cropped up.
Given his acquittal, it might be natural to think Zimmerman would attempt to distance himself from controversy, particularly any with a racial bent. It would certainly be natural to assume he wouldn’t use the situation to inflate any “celebrity” he might have gained. Aside from the simple fact that despite his acquittal, some Americans consider him to be a cold-blooded murderer, he was raised Catholic, eschewing the limelight. He served as an altar boy from age 7 to 17 and would conduct “home visits” with his mother to feed the less fortunate, Reuters reported.
But he has not responded by stepping away from notoriety.
Following the trial, Sara Brady, President of of Sara Brady Public Relations, suggested in a blog post that Zimmerman needed to repair his public image. She wrote:
Mr. Zimmerman needs to be realistic about his future and determine what he wants. Does he want to remain in hiding? Does he want to do some very hard work so he can be free in society? Is he interested in contributing toward helping heal a nation hurting? At some point, and with the right objective and authenticity, he could begin to repair his image.
Instead, his life has become a series of public controversies that seem to imply he wants the nation to remember the very reason he gained infamy in the first place or, perhaps, that he suffers, at best, from a case of impaired judgement. Now that he has the media spotlight, he hasn’t let go of it, despite receiving “death threats,” as he told WOGZ.
The most blatant example of this came last October when he retweeted a photograph of Trayvon Martin’s slain body. The original tweet read “Z-man is a one-man army.” Following media outrage, Zimmerman claimed he wasn’t aware the tweet included a photograph.
“I did not, and never will knowingly re-tweet a picture of a deceased body,” Zimmerman wrote in a statement posted to Twitter, according to CBS News. “I do not want to see or relive the night I was attacked and had to use lethal force to defend my life.”
Zimmerman is no stranger to Twitter controversy. He’s used it to call President Obama an “ ignorant baboon” — which was widely perceived as a racial slur. Perhaps he remembered Obama’s comment after the shooting that “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.” And Zimmerman allegedly invoked the shooting of Martin by tweeting at a critic, “We all know how it ended for the last moron who hit me. Give it a whirl, cupcake.”
Those tweets — and all his others — can’t be linked to, because his account was suspended in 2015 after he posted semi-nude photographs of his ex-girlfriend. In the captions, he included her personal email address and telephone number and accused her of having sex with a “dirty Muslim.”
Now, his online presence consists of his website. Its homepage displays a photograph of a cigar dangling from the fingers of an arm tattooed with sic vis pacem para bellam — Latin for “If you want peace, prepare for war” — and a pistol tucked into a holster. On the “about” page is a personal recounting of the Martin shooting.
Racial conflict and firearms appear to be a recurring theme for Zimmerman. Last August, he teamed up with Florida Gun Supply — a gun store that had publicly declared itself a “Muslim-free zone” — to sell prints of a painting by Zimmerman depicting a Confederate battle flag and the inscription, “The 2nd protects our 1st.”
He’s also been back in the courtroom several times since the Martin trial. Less than a month after his acquittal, Zimmerman was pulled over for speeding, CNN reported. According to dashcam footage, he allegedly had a gun on him and the officer said, “Don’t play with your firearm, OK?”
Later in 2013, he was arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault for allegedly pointing a shotgun at his girlfriend. The case was later dropped. Two years later, he was arrested again — this time for charges of domestic aggravated assault for allegedly throwing a bottle of wine at his girlfriend — and again the charges were later dropped. Finally, last May, Zimmerman was shot, receiving minor injuries, during a dispute with a motorist named Matthew Apperson. In 2014, Apperson had called the police in a different dispute, saying Zimmerman had allegedly threatened him by saying, “Do you know who I am?” and “I’ll f—ing kill you,” according to Vox.
In fact, his legal troubles go back to 2005, when he was arrested twice. First in a domestic dispute that ended with a broken engagement and a restraining order filed against him. Then, for the battery of an officer after he shoved an undercover agent who was arresting Zimmerman’s underage friend for being in a bar.
Controversy seems to follow Zimmerman so doggedly that this isn’t even his first controversial auction.
In December 2013, he sold a painting of an American flag for $100,099.99, despite critics’ claims that it was “very primitive” and a “desperate cry for attention,” Time reported. His follow-up painting, named “Angie” after Angela Corey, the special prosecutor who was appointed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to investigate the death of Trayvon Martin, didn’t fare so well. It depicted Corey with her fingers pressed against her thumbs and a caption reading, “I have this much respect for the American judicial system.” But he wasn’t allowed to sell it because it was an exact replica of an Associated Press photograph, the USA Today reported.
Regardless of what George Zimmerman hopes for his public image to be, one thing is certain: he’s being discussed, fervently. As of early Thursday morning, more than 24,000 people had used his name in a tweet on Twitter.