"You should take pictures of THAT!" my son exclaimed as we walked out of the Walmart store at the Apple Glen Shopping Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana on the evening of May 2, 2016. By the time he said it, I was already thinking of how I would compose the pictures!
The object of our attention was a minivan sitting in one of the handicapped parking spaces near one of the store's entrances. It was COMPLETELY covered in political signs and stickers, snow globes, angel figurines, and Christmas decorations. An American flag and a Gadsden flag (the "Don't Tread On Me" rattlesnake flag that was adopted by the Tea Party movement) flew from the top of the van.
The van belongs to Lynda Farley, a 65 year old woman from Kentucky who was visiting Fort Wayne. She described herself as a "Militant Capitalist Smoker" and the leader of the "American Smokers Party."
The van, which Lynda called the Liberty Van, is covered in signs advocating for a wide range of rightwing political ideas. Everything from standard conservative ideas (opposition to abortion, support for gun rights, and dislike of President Obama) all the way to some of the most ridiculous conspiracy theories (The UN is trying to enslave us, government is using the pharmaceutical industry to poison us, public schools turn kids into Communists).
Lynda Farley's main concern, however, is smoking. She likes to smoke, and she is not happy about all of the laws that have been put into effect in recent years to restrict smoking in public places. She told me that Indiana, one of the most conservative states in the country, became "Communist" when it passed a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants!
Lynda truly believes that smoking cigarettes is a completely harmless pastime that does NOT cause cancer or any other health problems. She asserted that the government, working with the drug industry, has spread lies about tobacco in order to increase sales of smoking cessation aids, like nicotine gum and nicotine patches.
She handed me a flyer with a photo of a woman lighting a cigarette off a candle on her 100th birthday cake. The caption said; "She lived 102 years. Tragic example of premature smoking caused death."
As I was talking to Lynda and photographing her and her van, a number of people stopped and snapped photos with their phones. One man walked up to us and asked, with a chuckle, "Is Alex Jones in there?" Jones is probably the most famous pusher of rightwing conspiracy theories in the United States, best known for his Infowars and Prison Planet websites.
Interestingly, Lynda has a degree in computer science and is retired from IBM, where she was a programmer for many years! One of the reasons she retired was that the company decided to ban smoking on company property.