ITHACA, N.Y. — A small Ithaca paper shop has unwittingly gone viral after a photo of its anti-Trump satirical greeting card display was shared in a pro-Trump Facebook group along with a call to bombard the store with calls and mail. Beyond just calls and negative reviews online, the store has received death threats and the owner has faced personal harassment.
The cards in question feature negative comments about President Trump in large print with smaller greeting messages below. For example, “TRUMP IS AN ASSHOLE. Congrats on the new baby,” or, “TRUMP IS A DOUCHE BAG. Happy anniversary.”
Produced by the Pittsburgh company Sapling Press and sold in stores across the country, the cards have been on Mockingbird’s shelves since the 2016 election, Mockingbird Paperie owner Suzanne Loesch said Wednesday. They’ve consistently been among the store’s best-selling items for nearly three years, and have never been the object of complaints before.
Following a Facebook post this week from the group “REAL Did NOT Stop President Trump,” however, Loesch has faced a deluge of vitriol and threats — including people calling her a pedophile and threatening to burn down the store.
The post, by an anonymous person, featured a picture of the card rack and read, “A local store from my hometown in Ithaca, New York on the Commons. Please feel free to CONTACT them with calls and mail. Let them know how you feel.” It included the store’s phone number, Facebook page and mailing address and ended with, “HAVE AT IT!!!”
It was amended Wednesday, as news of the threats circulated. After “HAVE AT IT!!!” the anonymous poster added, “NO THREATS PLEASE.. JUST LET THEM KNOW HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THEIR DISPLAY!”
With a page following of almost 30,000 people, the post quickly spread. By Wednesday, Mockingbird’s Facebook page was temporarily shut down and its Yelp page was blocked by the company due to “unusual activity,” as comments related to politics rather than paper products flooded in.
Loesch’s husband, Tim Horner, stepped in at the store to help field almost 100 calls since the post. Most, he said, were hang-ups or people quickly yelling things like, “Trump 2020” or “you people are ‘expletive’” while remaining anonymous. Some were more explicitly threatening, though, like several in which callers said they are going to burn down the store.
Loesch said she was terrified and baffled by the situation. “I just can’t believe people would say things like that — they’ve never even been in my store,” she said.
After many misogynistic comments were posted online, Loesch said she felt more comfortable having a man answer the phone rather than leaving her all-women staff to deal with the threats. While she and Horner both recognized that most of the commenters lived far away and had never set foot on the Ithaca Commons, they couldn’t dismiss the fear that the fervor would inspire someone locally to carry out violence.
“I was terrified, to be honest,” Loesch said. “We’re all women and some of the threats really scared me. My daughter completely freaked out … my mother called me and was pretty hysterical.”
While controversy raged online, it wasn’t evident on the ground. By midday Wednesday the store had nearly sold out of the cards. “I listen to my customers, that’s how I stay in business,” Loesch said. “I listen to my community, and this is a best-selling card.”
Around 11 a.m. Wednesday, the only people in the store were the usual local shoppers and people who showed up specifically to demonstrate their support.
Loesch had removed the Trump cards from their normal display, but when local resident Jillian Merulla came into the shop Wednesday morning, she made a beeline to the table where the cards were sitting in a pile. “I came in to buy all of those,” Merulla said before purchasing three of each.
The people making threats and complaining about the cards, Merulla said, are only doing so with the protection of anonymity, from behind their phones and computers. “I’m here in person … keep them up, don’t take them down.”
Loesch has reached out to the Ithaca Police Department to notify them of the threats and said she’s still nervous. Citing the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which escalated from false online posts to a shooting in Washington, D.C., Horner said he couldn’t shake the fear that some person would lash out at Loesch or other employees.
At the same time, Loesch is thinking of positive ways to respond, including restocking the cards and donating the proceeds from future sales to a non-profit working to counteract the Trump Administration’s agenda.
The cards, Loesch said, “go back to our First Amendment Right and freedom of speech. I love this country because that’s what we’re about, we can do that.”
Featured image: Mockingbird Paperie on the Ithaca Commons. (Devon Magliozzi/Ithaca Voice)