A tweet featuring a contentious T-shirt has generated controversy for one Undergraduate Student Government campaign and for the Ohio State chapter of Turning Point USA, a student organization with ties to the campaign.
The photo, posted to Twitter in December, depicts four men standing on a beach in the “O-H-I-O” raised-arms stance. The man on the far right — Matthew Kovar, a first-year in engineering — is wearing a shirt emblazoned with an altered version of the popular T-shirt image of Che Guevara, a drawing of an arm with a stereotypically gay limp wrist, complete with the phrase ‘Socialism Is For F*gs,’ with a drawn fig leaf replacing the third-letter.
Standing next to Kovar is Devin Bilski, a fourth-year in marketing and political science and campaign manager for Reagan and Reese Brooks, brothers running for USG president and vice president, respectively, and both third-years in marketing. Bilski is also the former president of the OSU chapter of TPUSA.
Angry comments started being tweeted at the feed of TPUSA’s OSU chapter Tuesday night after the picture resurfaced, followed an apologetic post by the student organization.
“We apologize to those who found the shirt offensive,” the post stated. “The actual saying on the shirt is ‘Socialism is for Figs,’ but it is challenging to read in the picture. This does not by any means represent Turning Point beliefs, and the tweet has been removed due to the appearance of an inappropriate slur. We offer our sincerest apologies for those offended by the shirt, we truly did not even notice how the shirt appeared when the picture was posted and as soon as it was brought to our attention the picture was removed.”
The shirt is not listed for sale on TPUSA’s national website, but appears to have originated from the right-leaning website Louder with Crowder.
Bilski said the T-shirt went unnoticed when the picture was taken.
“I didn’t even realize that shirt was in the photo until it was posted,” he told The Lantern. “I knew the man was in the photo, but I didn’t recognize the shirt he was wearing.”
Kovar said he wore the shirt as a statement against socialism and nothing more.
“The shirt I was wearing was in reference to the violent socialist Che Guevara’s capture and execution in La Higuera, Bolivia, which means ‘The Fig Tree’ in Spanish,” he said. “It was in no way a slur toward the LGBT community and I apologize if that’s how the shirt came off.”
Speaking as the campaign manager, Bilski said the Brooks brothers’ campaign had no comment.
“The Brooks brothers were not present for any of these incidents,” Bilski said.
The brothers did not respond to a request for comment made to them directly via email.
Jake Vasilj, a third-year in political science and president of the College Democrats, said the incident confirms his organization’s opposition to TPUSA, calling the shirt “designed to be offensive.” The College Democrats’ stance led to the College Democrats declining to invite the brothers’ campaign to a town-hall style forum featuring the other three campaigns, held last week.
“The Brooks brothers have continually tried to position themselves as being moderates, as being socially liberal, and clearly these are values that the fact that their campaign manager seems OK posing for a picture with this shirt doesn’t tell us that’s very inclusive or socially liberal in any way,” Vasil told The Lantern. “So, we condemn that wholeheartedly.”