Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bernie Sign Bandits

On February 13, 2010, The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) issued a letter to be read in all Utah congregations, which encouraged Latter-day Saints to attend their local precinct caucus meetings. The letter stated: "...We are concerned with the decreasing attendance at these caucus meetings in Utah in recent years. We therefore ask that local leaders not schedule meetings on these Tuesday and Thursday evenings so that members may attend a caucus meeting of their choice.... Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in the platforms of the various political parties. We encourage members to attend their precinct caucus meetings.

I had never been to a caucus meeting. Dutiful Marie decided we should go. We went. There were about five democrats from our precinct in attendance. No one wanted to be precinct chair. I had the least amount of valid excuses so I was unanimously elected. I did my duty: I attended the state convention that year, I ran the next precinct meeting in which there were no challenges to my position and this year I volunteered at the chaotic caucus meetings pitting Bernie against Hilary.

I am assuming that it was because of my position as precinct chair that last December a large package arrived with a Bernie for President sign inside. I would not have sought out a sign, but since someone took the trouble to send it to me, I decided I would add some diversity to our mostly republican street. Besides, I like Bernie. He cares about the under dog, he shows compassion, he is accepting of others and he is the only candidate for president this electoral season who is willing to stand up for justice and self-determination for the Palestinians.

On January 23rd I posted this photo on Facebook with this comment: "No snow this morning in Springville. Looks like a good day to take down the Christmas lights, shovel up deer droppings and bury our nice collection of kitchen mulch in the vegetable garden." Facebook friends noticed the sign which resulted in comments of support, light-hearted jabs and even a sermon on the evils of socialism. 

On May 12th I posted this photo and comment: "I'm still holding out for a President Sanders in hopes that he will then appoint me ambassador to Indonesia for being brave/crazy enough to display this for many months in solid GOP territory."

From December to May the sign endured many a snow and rain storm without a problem. That all changed on Sunday May 15th. After church services, our family walked down the street to an open house honoring a delightful young lady soon to begin her missionary service. While visiting and eating chicken curry salad filled croissants, fruit and delicious desserts on the back yard deck, I noticed a group of nice looking, young men in Sunday attire visiting in one corner of the deck. I learned that they were all high school friends of the soon to be missionary.

When we got back home Will stayed outside to hang out with his next door neighbor friend. Soon Will came running into tell us that from the neighbor's yard they had seen a boy jump out of a black car and grab our Bernie sign and then drive away with two others in the car. Will thought one of the boys in the car looked like a neighbor up the street who is friends with Joel. Social media savvy Joel proceeded to text his friend to ask if he had taken our sign. He replied: No. Ten minutes later that friend sent Joel these photos: screen shots from a video that had just been posted on SnapChat--what were they thinking posting a photo of the act? I guess they didn't stop to think that whoever lived in the home might have social media connected teenagers with friends. (as part of a Facebook message apology and at the request of the young man, seen in a snap chat photo taking the sign, I have removed his photo).

Caught in the act! Joel's friend told us the name of the 19 year old who had posted the video (we know his parents) and the first name of the 19 year old in the photo. Come to find out they were part of the group of young men at the missionary open house. Driving to and from that gathering they had noticed our sign. It seemed like a harmless prank so we decided to prank back. I posted the two photos (but no names) on Facebook. I thought social media shaming would be appropriate since they had already posted something advertising their shenanigan. (I have been informed by Sarah that her generation sees social media as a not-too-serious place to post fun and crazy things as opposed to my generation that takes its facebooking much more serious. Hmmm, I thought our responses were all in fun.)

Then Sarah had the bright idea to make a replacement sign (as noted in the sign, I did not figure we would ever get the sign back). It was perfect. So I posted a photo of it too. Both posts brought lots of fun comments. They also included shock and dismay that someone would do such a thing. More than a few recommended that I report the boys to the police or parents. In response to the calls for justice I wrote this (an idealized out come, but something I would never seek to enforce):

"Here is my hoped for blending of justice and mercy. If I were able to meet out a punishment for this crime (without getting law enforcement involved) then I would have these immature adults contact Bernie Sander's campaign (so they can learn a little about the electoral process) and get me a replacement sign, plus have each of the boys get a sign for themselves that they need to then convince their parents to post in their front yard (for all their republican neighbors to see) until Bernie drops out or is elected. I would then require them to do community service like volunteering at a homeless shelter or food bank. I would also have them post a photo on their Snapchat (and my Facebook) of them standing by their Bernie signs in their front yards."

Joel then posted a photo of Sarah's sign to the Instagram page of The People for Bernie Sanders. On Monday that group posted the photo to its Facebook page. A day later there were nearly 18,000 likes and 1,300 shares. Comments on the People for Bernie post revealed that we were not the only ones to have a Bernie sign or bumper sticker stolen. What made our story unusual was that the crime was documented by the perpetrators on social media and by the fact that Sarah created an amusing follow up to their stupidity. 

