From pickaxes to dog poop, Trump's Hollywood star becomes ground zero in grassroots war over presidency

A barricade surrounds the vandalised Hollywood star of US President Donald Trump, on Aug 8.
A barricade surrounds the vandalised Hollywood star of US President Donald Trump, on Aug 8.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (WASHINGTON POST) - On the Hollywood Walk of Fame one summer night, a man with a neck tattoo knelt over United States President Donald Trump's star, armed with a black Sharpie marker.

The piece of plywood concealing the newly repaired star was already a sorry sight, defiled by spat-out gum, littered potato chips and scrawled words: "MAGA" (Make America Great Again), "SAD" and "Q-Anon" (a pro-Trump conspiracy theory).

The young man had come to add his own message.

"What's he writing?" somebody in the bevy of onlookers murmured as Mr Juan Larrazabal began tracing out letters.

The message slowly came into focus: "Latinos 4 Trump!"

Over scattered groans, the lanky, 26-year-old Los Angeles native sprang to his feet and began to argue with onlookers.

"Just letting you know, Trump's out to help. I swear to God," he shouted over objections. "I love Trump, and so do all my Mexican family members!"

A passer-by responded with an expletive about Mr Trump.

Since Mr Trump announced his campaign for the Oval Office in 2015, his Walk of Fame star has been a constant source of conflict and spectacle.

The pink pentagram has been destroyed twice, obliterated by a pickaxe two weeks before the 2016 election and again this past July. It has been a regular target of lesser vandalism: stomping, spitting and dog-pooping. It has been scrawled with pejoratives and spray-painted with swastikas.

On Sept 20, a few weeks after the shattered star was replaced, a street artist covered it with bars resembling a jail cell.

This has become ground zero for the West Coast's grassroots war over the Trump presidency, a sidewalk attraction for pro- and anti-Trumpers alike.

The war intensified when the West Hollywood City Council voted in August to request that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce permanently remove the shrine to the reality star turned leader of the free world.

Instead, the Hollywood Chamber - which has jurisdiction over the Walk of Fame - reinstalled it once again at a cost of US$2,500 (S$3,400).

"The stars, once installed, are considered part of the historic fabric of the Walk," chamber president and chief executive Leron Gubler said in a statement announcing the replacement, funded by the Walk's charitable foundation, the Hollywood Historic Trust.

"When people are angry with one of our honorees, we would hope that they would project their anger in more positive ways than to vandalise a California State landmark," he said.

"Our democracy is based on respect for the law. People can make a real difference by voting and not destroying public property."

 
 
 

Located near Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue - not far from Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Wax Museum - the emblem has been a draw for artists, parodists and other creative types.

Installed in 2007, Mr Trump's star has been guarded by fake Russian soldiers, crowned by a golden toilet and enclosed by a mini-wall lined with mock barbed wire.

Mr Saul Gomez, a 52-year-old balloon twister who sports a rainbow wig and sells his wares on the Walk, says he once saw a deranged woman hammering it with a golf club.

"She was crazy," Mr Gomez said. "Man, she was banging on the thing for, like, 10 minutes."

The day after it was smashed by a pickaxe in July, the star became the site of a bloody brawl between pro- and anti-Trump clans.

Two weeks later, a right-wing street artist known as "The Faction" responded with an act of counter-vandalism: He covered the Walk of Fame in dozens of fake Trump stars.

The Hollywood Chamber has found itself at the epicentre of the firestorm.

Spokeswoman Ana Martinez said she has been getting nasty notes from Trump opponents and supporters, some confusing the chamber with the city council after its call for the star's removal.

"We've had a couple of threats, too," Ms Martinez said. "It's giving me gray hairs."

Stars for other celebrities also have been subjected to protest-related vandalism and notes of adoration from fans. All of the 2,500-plus coral, terrazzo and brass markers are under video surveillance, Ms Martinez said.

But never has one been so frequently and intensely targeted as Mr Trump's.

Some detractors question whether Mr Trump should have gotten a star in the first place.

To be eligible, a person must have been a celebrity in the film, television, music, radio or theatre industry for at least five years.

"Reality stars are not supposed to have (eligibility)," said Ms Mieke ter Poorten, attorney for James Lambert Otis, who took a pickaxe to Mr Trump's star in 2016. "That is one of the things that enraged me. He is not in any category that would allow him to be on the Hollywood Walk of Fame."

Scepticism about Mr Trump's eligibility heightened in 2013, when Kanye West said on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show that his wife, Kim Kardashian West, deserved a star.

Ms Martinez, the Walk of Fame spokeswoman, responded that the chamber does not award stars to reality television personalities.

She publicly stated that Mr Trump earned a place on the Walk for producing the pageant shows Miss Universe and Miss USA.

But during the 2007 ceremony, remarks by Mr Trump and the emcee largely focused on reality show The Apprentice, which Mr Trump hosted and launched to fame with the catchphrase "You're fired".

"We've taken this beauty pageant - it's become sort of a hot thing," Mr Trump said during the ceremony. "But this is The Apprentice, and this is The Apprentice's day."

To receive a star, a celebrity must be nominated by a third party, such as a fan, friend or relative. The selection committee weighs the nomination based on the celebrity's career accomplishments and charity work. About 10 per cent of the roughly 300 yearly applicants are approved.

If approved, the celebrity or the sponsor must pay US$40,000 to the Hollywood Historic Trust and Hollywood Chamber for the cost of the ceremony and the star's creation, installation and maintenance.

Ms Martinez said Mr Trump was nominated by an older man from New York who called himself a fan of the real estate developer. The man also paid the fee for the star, US$15,000 at that time.

Ms Martinez said that she could not remember the fan's name and that the paperwork has been misplaced.

The first person to destroy Mr Trump's star was Otis, a 54-year-old Los Angeles resident who defaced it in October 2016, soon after The Post released an Access Hollywood recording of Mr Trump making lewd comments about women. Otis tried to organise a news conference with five women who said they had been sexually assaulted by Mr Trump, but it never took place.

A descendant of the founder of Otis Elevator, he made headlines in 2009 for auctioning off some of Mahatma Gandhi's possessions, such as the Indian peace activist's steel-framed spectacles and a pair of sandals.

He told the New York Times he planned to donate the US$1 million in proceeds to pacifist causes.

Otis received three years' probation for his crime against Mr Trump's star, paid US$4,400 to fix the damage and put in 20 days of community service. He was later spotted by TMZ wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt while picking up rubbish along the Los Angeles freeways.

Otis' sentence also required him to see his psychiatrist and continue to follow the doctor's recommendations, said Ms ter Poorten, his attorney.