ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – A photo showing a rodeo clown dressed as President Barack Obama at the Missouri State Fair caused a stir on social media Sunday.
The photo was first posted on the liberal blog Show Me Progress. The blog post tells the tale of a Missouri resident, Perry Beam, who attended the fair in Sedalia with his wife Lily and a Taiwanese student Saturday night.
“Just prior to the start of the bull riding event, one of the clowns came out dressed in this,” the posts says, referring to the photo. “The announcer wanted to know if anyone would like to see Obama run down by a bull. The crowd went wild. He asked it again and again, louder each time, whipping the audience into a lather. One of the clowns ran up and started bobbling the lips on the mask and the people went crazy.”
According to the post, a bull then charged the clown, forcing him to run away “to the delight of the onlookers hooting and hollering from the stands.”
“We then left quickly and quietly. Lily’s student is an inquisitive boy and asks a lot of questions about what he sees, and though he had never been to a rodeo he asked nothing about it, nor anything about America this time,” the blogger wrote. “We rode the sixty miles home in silence. In a way I’m glad. I had no answers for him.”
The announcer in question has been identified as Mark Ficken, president of the Missouri Cowboy Rodeo Association and Boonville School Superintendent. Ficken was elected president of the MCRA earlier in the day Saturday. Monday, in an interview with Missourinet, Ficken said a rodeo clown wearing a wireless microphone was the one heard making the disparaging remarks.
“At no point…was I involved in any way shape or form with the audio that dealt with the President of the United States,” he said.
Beam’s story was also posted on Daily Kos and shared on social media sites Facebook and Twitter Sunday morning. Much of the outrage centered on the fact that the Missouri State Fair is publicly-funded and billed as a family-friendly event.
“I felt like I was at a Klan rally,” Beam told the website Raw Story. “This isn’t a Republican state fair. I want to write the governor and the fair board, because I want my money back. This was shameful.”
In an email early Sunday night, Missouri State Fair spokeswoman Kari Mergen told KMOX News “the performance by one of the rodeo clowns at Saturday’s event was inappropriate and disrespectful, and does not reflect the opinions or standards of the Missouri State Fair. We strive to be a family friendly event and regret that Saturday’s rodeo badly missed that mark.”
The Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association also released a statement Sunday, offering a “sincere apology” for its president’s actions, which it called “inappropriate.”
The MRCA Board of Directors and over 600 members do not condone nor approve of this sort of activity. The MRCA Board of Directors is dealing with the situation firmly and quickly as this type of behavior will not be tolerated. The Sport of Rodeo is not meant to be a political platform. We are taking measures by training and educating our contract acts to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. All Members of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association are very proud of our Country and our President. Once again our apologies to the Missouri State Fair and the fans who were in attendance and we hope to see you at another rodeo soon.
As for the rodeo clown who donned the Obama mask Saturday night, he was identified on social media as Tuffy Gessling. Late Sunday, he posted an apology on his Facebook page.
Scott Holste, a spokesman for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, said the governor “agrees that the performance was disrespectful and offensive, and does not reflect the values of Missourians or the State Fair.”
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, released a statement Sunday, calling the event “shameful” and “unacceptable.”
“The young Missourians who witnessed this stunt learned exactly the wrong lesson about political discourse – that somehow it’s ever acceptable to, in a public event, disrespect, taunt, and joke about harming the President of our great nation,” McCaskill said. “Missouri is better than this and I expect someone to be held accountable.”
Among those who took to Twitter to condemn the rodeo act was St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones, writing that “racism rears its ugly head at MO State Fair” and “the fair needs to do a better job welcoming ALL Missourians to the fair each year.” Jones also issued support for a plan to defund the publicly-funded fair.
“Since November 2008, racism has been masked under the guise of ‘anti-Obama sentiment,'” Jones added.
Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, tweeted late Sunday afternoon that the Missouri State Fair “celebrates Missouri and our people. I condemn the actions disrespectful to POTUS the other night. We are better than this.”
Missouri Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, wrote on Twitter Sunday that he would no longer attend Missouri State Fair events and Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, called the event “racist and degrading.”
Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, tweeted “I don’t agree w/ this Prez on many things. But he is deserving of respect and shouldn’t be the object of political stunts. Out of line!”
The Jackson County, Mo. Democratic Party issued a statement early Sunday night, calling the spectacle “a show as ugly [as] any you could see.”
“Disrespecting the President is one thing; whipping a crowd into a frenzy is another,” the statement said. “Encouraging physical harm to the President, whatever the party, is not acceptable and should not be tolerated.”
State Rep. Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, added, “I am angered and disgusted by the blatant racism that was displayed at the Missouri State Fair. It is appalling that the Fair organizers would allow such a distasteful display. This is an embarrassment to the People of Missouri.”
The Missouri State Fair is governed by the Missouri State Fair Commission and its members are appointed by the governor. No more than four members of the nine-person commission may be members of the same political party. Currently there are four Republicans and three Democrats on the Missouri State Fair Commission.
Meanwhile, Perry Beam, whose photo sparked the outcry Sunday, later released videos of the incident.
In the second video, an announcer can be heard saying, “We’re gonna smoke Obama, man. Are you ready? Obama, they’re coming for you this time…don’t you move, he’s gonna get ya.”