AUSTIN (KXAN) - A report by a Democratic-leaning blog on Thursday about an empty chair being hanged from a tree in Northwest Austin has sparked online outrage suggesting that whoever did it was motivated by racial intolerance.
"The resident, a Republican, lynched an empty chair from a tree in his yard, which one can easily interpret to represent a racially motivated act of violence against the President," wrote Katherine Haenschen, editor of the Austin-based Burnt Orange Report .
Haenschen speculated that it was motivated by the "empty chair" speech by actor Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention. During his remarks, which came not long before GOP presidential nominee have his acceptance speech, Eastwood pretended to dress down President Barack Obama on a number of issues.
Some neighbors were distraught by the sight of the hanging chair.
"All of the sudden I looked at it and stopped in my tracks," said one man who asked that his name not be disclosed. "And it made me feel cold. Because as a young African-American knowing that I served in my military and I fight for his right to say whatever he wants to say."
But the chair's owner, Bud Johnson, said his intentions are being misconstrued.
"It never was intended to be racist. It never has been," said Johnson, who has since taken the chair from the tree and placed it on his front lawn. "I'm not a racist person."
Still, the matter has gained national attention, fueled by online reports on such sites as the Huffington Post, Daily Kos and the Democratic Underground. Robert Stephenson of Moveon.org's area office was asked to come here and take pictures.
"We just wanted to get it down because it's a personal attack on the president," Stephenson said. "It's not anything else. it's a personal attack on the president."
Johnson said he's surprised by all the unfavorable attention he's been getting. He said he decided to take the chair down because too many people are getting the wrong idea.
"There's too many stupid people that have misconceptions," he said. "They automatically look at that and say, 'OK, that empty chair -- that's Obama.' Well, that's not necessarily true."
Johnson said all he meant by it is support for Clint Eastwood's speech.
"Was it right? Probably not but I supported his statement, I feel that way," Johnson said.
Two of Johnson's close neighbors said they support his freedom to express himself. One even said he was a supporter of Obama.
But others say it's hard to look the other way.
"There comes a time where a line has to be drawn," said the African-American military veteran. "I mean, to symbolize an empty chair marking Clint Eastwood and saying you're going to hang the president. What does that say about me when you see me in your neighborhood?"
But that attitude can be dangerous, said Democratic political consultant Glenn Smith of Austin, who suggested that the displays and others like them represent a cancer on American politics.
"The question is, are these hateful protests from isolated crackpots?" Smith writes on the Huffington Post . "Or do they exemplify a larger fringe America so lost in bigotry and anti-Obama zealotry that they've lost all moral bearings?
"Another even more important question: Are they being encouraged by more well-known right-wing commentators?"
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