Let's Go Brandon license plate survives challenge

Let's Go Brandon license plate survives challenge
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Last October, 44-year-old Alabama gun shop owner Nathan Kirk went to the DMV to attend to one of the most typical, boring tasks that most Americans have to deal with on a regular basis. He was completing the registration of his Ford F-250 pickup truck. But he was taking care of that little detail just as the whole “Let’s Go Brandon” meme was blowing up online. He decided to have a bit of fun and coughed up the extra money for a vanity plate for the truck. The license plate number he requested was “LGBF JB.” The plate arrived near the end of January and he put it on the truck, then didn’t think much more about it.

That changed when he received a letter in the mail a few weeks later from the Alabama Motor Vehicle Division. The letter informed him that his license plate was “an affront to the peace and dignity of the State of Alabama.” He was further informed that he had ten days to go to the DMV and surrender the license plate. Failing to do so could result in fines and marks against his driving record. Kirk declared that he wasn’t going to take the decision laying down took his case to the media and to conservative legislators in his state. At that point, the story blew up and this week the saga came to a happy resolution. (Washington Post)

As the story exploded online, Kirk said, thousands of social media commenters voiced support for him. More than 46,000 people either liked or loved a Facebook post about a Newsmax story in which Kirk said that if the state wanted his license plate, it would have to “come and take it.” David Clarke, the former Wisconsin sheriff turned conservative activist, wrote in a Facebook post that he supported Kirk and that it was time for Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) to “step up” and do the same.

On Saturday, Kirk received a second letter from the state. This time, it was good news.

“The Alabama Department of Revenue, Motor Vehicle Division, has determined the above referenced license plate will not be recalled,” officials wrote. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Miles, the Alabama Department of Revenue spokesman, declined to comment about the license plate affair when contacted by The Post.

If Mr. Kirk hadn’t stood up for himself and taken his case to the public, the odds are that he would have been “canceled” by someone at the Motor Vehicle Division and suffered what he described as an assault on his freedom of speech. But in reality, it doesn’t sound like the DMV ever had a very strong case to begin with and their attempt at denying him the vanity plate he requested (after already approving and issuing it) was mostly capricious in nature.

It’s already been well-established that vanity plates can be restricted or denied if they express foul language or promote illegal activities. But the tag numbers need to be explicit enough to pass the “reasonable observer” test to the point where most people would recognize the message and potentially be offended by it. Kirk’s plate was actually not just an acronym, but an acronym of two distinct – though short – sentences. If you had shown me that plate absent the context of this story, I seriously doubt I would have made the connection, particularly given where the space was placed between the letters. In fact, had I randomly seen it, I would have likely assumed that the “LBG” at the beginning some sort of LGBTQ message I just wasn’t familiar with. Also, it’s clearly in reference to a meme that made the rounds but is already dying down in volume.

For their part, the Motor Vehicle Division told reporters that they had concerns over what the “F” on the plate stood for, clearly making the obvious assumption for people familiar with the meme. But Kirk insisted that he is a father of young children and would never say the F-word around them. (Or even in front of his dogs.) He told them that it stood for “Forget Joe Biden.”

That’s a pretty solid argument if you ask me. If someone sees that tag and the F-word is summoned up in their mind, that’s coming from their own head, not Kirk’s license plate. I could come up with several alternate spellings that would potentially be suggestive enough to merit recalling the plate, but we might exceed our PG-13 guidelines if I did. As for Kirk’s plate, that’s really little more than an almost random-looking collection of letters.

In the end, Kirk managed to prevail, but I would hazard a guess that he wouldn’t have done so if the media and his elected officials hadn’t caught wind of the story and intervened. Even if most of them disapproved of the vanity plate, it likely just wasn’t a hill worth dying on for them.

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