SIOUX FALLS, SD—A small-town South Dakota newspaper published a Christmas ad this past week that included a sign reading “Let’s Go Brandon,” or what is widely understood as conservative code for “Fuck Joe Biden.”
The Winner Advocate, a weekly newspaper in the city of Winner in south-central South Dakota, published the ad in its Dec. 22 edition. Under the heading “Good Christian Men Rejoice” sat the ad for Winner Welding & Machine; it showed three men standing under a Merry Christmas banner. The beefy, white-haired man in the middle was holding a sign that said “Lets Go Brandon,” minus the apostrophe and, one might argue, any sense of decorum.
His name is Brad Assman—seriously—but he pronounces the last name “Aus-man.”
Assman, who owns the business, told The Daily Beast he placed the ad to show his disdain for Biden. He voted for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020, he said, going on to express the false belief—still popular on the far right—that the most recent presidential election was somehow stolen.
Assman said the photo for the ad was taken by an Advocate staffer, and there was no concern raised about the sign he was holding up. He’s not even sure if the staff knew what it meant.
“I’m not being profane,” Assman told The Daily Beast. “Not everyone knows what that means.”
Assman has a sign on his truck with the same words, and the response has been mixed. Some people like it, some flip him “the single-digit salute,” and some ask him what it means, he said.
When that happens, he continued, he shows a video that offers insight into the derivation of the coded insult, a jab that came full circle this past week when a Trump fan uttered it directly to Joe Biden over the phone.
As the AP reported, Let’s Go Brandon started at a NASCAR race—always a gathering spot for conservatives—at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama on Oct. 2. When an NBC reporter tried to interview the winning driver, Brandon Brown, some in the crowd apparently began to cheer “Fuck Joe Biden” on live TV. The reporter suggested they were saying, “Let’s go, Brandon!”
The right leaped on it. It has become a popular term for criticizing the president, and not just by drunken yahoos at a racetrack. Brown remained silent for several weeks, but in a Dec. 20 guest column for Newsweek, he said he was not choosing sides on politics, while taking some shots at the current state of affairs under Biden and hinting at taking more positions in the future
Politicians were quick to take the slogan out for a spin in the interim.
South Carolina Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan wore a Let’s Go Brandon face mask at the Capitol in October, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas laughed as he said “Let’s go, Brandon” with an Astros fan at the World Series. On Oct. 21, Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Florida concluded a speech on the House floor by pumping his fist and saying, “Let’s go, Brandon!”
And South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem posed with a T-shirt bearing the phrase at her Invitational Pheasant Hunt in October.
But perhaps the most notorious use of the phrase was that of an Oregon man who repeated it during a phone call with President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden on Christmas Eve.
“Merry Christmas, and let’s go, Brandon!” Jared Schmeck said during the call, one of many the Bidens did. Jill Biden seemed to wince, but the president, with a half century of politics under his belt, didn’t let it bother him—or maybe just didn’t get it.
“I agree,” Biden said.
The president went on to ask if Schmeck was in Oregon, but the call ended. Schmeck, a former police officer, now claims he is being picked on and his free speech rights trampled upon. After all, he claimed, he was just joking. (He changed that on Monday, appearing with former Trump aide Steve Bannon to declare his loyalty to the former president and his election lies.)
The Advocate likely was playing to its base. Donald Trump carried Tripp County—Winner is the county seat—with 80 percent of the vote in 2020.
Laura Brown, the paper’s general manager, told The Daily Beast they weren’t commenting on the ad, but did say they were aware of the meaning of the phrase.
She said the decision to run the ad was made by the publisher, Charley Najacht. He and his wife Norma used to own and publish two other South Dakota weeklies, the Custer County Chronicle and the Hill City Prevailer, but they sold those papers in the fall.
Michael Freeman, who was the press secretary for former South Dakota Sen. James Abdnor, a conservative Republican who unseated George McGovern in 1980, said the ad speaks volumes about the GOP and political discourse today.
“It’s just a symbol of the Trump era,” said Freeman, who now lives in Maryland and works as a writer and trade association executive and has left the Republican Party after more than 40 years. “People feel greater freedom to be their worst, crudest, most malicious selves.”
Kathy Currey James, a nurse from Sioux Falls, said she was disappointed but not surprised.
“I’d like to say I’m shocked. I’m not,” James said. “I’m a bit embarrassed. This is South Dakota.”
Deborah Gangloff, a retired consultant from Rapid City, said she had one reaction.
“Makes me want to avoid Winner,” Gangloff said. “I found the fact that the publisher approved of an ad that uses a veiled profanity against our president to be unpatriotic and a bad example for our children.”
Assman said he’s not surprised by that reaction.
“I don’t doubt that people are disappointed,” he said. “I don’t let it bother me. If they’re offended, that’s fine.”
Assman added that he wouldn’t like it if someone placed an ad in the Winner paper saying “Fuck Donald Trump.” But if they devised a coded way to say that, he would have no problem with it.
"It’s saying it without really saying it," Assman said, adding that the feedback has been positive so far.
“I’ve had several people stop in to say they like it.”