Sam Pirozzolo wanted to give Donald Trump supporters a safe space of their own.
The 52-year-old optician from Staten Island was dismayed by news reports of the Republican nominee’s backers being attacked at rallies, ostensibly for little more than wearing pro-Trump garb.
Pirozzolo, an avid Trump supporter, responded by commissioning an art installation — a 12-f00t tall uppercase “T” with an American flag superimposed on it. The sculpture, built out of foam insulation and latex paint by a local artist, went up in Pirozzolo’s lawn at the end of May, facing a busy intersection in Staten Island’s Castleton Corners neighborhood.
There it stood undisturbed in Priozzolo’s yard for most of the summer. But in the early hours of Sunday morning, Pirozzolo woke up to find the sculpture in flames. Someone had torched the giant “T.”
Now, Pirozzolo is calling for the New York Police Department to investigate the incident as a hate crime.
“How is it that someone can come and set fire to your property and make it look like a burning Ku Klux Klan cross but that’s not a hate crime,” Pirozzolo told The Post. “Had it been for religious reasons or sexual preference, that would be the case.”
An NYPD spokesperson said the department and firefighters are treating it as arson, but haven’t made any decision about whether to investigate it as a hate crime. Police haven’t named a suspect and no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Pirozzolo insists he was targeted because he’s pro-Trump. In a recent Facebook post, he pointed the finger at “Pro Hillary Clinton thugs.”
“It sure wasn’t a Donald Trump fan,” he said.
For years, Pirozzolo has used his lawn to showcase art projects that highlight causes he believes in, many of them created by Scott LoBaido, the artist who build the giant “T.”
Pirozzolo said he first met LoBaido in 2010, when LoBaido was looking for a home for a recent abstract sculpture that Pirozzolo said resembled a breast cancer ribbon covered with some 3,000 tiny white lights. Pirozzolo offered up his lawn.
Since then he and LoBaido have collaborated on at least half-dozen other installations that went up on Pirozzolo’s property. When the New York Giants won the Super Bowl, they put up a huge Giants logo. They did the same for the New York Mets last year when the team made it to the World Series. One Christmas, LoBaido built a 12-foot cross with red, white and blue lights and erected it on the side of Pirozzolo’s house. And in 2014, when two NYPD officers were shot and killed in Brooklyn, LoBaido constructed a brightly lit NYPD badge with two beams of blue light extending from it.
Pirozzolo said he and LoBaido took to calling each other periodically over the years to talk about ideas.
“Depending on the situation, if one of us feels that it deserves some special comment, we’ll look for each other and say, ‘Hey, are you ready,’ ” Pirozzolo said.
It’s no surprise that the two became fast friends. LoBaido is a self-described “creative patriot” who says on his website that he loves “strong cultural symbolism” and “all things classic America.” In one of his biggest projects, LoBaido toured the country painting flag murals in every state. He also recently painted a 13-by-18-foot portrait of former President Ronald Reagan that he displayed in various places around New York City.
Pirozzolo said he reached out to LoBaido earlier this year wanting to put up a sculpture dedicated to Trump. He said the idea for the “T” came from LoBaido, who designed it to offer people a way to express support for Trump without having to say his name.
“People would drive by and ask what the ‘T’ was for, and we’d say ‘Trump,’ but also ‘tolerance’ or ‘truth’ or ‘think’ or whatever you want it to stand for,” Pirozzolo said.
Pirozzolo said he was asleep around 1 a.m. Sunday when his 16-year-old daughter knocked on the bedroom door and said someone was ringing the doorbell.
When he got to the bottom of the stairs, Pirozzolo said, he knew exactly what had happened.
“I can see this huge orange glow and I’m like, oh my God, my sign is on fire,” he said.
Firefighters told Pirozzolo they smelled gasoline. Pirozzolo said he believes whoever did it must have used some sort of accelerant because the flames rose high but died quickly. LoBaido told him the foam and latex he used weren’t very flammable, he said.
Pirozzolo asked police to investigate hate as a motivation for the incident, rather than treat it solely as arson. He said he was frustrated that amid national debate over political correctness and “safe spaces,” his display could be violently attacked just for expressing support for Trump.
“We’ve created laws to protect certain classes of people, but we’ve forgotten about people as a whole,” he said. “It was ironic that it was burned down for being a safe symbol for Trump.”
So far, he said, police haven’t made him any promises.
New York defines a hate crime as a criminal offense that targets a person based on “race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation.”
On Monday afternoon, Pirozzolo got a call that eased some of the pain — from Donald Trump himself. He said the conversation was brief, but Trump thanked him for his support and asked if he and his family were all right.
“He laughed and he said we were more popular than he was today,” Pirozzolo said. “To hear that that was Donald Trump was an amazing thing.”
A spokesperson from the Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the call.
Pirozzolo said he and LoBaido are planning to erect a new “T” on his lawn Tuesday afternoon — this one four feet taller.