The guerrilla art movement is usually associated with leftwing politics. Banksy targets capitalism, consumerism and inequality. Blek le Rat, the father of stencil graffiti, depicts oppression and resistance.
Shepard Fairey gilded Barack Obama’s rise with the iconic “Hope” poster and now highlights the scapegoating of Muslims and the corporatisation of US politics.
In the Trump era, the right, however, has its own guerrilla artist: Sabo, a former US marine who works from an apartment-cum-studio in Los Angeles beneath a sign that says “Fuck Tibet”. Another says “Fuck peace”.
Under cover of darkness, he peppers public spaces in LA with images and slogans targeting liberals, whom he associates with “pot-smoking lazy bums” hostile to western values. He puts the same images and slogans on posters, T-shirts and pins which he sells from his website and at Republican party gatherings across the US.
“I think leftism is a mental disorder,” Sabo, 49, said in an interview at his home. “I truly believe I’m fighting the good fight.”
The fight is proving lucrative. After a decade of inflammatory guerrilla art which yielded little money or recognition, Sabo is on a roll plastering images of Donald Trump, and most recently Milo Yiannopoulos, across LA.
In a city thrumming with opposition to the president, the artist is part of the resistance to the resistance, a figure feted in Republican circles who appears on Fox News, Breitbart, the Blaze and other conservative media outlets. No longer behind on his rent or scrounging to buy a burger, he has bought a $7,000 industrial-size printer which fills a corner of his apartment.
“Republicans are the new punk,” said Sabo, echoing a slogan on his T-shirt also adorned with an image of Trump in a three-piece suit, looking rather rakish, giving the finger. “I’m pretty much the only right-winger doing guerrilla art. I’m like patient zero, the first one doing this on our side.”
Several other rightwing street artists are in fact active in LA but prefer anonymity, thinking that gives their work more power. Some on the right consider Sabo a showboater.
He is not shy about self-promotion, calling himself a one-man rebuttal to Madonna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and other anti-Trump performers. “I cater to the street urchins, the young people. I want them to understand that there’s another message out there.”
Critics consider Sabo’s work crude, bigoted, racist and misogynistic. He disputed that: “The blacks, the Jews, the underdogs – no one has a bigger heart for them than me.”
He has decorated his home with samples of his work: a framed toilet seat with Barack Obama’s face and mouth; a life-sized poster of Bernie Sanders with Soviet tattoos and diaper “full of free shit”; a billboard-style portrait of Hillary Clinton as a maniacal queen.
Another billboard declares that “Black lives are just matter”, accompanied by a Planned Parenthood logo and an abortion-themed punchline: “We’ve killed more blacks than the klan.”
Sabo – a pseudonym derived from a tank munition called sabot – made his breakthrough in the GOP primaries with a poster of Ted Cruz as a tattooed, muscled convict. It went viral and Cruz’s campaign embraced the bad boy image, though later distanced itself when Sabo was accused of racism. Still, revenues rolled in and Sabo was famous.
He scored another hit during the general election with an image of a grinning skull with yellow hair labelled “The deplorables” – a riff on a Clinton blunder about Donald Trump’s supporters. It earned him $20,000 in a single day and inspired copycats.
Ironically, Sabo deplored Trump during the primaries, calling him a circus clown who would hand the White House to Clinton. He said the average Trump voter was a “moron” and depicted Trump as “Il douche”, a play on Il Duce, with his hair forming a Mussolini-style helmet.
Sabo now says he is “cautiously optimistic” about the president. “The day I came to love Donald Trump was when I saw how hard he was kicking liberals in the teeth.”
He trolled inauguration protests around LA’s city hall by posting fake advertisements mimicking the Fox TV show 24, keeping the text “New Day, New Hero” but replacing the star, Corey Hawkins, with Trump, and 24 with 45, a reference to the 45th president.
Sabo grew up in Texas and operated tanks in the marines before studying art in LA, then drifted into street art in the 1990s. He says he became disgusted with liberals after they “circled the wagons” to defend Bill Clinton from rape allegations.
The left, he said, has mastered cultural and political “dark arts” and “weaponised” Hollywood, the FBI, the IRS, universities and other institutions to promote a nefarious agenda.
He claimed Islam was taking over Europe and espoused debunked conspiracy theories: Obama is a Muslim who sought to undermine America, and senior Democrats literally worship the devil and run pedophile rings. “I truly believe Hillary is demonic.”
Challenged for evidence, Sabo cited leaked emails, which online conspiracy theorists claimed proved the accusations. “I’m a fan of logic and reason.”
The fan of logic and reason also lamented America’s polarisation. “The whole climate is sick right now.” Asked if his work contributed to that sickness, Sabo shook his head. “The left are the ones who dehumanise.”