At best, King’s critics said, the image he shared on Facebook in March was an off-color joke about the country’s deep political divide. But for many, the Iowa Republican has lost the benefit of the doubt, and the meme that appeared on his official campaign page was decried as a “treasonous” endorsement of a second American civil war — with a side of transphobia.
Now, the artist who created the image stolen for use in that meme plans to sue King for copyright infringement — unless the congressman apologizes.
“The point is to hold people accountable for the things they post — especially when you’re a public figure,” said Paul Bain, an attorney for the illustrator Yarek Waszul, who originally crafted the image for a 2013 New York Times book review.
In the picture, two figures square off: one red, one blue, each a Frankenstein-like amalgamation of states based on their political leanings. “Folks keep talking about another civil war,” the meme read. “One side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use.”
King annotated the image with a smirking emoji and added, “Wonder who would win....”
Ironically, King’s home state is shaded blue, forming a bicep that’s delivering a cartographic uppercut to the jaw of its red opponent.
The post appeared on a Saturday and was deleted by Monday. At a town hall last month, King addressed the controversy, saying he wasn’t the one who shared the meme. He didn’t know about it until after it was posted to his page, he said.
“I don’t manage that Facebook page,” he said. “I could control it, but I don’t manage it . . . I wish it had never gone up.”
King argued that his constituents weren’t concerned and said “the only people who care about that are national news media.” However, several in the Algona, Iowa, crowd shouted their dissent.
“We care about it,” one woman said.
Waszul said he was shocked to see his work show up in King’s musings about violent armed conflict between Republican-leaning states and their Democratic-leaning neighbors.
“Seeing one’s work reproduced without consent is a fear of any illustrator, but seeing it attached to such a callous message is a real nightmare,” Waszul told The Washington Post. “I would never sign my name to or promote any kind of hate or intolerance. This meme is counter to the original spirit of my picture, which was to depict and caution against hostility and vitriol of divisive political discourse.”
Bain sent King’s office a letter on Friday, giving the congressman until April 5 to prove he had destroyed the offending material and to issue “a full written apology and retraction” on all his social media accounts. Bain said he has not received a reply. A spokesman for King did not respond to a request for comment.
The letter, obtained by The Post, alleges that King’s misuse of Waszul’s work is a violation of the artist’s “moral rights” under the Canadian Copyright Act (Waszul is based in Toronto). Waszul is also entitled to compensation for damages under U.S. federal and state laws, the letter says.
The real issue in this case, Bain argued, is not that Waszul didn’t get credit for making the image behind the meme; rather, it’s the “the association with words and ideas that are repugnant to our client.”
“To be very clear,” Bain wrote, “while some ‘folks’ may be ‘talking about another civil war,’ our client certainly is not talking about that.”