Later that day Joel's friend up the street and his aunt, who is a long time friend and not a Bernie supporter, dropped by with some new signs to show their support for us.

That we thought was the end of the story.

Then last night at 11:00 our door bell rang. Sarah was already asleep after a long day that began with a 6:00 am choir rehearsal. Joel and Will were still awake reading in bed and Marie was later than usual in falling asleep. I looked out the peep hole and saw something on the porch floor. When I opened the door there was our sign.

And then out on our lawn were the freshly spray painted replacement signs that had been taken from our porch where they had been placed to keep out of the rain.

This time was different. The late night timing, the fact that they came up on our porch, plus the door bell dodging, spooked Marie and Will. My initial thought was it was just another prank, but the more I thought about it the more riled up I became. The smell of yet dry spray paint felt like we had been tagged by a gang. I even thought about other people who have had their homes targeted because of differences in race or religion. It is a disconcerting feeling and this for something as minor as political differences in a crazy electoral year.

I decided I needed to do something. I looked up the one name I knew (from the Snap Chat post) on Facebook and sent him this message:

Twice you have trespassed on my property and destroyed my signs. I know your dad. What you are doing is illegal and immature. I'm this close to turning you and _______ in to the police.

Additionally, your actions violate 
my right to free speech and they 
confirm my belief that Trump 
instills within people hatred 
and intolerance (and stupidity).

I then took a screen photo of my warning and after searching this guys Facebook friend list for the known first name I found the first and last name of the other guy and sent him the warning too.

An hour later I got a reply from the first guy.

Here is an edited version of our late night conversation: 
Hi I was just about to message you, I am very sorry about everything that has gone on. I was with them Sunday and felt bad about it afterwards, but couldn't figure out how to contact you and apologize. I agree, it was very stupid and immature and I really am sorry. It's late tonight but I'll contact the Bernie foundation tomorrow and get a new sign sent and return it as soon as it comes. I don't support Trump or Bernie, we just thought it would be a funny joke but I've realized it's much more than that and I am really sorry.
Thanks. It was funny once, but coming up on our porch at night with spray paint for a second round was not cool. It spooked my wife and son.
I am really sorry about that too. I was in the car with them on our way home from Provo and they got the idea to go back up to your porch. I tried convincing them not to but they're just stupid teenagers. (as am I, I admit)....And I do just have to let you know that I am definitely NOT a Trump supporter, I despise the man. We were just doing it as a joke, and took it way too far and I can't express how sorry I am. But I'd hate myself even more if I let you believe I supported Donald Trump
Hah! You're not as stupid as I thought.
If you haven't already, you should go read some of the comments on my Sunday Facebook post. Some were wanting me to call the cops and turn you in right then.
 I promise we're not that bad of kids, we just did something stupid and took it way too far. This whole thing has definitely been a low point for all of us
Yea you've all been wonderful examples for my kids--attend a mission farewell in the morning and then in your white shirts and ties rip off a sign in the afternoon. It was my 11 year old son and his friend who saw you do it.
I really wish I could express how sorry I am about the whole entire thing. It was the first I've ever done anything like that and i regret it more than anything.
Like I said before-- the first time around it was a harmless stupid prank. The second time was just plain wrong.
Boasting about it on snap chat--both times--was not very cool either.

Apology accepted. Funny thing, In the middle of our Facebook chat, I got a Facebook friend request from a high school kid whom I thought might know the Bernie Bandits. I know of him because I know his parents through church callings. I thought it was odd that he was friending me, an old man, but then I thought maybe he wanted to see what I was posting about the great sign caper. So as part of the above conversation I asked by name if this other kid was involved. Come to find out he was with them on Sunday. His older brother (now on a LDS mission) was good friends with these guys and now the younger brother hangs out with them. I think there may be one or two others that I do not know identities for, but I am assuming they now know that political pranks are not cool when they involve other people's personal property.

This morning I re-posted our sign in our buffalo grass prairie. This time with the good side facing streetward and the Trump painted side facing houseward. I'll add a photo when my promised new sign arrives.

All is now as it should be on 1075 North. And the iris are in full bloom.

Addendum: (May 18th, 2016)

We came home from Joel's band concert and low and behold a new sign had appeared.

