A congressional candidate in Tennessee who is facing backlash over a racist campaign billboard previously lived in Pensacola, where he was a Tea Party activist and candidate for office.
Rick Tyler is currently running as an independent candidate for Congress in the Chattanooga area. Before he made his way to Tennessee, though, he lived for years in Pensacola, Fla., where he launched a wildly unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2010. Tyler finished in sixth place, netting 0.14% of the statewide vote.
Tyler, whose campaign website includes Confederate battle flags and other racist imagery, received national attention this week after erecting a billboard on Highway 411 in Polk County, Tenn. which read “Make America White Again” — a play on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. As news of the billboard spread via social media Wednesday, the New York Daily News, Gawker, and even Snopes.com picked up the story.
In interviews with local newsmedia, Tyler said he didn’t have anything against “people of color,” as he called them, but that he wanted to make people think about how the “Leave It to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, Mayberry America” that he grew up in was a “better America.”
“It was an America where there was far less violent crime,” Tyler said, “an America where you left your doors unlocked, you didn’t have carjackings, you didn’t have home invasions, you didn’t have Muslim sleeper cells lurking possibly out there.”
After dismantling the billboard Wednesday, Tyler erected a second sign on another Tennessee highway which included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote, “I Have a Dream,” accompanied by an illustration of the White House flying Confederate battle flags.
Tyler, a self-described pastor and 9-11 truther, announced his longshot campaign across from Pensacola’s federal courthouse on April 15, 2010 in a bizarre, sparsely-attended press conference that somehow escaped the attention of local media. Angry, Tyler denounced the “iron curtain of censorship” and called for a boycott of the Pensacola News Journal.
Calling the federal government a “tyrannical force of occupation” and “an Orwellian police state,” Tyler touched on a wide range of topics, including federal courthouses (which he believes are unconstitutional) to Revolutionary War history to God. Somewhere around the twenty-minute mark, Tyler acknowledged his long-windedness before rambling on for another half hour or so about the United Nations, the Federal Reserve, and all sorts of other crazy stuff.
During his time in Pensacola, Tyler also became active in the local Tea Party movement. Speaking with News Journal reporter Troy Moon at a 2010 Tea Party rally held near University Mall, Tyler previewed the racist rhetoric which earned him national attention this week. “I’ve never called myself a white supremacist,” Tyler said, responding to a question from Moon. “Now I am ethnocentric, as most people are … I’ve got no problem acknowledging that.”
It’s unclear when exactly Tyler left the Pensacola area, but it’s pretty clear he checked out of reality a long time ago.