Painting-Gate: GOP Congressman Removes Controversial Capitol Art In Act Of Censorship

Rep. Duncan Hunter enforced his very own safe space.

WASHINGTON ― After recent controversy over a painting hanging in a Capitol tunnel that depicts cops as pigs, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) removed the art Friday without permission and returned it to the Democratic colleague who had selected the painting as the winning entry in a district-wide contest for high school students.

Hunter apparently unscrewed the painting from the wires it hung on as a group of GOP congressmen looked on, brought the painting to the office of the congressman who had selected the painting ― Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) ― and then bragged to Fox News about his act of censorship.

The location where the painting previously hung.
The location where the painting previously hung.
Matt Fuller

“I was angry,” Hunter told Fox. “I’ve seen the press on this for about a week or so. … I’m in the Marine Corps. If you want it done, just call us.”

Hunter had no authority to remove the painting. But he said if Clay has the painting put up again, “I’m allowed to take it down.”

The painting, which had been hanging there since June, caught the attention of some Republican congressmen after an Independent Journal Review article noted that the artwork depicts cops as pigs holding someone up at gunpoint and protesters stand in the background holding signs that read “Racism kills” and “History.” There is also an African-American who is being crucified while holding the scales of justice in the picture.

A controversial painting by Missouri student David Pulphus depicting police as animals hung in the tunnel connecting the U.S. Capitol to the Cannon House Office Building.
A controversial painting by Missouri student David Pulphus depicting police as animals hung in the tunnel connecting the U.S. Capitol to the Cannon House Office Building.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

In June, Clay described the artwork to the St. Louis American as “the most creative expression that I’ve witnessed over the last 16 years.”

Every year, members of Congress select a painting from a high school student to hang in the tunnel between the Capitol and the Cannon House Office Building. In Clay’s case, he selected then-high school senior David Pulphus’ untitled work to hang beside the other winners of the Congressional Art Competition.

Pulphus was a student at Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School in St. Louis ― about 10 miles from Ferguson ― and his work seems to have been heavily influenced by the protests in Ferguson following the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown.

The painting hung in the Capitol for six months before the IJR story sparked controversy, with law enforcement groups calling for its removal from the Capitol. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was asked about it during his weekly press conference on Thursday, though he declined to comment until he had seen the painting, and it was a topic of conversation among House Republicans during a conference-wide meeting on Friday morning.

After that meeting, on his way back to his office, Hunter removed the painting.

A request for comment from the U.S. Capitol Police was not returned, nor were requests from Hunter’s, Clay’s and Ryan’s offices.

Drew Hammill, communications director for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Hunter would “soon realize that he’s fallen down more than one rabbit hole,” an apparent reference to another recent controversy with Hunter, one where the California congressman used campaign funds to pay $600 to fly a pet rabbit across the country.

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