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LA street artist Sabo mocks 'Rogue One' premiere with a message from the right

Fake movie posters popped up ahead of the Hollywood premiere of new Star Wars movie "Rogue One" this past weekend. They changed the title graphic to read "Rogue Won," and replaced the franchise's characters with President-elect Donald Trump and some of his most controversial supporters.

It was the work of conservative street artist/provocateur Sabo. He said his primary target wasn't the film's fans, but what he sees as Hollywood's liberal elite.

"I think they're a privileged bunch. ... I love striking at them." he told KPCC. "We're always talking about the evil Koch brothers, and their evil money in politics, and how money has to be taken out of politics, but no one ever seems to talk about all the fundraisers that are going on in the Palisades every other weekend."

Conservative street artist Sabo preparing to put up a fake bench ad parodying the movie "Rogue One."
Conservative street artist Sabo preparing to put up a fake bench ad parodying the movie "Rogue One."

Political street art is often associated with liberal causes. Sabo breaks with that tradition. He began his work as a street artist using the common tools of stencils and spray paints, but he's moved into what he refers to as "social jamming."

"I try and focus on making what I do look official, like a real ad," Sabo said. "And I have the use of some nice printers to help me execute in that fashion. And then I try and take over spaces that look legit, like legit ad spaces and such, as opposed to just putting stuff on walls."

It doesn't usually stay up longer than about three days, he said, before it's spotted and removed.

Another recent Sabo project: fake Sotheby's signs that popped up around L.A. advertising liberal celebrities' homes for sale. They followed comments some celebrities that they would leave the country if Trump was elected.

"The funny thing about that is, I did them a couple days before the election," Sabo said.

A fake bench ad created by conservative street artist Sabo.
A fake bench ad created by conservative street artist Sabo.

Sabo, a former developer of mobile apps and websites, said he's always loved politics and art — and wanted a chance to bring a different perspective to the street art world.

Though he's featured the president-elect in several pieces, Sabo didn't always support Trump.

"I wasn't a big fan at first. He probably wasn't even my fourth choice. And as sick as it may sound, there was a time when I would have voted for Bernie before I voted for Trump," Sabo said. "After a while, I was listening to some of his speeches, and I was like, 'Hell yeah, that makes sense. That sounds good.'"

In particular, he said, Trump's stance on immigration resonated with him. 

"I'm a Latino myself, from south Texas, and I can tell you firsthand that Mexicans in Texas don't want illegals sneaking across any more than a white person in Ohio does," he said. 

'Brass-knuckle' art

Sabo delights in creating work that is mean — "brass-knuckle" mean, as Sabo puts it. It reflects an election season that was particularly brutal, and in which politicized art — including naked sculptures and unflattering portraits of candidates — caught the public's attention.

He said he feels the world of art and entertainment skew liberal. He wants to stand up for the other side.

"Of course there have always been conservative people who are artists, and there have been conservative people out there that did conservative art. But it was never really mean. I mean, Norman Rockwell wasn't mean," Sabo said. "My aim is to make sure that people on my side of the political fence are fighting as ruthlessly as Bill Maher, or Jon Stewart, or 'Saturday Night Live.'"

Critics say his work has gone beyond the pale, using bigoted language and violent imagery. Sabo has defended it as an attempt to pierce taboos of "political correctness."

"The tragedy is, I grew up in a time when liberals supposedly fought for the right of artists to be able to say what they wanted to say," Sabo said. "It's like, I know I'm not a racist ... or a misogynist, or a homophobe."

Still, Sabo has penned articles on his website and created art that have used words that are strongly offensive, including racial and homophobic slurs. Sabo has defended the context of their use and says his work is intended to be provocative, challenging critics to read what he's written on the subject.

Sabo with some of his conservative street art, with his face removed.
Sabo with some of his conservative street art, with his face removed.

Sabo's inflammatory statements earned him a visit from the Secret Service. They questioned him about tweets he sent in an encounter Sabo recorded on video. The tweets implored a zombie Lee Harvey Oswald to return during the Obama administration.

"I put out a few tweets out there, a couple of which were very much on the fence," Sabo said. He added that the Oswald tweet was "a joke, and unfortunately, a lot of people are just too uptight to get jokes these days."

As he nears 50 years old, Sabo said he's hoping to deliver a different message to young people than they usually get from popular culture.

"You know, kids out there, they're constantly hearing from the left — like the Democrats are the good guys, Republicans are the bad guys. It doesn't matter if it's their hip-hop star, or a model, or a TV star, or whomever — they get it from Hollywood all the time," Sabo said. "I'm just hoping that I'm one of those voices."