In a Facebook message apology from both 19 year olds I learned this (from the second guy) about their efforts at restitution (impressive effort):

"We drove all the way to Salt Lake today in search of a new sign to give you, we couldn't find the headquarters as it had been moved out of state but not stated that they moved on. We still drove all the way to downtown Salt Lake. We then thought maybe we could find another Bernie sign in someone's yard and we would offer to buy it from them so we could replace your sign, we then drove all over Orem and Provo in search of a sign, we never found one but we spent a total of 4+ hours today trying to end this insanity. We then went to Sunroc and purchased the materials to make our own sign to give you with our own money, we made the signs and put them in your yard a couple minutes ago, I also ordered you an official sign from the campaign, which made me donate 10 dollars to them. So I spent 30 dollars [10?] on your new sign and 20 on the temporary sign all out of my own pocket, I'm not telling you this to say you need to pay me back I'm telling you this so you understand the lengths we have gone through to make restitution to what we have done."

Apology and restitution accepted. Under the Not Trump sub-sign they signed their names. Nice. All's well that end's well. And maybe some lessons have been learned.

Adenddum 2 (May 20, 2016)

So one of my star students and former TA is currently studying at the BYU Jerusalem Center. She just sent me this Facebook confession:

Carly Christiansen Okay I have a confession- after I went to the Bernie rally in Las Vegas [last November] I remember you asking me after class [political geography] how you could get your hands on a Bernie sign... So when you showed us your address in your PowerPoint about xeriscaping [I show a photo of my buffalo grass as an example of how to solve the water wars of the Colorado River Basin] I ordered one for you online right there in class! It's been so cool to watch the continuing saga of this Bernie sign! I love the updates!!

Chad Emmett TOO FUNNY! So you are the cause of the Bernie Sign Kerfuffle!
Chad Emmett oh! And thanks for the sign.

Carly Christiansen I'm honored to be a part of the Bernie Kerfuffle of 2016!
Carly with the long blonde hair and other BYU students at the Las Vegas Bernie rally as taken by a NY Times photographer. Source:

I have blogged about Carly before. She once wrote me a letter explaining how her study of geography had helped her get to know people while serving her mission. You can read it here:

Also of note is the fact that she was surprised with a new car last January on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in part for her community service and because her only mode of transportation was a bike without brakes.

Addendum 3 (June 4, 2016)

This morning I found a package on the porch with a new Bernie sign enclosed. Thanks guys. Restitution accepted. It looks great in our front yard. And just in time, the paint on your homemade sign has faded in the rain and sun. I hope you get out and vote for the most qualified candidate in November.

To order your own yard sign go here:

Last hurrah of the homemade sign just prior to the first mowing of our buffalo grass meadow.

 Catalpa and allium blossoms.

Addendum 4 (September 11, 2016)

When Bernie finally gave in and threw his backing behind Hilary I took down the sign and stored it in our garage as a memento of this crazy electoral season. Then Sarah went off to BYU. During her second week as a freshman she and her roommate/cousin decided to go to the opening social for the College Democrats. While there they got talking to a boy who also lived in the Helaman Halls dormitory. He noted that in his dorm there were several Trump signs posted in windows. He was hoping to find a Hillary sign to counter them (Sarah thinks the College Republicans have been handing out small Trump signs). Not finding any Hillary signs, Sarah offered the next best liberal thing--our Bernie sign. So now our sign is on loan til election day to the other rare democrat in the dorms.

 Our Bernie Sign top left window.

Other window decor at Helaman Halls. (photos courtesy of Sarah Emmett)

Addendum 5  (April 21, 2017)

When Sarah got word that Bernie was coming to Salt Lake City for a "Come Together, Fight Back" rally she texted me suggesting we go. Go we went, with three of her BYU freshmen friends in tow (all four of whom will be leaving for LDS missions this summer and including Brigham who was the one who borrowed our sign to put up in his dorm room window). It was held at the Rail Event Center on the west side of Salt Lake. We drove up after Sarah's morning final exam where we found a long line stretching for blocks. Eventually we all got in to the cavernous events hall. From 12:30-2:00 we listened to several speakers and then finally Bernie all of whom called upon the gathering of democrats to keep fighting for what's right. Bernie's speech was like a typical stump speech. He did note, since Utah has all republicans in congress, a republican governor and a very republican state legislature, that there is no place to go but up for Utah democrats. It was a fun, inspiring gathering full of Utahans of all stripes. Sarah took our Bernie sign to wave, but no signs were allowed inside so we stashed it behind a bush to pick up when we left because you never know when you may need a Bernie sign again. 


  1. Now THAT is a remorseful human being. Apology AND restitution. Perhaps this little lesson with make them better missionaries in the future.

  2. I read this just to hear about your experience of becoming a precinct captain...little did I know the adventure I would be taken on when I began. Lots of crazy twists and turns and a very cool ending at a Bernie rally with family and friends. I am always so thankful for and learn so much from your perspective!

  3. Wow. Worth the read. I like how you handled everything.

  4. And I hope you are healthy and safe