For the past several years, Staten Island resident Sam Pirozzolo has been putting sculptures on his lawn as a way of paying respect to causes he believes in. His lawn has featured tributes to police officers, Christmas pageantry, and, last year, a monument to the World Series–bound New York Mets. Fellow Staten Island resident Scott LoBaido, a conservative artist who lives nearby, makes most of them, and they usually don’t attract much negative attention, says Pirozzolo. But in the early hours of Sunday morning, Pirozzolo was awoken by his daughter to see that his newest lawn art had been set ablaze. A gigantic T, emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes and meant to symbolize his support of Donald J. Trump, had been set on fire.
“It appeared that it was going out on its own already; it’s not made of flammable stuff,” Pirozzolo told the Voice, in the midst of an election season that has proved to be extremely combustible.
As an outspoken conservative, Pirozzolo has taken his share of criticism from more liberal neighbors; he’s heard people yelling “Trump sucks” at him. But it had never before risen above the level of verbal jabs. “It looked like a big KKK cross burning on my lawn, just telling me to shut up,” he said. “I’m putting up another T because if I didn’t, I’d be cowering into a corner.” (No one has yet claimed responsibility for the conflagration.)
Pirozzolo said the purpose of the giant T wasn’t to be divisive, but to show his enthusiasm for a candidate whose supporters he believes have been the subject of ridicule and persecution: “The sign didn’t say ‘Trump’; it was just a T. T also stands for tolerance, and for truth, and for thinking.”
LoBaido, the artist, has already begun work on a new T that will stand taller than the one that was set on fire.
“The new one will probably be sixteen feet by twelve feet,” LoBaido told the Voice. “It’s important to get a new one up this week, not only to me but to the community. In America, we have the beautiful right to express our choice for candidates. So many people are getting the shit kicked out of them for wearing a Trump hat, for wearing a Trump shirt, for having a sign. So I made the T to represent Trump, but also the right to say who you support.”
Fire marshals told Pirozzolo that they smelled gasoline on the T as they extinguished the blaze, and the NYPD is looking into the possibility of arson. Pirozzolo sincerely believes that the T burning should be treated as a hate crime.
“We’ve created hate crime laws to protect specific individuals. If you’re gay or Jewish or religious or transgender, you have a hate crime law to protect you,” Pirozzolo said. “The average person, who has a fire on his lawn, that’s not a hate crime? We shouldn’t be making laws to protect a specific class of people. We should be protecting every class of people.”
As for LoBaido, this is just another part of being a conservative artist living in a liberal bastion. “I get a lot of abuse for my views, and I embrace it. It’s part of the game. I’m a provocateur, and that’s what art is supposed to do — to provoke emotion.”