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'Scumbag Democrats' sign from Ron's Guns owner sparks criticism from first selectman, controversy among residents

East Lyme — First Selectman Mark Nickerson said he’s received more than a dozen complaints over a sign recently erected in front of the home of town resident and Ron's Guns owner Ron Rando.

The sign reads "Scumbag Democrats Have Stolen the Election! Lying - Cheating - Ballot Padding!" It's in the yard of Rando's Boston Post Road home, which is adjacent to Ron's Guns and other businesses.

Nickerson, a Republican, wrote in a post on his personal Facebook page Tuesday morning, "The good citizens of our town are disgusted and outraged by the hateful message ... AND I AM TOO." He went on to say he contacted the town attorney to ask if anything can be done but said Rando's "free speech rights" "unfortunately will probably win the day." Nickerson included a photo of the sign and two pictures of the Grinch in his post, as he wrote that Rando is "a GRINCH in every meaning of the word. He is obviously damaged and bitter." 

The first selectman removed the post later in the day. In a separate post, Nickerson apologized for offending anyone and said he took down the first post "because I don't want my post to be the reason we turn on one another ... but that is exactly what happened. My (original post) was meant to promote peace and unity and I am removing the message for the same reason."

Nickerson said some of the complaints he received questioned the legality of the sign, but many took issue with the messaging.

“I’m not debating the content. I’m debating the tone,” Nickerson said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We’re all entitled to free speech. We’re entitled to have an opinion. I have mine. I wish that we could voice our opinions, whether on social media or on a sign in our own front yard, with a little bit more kindness and a little less hate.”

Town Zoning Official Bill Mulholland said the sign has been brought to his attention "and it's under review at this time as to whether we constitute it a zoning issue," but declined to comment further. Town Attorney Mark Zamarka didn't respond to requests seeking comment Tuesday.

This is not the first time Rando's signs have drawn criticism. A few years ago, he put up a sign that said "A vote for a Democrat is a vote for socialism, fascism, and communism," which led to some negative attention, including a letter to the editor published in The Day.

While Nickerson said he’s spoken to Rando in the past, he has not reached out to him “on this particular subject” because "he’s proven in the past not to be a reasonable person who would take into consideration the negative effects of such a sign.”

Reached by phone at his gun shop Tuesday, Rando said the sign is his way of exercising his freedom of speech.

“That’s my opinion. That’s the way I feel,” he said. “I’m a taxpayer in East Lyme. I’ve been in business here for 48 years. My taxes are paid every year. If I want to put a sign up about the way I feel, I’m going to do it.”

Rando said the sign, which he “might leave up for the rest of my life,” is in his front yard, on private property, not in front of his business.

Attorney General William Barr said earlier this month that the U.S. Justice Department has uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election. Democratic and Republican election officials in all 50 states have certified the presidential election results, and on Monday the Electoral College gave Joe Biden a majority of its votes, confirming his victory in last month's election. President Donald Trump and his allies have lost 59 of their 60 lawsuits challenging the election.

Asked whether he believes, as the sign wrongly suggests, that there was widespread voter fraud orchestrated by Democrats in the 2020 election, Nickerson said, “I believe Biden is our president.”

“I honor the results of the election,” he said. “I do think there was tampering with votes. I don’t know if that would’ve overturned the election. I don’t know if that could be proven.”

Nickerson's initial Facebook post garnered more than 150 comments as of Tuesday afternoon, including a few asking about zoning regulations regarding signs and whether Rando would have needed a permit.

Many commenters thanked Nickerson for speaking out, calling his initial message well said, and some felt Rando just wanted attention. Some criticized Rando more generally, pointing to controversial signs from the past or comments the business owner has made at town meetings, such as opposing education spending.

Others expressed that Nickerson's post was inappropriate coming from a town leader.

One such person, self-described libertarian-conservative Greg Simones, told The Day he "felt it was one of those things (where) a first selectman probably shouldn't stir things up like that," because "a lot of conservatives feel a bit put-upon by the mob." Simones said people have the right to say what they want to say, and others defended the sign on the principle of free speech, regardless of whether they agreed with its message.

j.bergman@theday.com

e.moser@theday.com

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