HUNTSVILLE -- A float in the Huntsville Independence Day parade that depicted President Barack Obama was entertainment, says the man who created the entry.
Or, he adds, it might be looked at as political satire. What it wasn't meant to be, he says, was threatening or offensive.
Most parade spectators said the limo flanked by pint-sized black-suited Secret Service guards was funny, said Dave Clawson, a Huntsville native and Brigham City resident. For those "who chose to be offended," well, too bad.
"If you can't have fun with President Obama, that's intellectually dishonest," he said Friday. "You can't make fun of Obama without being 'racist', but you can put Bush's head on a pike or trash Ronald Reagan."
The parade entry featured a presidential-looking limo, with one banner that read: "Huntsville welcomes Obama: The Farewell Tour?" Another banner took issue with the recent Fast and Furious gun scandal, proclaiming, "Ask about our assault gun plan. Call Eric Holder."
The banner's wording was reported incorrectly in Friday's story about the float, based on information provided by several people who had been at the parade.
An individual wearing a suit and Obama mask accompanied the limo, dancing and glad-handing parade spectators.
Some callers to the Standard-Examiner described the mask as racist. But Clawson defended the use of the Obama mask, asking, "If you were going to a Halloween party and dressed as President Obama, what would you do? Trying to say that the mere act of putting on a mask is racist is wrong, absolutely wrong."
Huntsville Mayor Jim Truett said he was dismayed the media attention gathered around one aspect of an otherwise successful Independence Day celebration.
The small town's annual festivities have grown increasingly popular, with between 7,000 and 8,000 people attending the event this year, he said.
It's unfair, he said, for the town to receive "a black eye" because of one entry "in an hourlong parade -- you can imagine how many floats it had," he said.
"We just feel bad," Truett said in a conference phone call along with council members Mark Ferre and Laurie Allen.
"We promote patriotism in our town more than any other town in our nation. The thing is, it's just really sad it's ruining everything we're trying to promote in our town about patriotism."
As for the political edge to Clawson's float, Truett said, "Was it in bad taste? Probably. Obviously his political views do not represent the town council or town."
That hasn't stopped people who heard about the float from calling Truett and leaving threatening and derogatory messages.
"We don't want people thinking we're just a bunch of racists," Truett said. "You absolutely could spend one hour in our park, and you'd know the difference."
The Standard-Examiner was contacted by several people upset by what they saw as a political message gone too far and possibly threatening to the president.
But Lacy Richards, of West Haven, said she saw the parade entry as political satire. It made her laugh, said the Huntsville native.
"My immediate impression was that it was related to the election, and the reason it said, 'Farewell to Obama tour?' with a question mark was because it was referring to the election and the possibility he won't be elected for a second term."
She also saw different layers, such as how the idea of a sitting president making a tour of Huntsville was funny. "We can poke fun at ourselves, at being small and off the beaten path."
Richards said what distressed her about earlier reporting were statements that the entry was threatening in any way toward the president.
"No one I talked to saw it that way," she said.
Indeed, she said, the people standing on the curbside with her were laughing.
"I didn't see anyone offended," she said. "A lot of people were laughing, saying this was the funniest float they'd seen at the parade at years."
If people were upset, she said, it may have to do with high emotions during an election year. "I'm sure it comes from where you are personally with your feelings toward it."
Richards said the Clawson family is known for its Fourth of July floats that poke fun at celebrities and scandals in the news of the day. "This is this year's version of what's in the news."
Clawson agreed, saying his large family -- he drove the limo and family members made up the parade entry's Secret Service crew -- has taken shots at such political and Hollywood names as Hillary Clinton, Michael Jackson and Tom Green, the Utah fundamentalist polygamist who made news in the 1980s.
"We never push it to the edge," he said of his history of commentary-edged floats. "We never take it to the extreme."
In fact, his mother had purchased squirt guns for the Secret Service agents to carry, and he backed away from the use of any guns, he said. "I take every precaution, and I choreographed it carefully so it wasn't offensive."
He said he has stayed away from commenting about Obama for the first three years of his presidency, "and the one time we do, we're called racist and hatemongers and seeking to assassinate him."
Clawson said the crowd was largely supportive, with a few boos sounding now and again. At one point, he said, a man ran into the street and "began yelling in my kids' faces that they were un-American and what they were doing was wrong."
Clawson said he responded by grabbing a microphone and asking the crowd to shout if they agreed with the dissenter.
"It was completely silent. Then I said, 'If you think this represents what's good about America, scream out now,' and the entire crowd screamed out loudly," he said. "Everybody was all for it."
Huntsville has always had an open-door policy with its parade, Truett said. Parade organizers try to accommodate all comers, and Clawson slipped in at the end without registering, Truett said.
After spectators expressed some concerns about the entry at the parade's beginning, a parade organizer asked a nearby Weber County sheriff's deputy to take a look at the float.
"He made the judgment -- freedom of speech, it wasn't threatening and was good to go," Truett said.
Clawson took a break from multiple media interviews in Huntsville City Park on Friday to decry the Standard-Examiner's role in the controversy. "I see it as a coordinated smear effort," he said.
The newspaper "colluded and conspired to shame the town of Huntsville," he said. "They're trying to ruin the good name of the good people of Huntsville."
But resident Steve Johnson sees the whole incident as a few people choosing to be offended. People who complained "saw what they wanted to see," said the former Huntsville council member.
"I feel bad that a few noisy people got so much attention when masses of good people don't even get talked about," he said.
The Weber County Sheriff's Office became aware that some people were concerned about the float, so on Thursday, the department contacted the U.S. Secret Service about it, said Lt. Mark Lowther.
The deputy approved of the float, with respect that he did not think it rose to the level of a threat or a crime, and the department stands by him on that, Lowther said.
But in light of residents' concerns, he said, the sheriff's office wanted to give the Secret Service a courtesy call to let them know about the float.