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Obama-mask clown gets lifetime Missouri fair ban. Just, or too harsh?

An Obama-mask clown at the Missouri State Fair was banned for life, after photos and video asking a crowd if they wanted to see Obama 'run down by a bull' went viral. The crowd cheered. Fair officials dubbed the stunt  'unconscionable.'

By Staff writer / August 13, 2013

This photo provided by Jameson Hsieh shows a clown at the Missouri State Fair wearing a mask intended to look like President Obama. Video went viral of the crowd cheering an announcement that the Obama clown might be 'run down by a bull,' and fair officials banned the clown for life.

Jameson Hsieh/AP

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WASHINGTON

Missouri State Fair officials have banned for life the rodeo clown who wore a President Obama mask while facing bulls at the event over the weekend.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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The clown in question engaged in an “unconscionable stunt” and will never perform at the Show Me state venue again, the Missouri State Fair Commission said Monday, in a statement. Fair officials are also reviewing their contract with the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, the contractor responsible for hiring and overseeing bull ring clowns.

The performance was “inappropriate and not in keeping with the Fair’s standards," said the statement.

The fair did not reveal the clown’s identity.

During a bull riding contest on Sunday, the clown appeared wearing a rubber mask of the president with an upside down broomstick trailing from his backside, as if it were a tail. The audience was asked, over a public address system, if it wanted to see Mr. Obama “run down by a bull.” Many people present clapped and cheered, according to one witness, Perry Beam.

“It was feeling like some kind of Klan rally,” said Mr. Beam.

Others defended the act as within the mainstream of rodeo ring entertainment. The clown was meant to be imitating a dummy, another witness, Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association member David Berry, told the Associated Press. Bull ring clowns often dress as sitting presidents, Mr. Berry said.

“The joke is not that it was the president. They drag out this person dressed like a dummy and all of a sudden this dummy just takes off running. That’s what’s funny,” Berry told AP.

Whatever the intent, the nationwide reaction was harsh. Photos and video of the event went viral, and social media exploded with condemnation.

The public address announcer at the rodeo, Mark Ficken, is trying to distance himself from the fracas. Mr. Ficken, president of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association and superintendent of the Boonville School District, said the clown was wearing a wireless mike and made most of the comments heard by the audience. Ficken said through an attorney that he was “as surprised as anyone” at the appearance of an Obama mask.

The speed with which fair officials responded to the uproar may be indicative of both the seriousness with which they took the stunt and the fact that Missouri is not exactly a deep-red anti-Obama state.

Instead, Missouri is a conservative rural center sandwiched between two urban areas, St. Louis and Kansas City, which contain lots of Democratic voters.

Mitt Romney did beat Obama there in 2012 by almost 10 points, 53.8 percent to 44.4 percent. But Obama essentially tied John McCain in Missouri in 2008. Gov. Jay Nixon is a Democrat, as is Attorney General Chris Koster, Secretary of State Jason Kander, and one of the state’s two US senators, Claire McCaskill.

If it’s not purple, Missouri is at least a purple-tinged state, and fair officials are surely cognizant of that, given that they receive more than $400,000 in state money to help fund their event.

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