On Monday, July 23, the day of the Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, a red minivan cruised around town with the words “Shoot George Bush at ShootGeorgeBush.com” written in bright green letters across the rear window. One side of the vehicle read, “Crawl back to Crawford, George. It’s all you’ve got left,” while the other simply stated, “George Bush Sucks.”
Steve Pridemore, who owns and operates a local courier company, likes to take advantage of his days spent driving the Lowcountry’s roads by etching political commentary in erasable ink on his vehicle. He’s also the owner of the aforementioned domain name, a site he plans to develop as a Flash game where users can fire off artillery at a cartoon Dubya.
“It’ll basically be a game where you can take pot shots at good ‘ol George and his evil henches,” says Pridemore. “When you hit him, he’d pop up and say ‘I’ve got to tighten up that Patriot Act,’ or ‘I’ll get you, Osama!’ The president wouldn’t be dead. He might get hit a lot, but he’d still be talking, just laying there in pieces.”
Pridemore thought the game would be a way to release “political stress and tension,” and enjoys the thought of “irritating the shit out of Republicans.” A4Flash quoted Pridemore around $2,000 for its creation. He hopes to raise that money through publicity on craigslist, recruiting volunteers with web skills and by offering advertising space to companies selling anti-Bush T-shirts and paraphernalia. “It’s all based around the idea of free speech,” he says.
Unfortunately for Pridemore, he chose to advertise his site one day prior to Bush’s visit to the Air Force base in North Charleston. About midnight on Monday evening, Pridemore answered a knock on the door of his mobile home on Remount Road to two Secret Service agents, flanked by two North Charleston police officers. The agents entered his home and began searching the premises, presumably for signs of any real intention by Pridemore to kill the president.
“I told them that Bush has nothing to fear from me, and neither does anybody else,” says Pridemore. “They commented that the site wasn’t up yet, so I know they’d checked it out. They were more concerned about whether I had any weapons of mass destruction in the motor home.”
Pridemore says the agents were very friendly and professional in their search, and each shook his hand when they departed. “They said a concerned citizen called it to their attention, but I’m guessing it was more like a concerned Republican,” says Pridemore. “I don’t think a Democrat would have complained. The only reaction I got all day was when two black chicks pulled beside me, gave me the thumbs up, and showed me their tits! So hey, I must be hitting home somewhere.”
Charleston School of Law professor of constitutional law John Simpkins explains that displaying “Shoot George Bush” gives the Secret Service probable cause to investigate. “In terms of whether it is protected speech, if it does not constitute an incitement to violence against the president, then it could be protected,” says Simpkins. “This is certainly mischievous, but it’s dangerously close to the line, if not across the line of what would be protected speech. Just the site’s title in and of itself is enough to get it shut down or cause problems for him (Pridemore).”
Once it’s up and running, Pridemore’s site will clearly be a joke, but the lack of explanation at the domain now necessitated an investigation. “There is a probable cause to determine whether or not further investigation is warranted to make sure this isn’t a real threat,” says Simpkins. “In this instance, the Secret Service is just doing their job.”
After looking around his home, the agents apparently decided Pridemore was not a genuine danger to the President. “I don’t wish any harm to the man (Bush). Never have, never will,” says Pridemore. “I don’t care for him or his politics, but I bet it’d be great to have an assortment of (cartoon) jihadist weapons to shoot at him.”
Although he’s not upset by the visit, Pridemore is a bit shaken. “It’s not every day you get the Secret Service knocking on your door at midnight, you know what I’m saying?” he asks. “I don’t think you should have to be intimidated though, just to put something up that’s not illegal on your van.”
The event hasn’t curbed Pridemore’s plans to develop the site, and he hopes to have it up and running soon, if he can raise the money. “I even wrote Vice President Cheney and asked him if he wanted to donate, since he’s such an avid gun toter,” he says. “And I did get a reply, but it was just a form letter thanking me for my interest.”