Banning the plate transformed the joke into something bigger for Kirk, a 44-year-old gun store owner in Oneonta, Ala. In his view, government officials were trying to stifle his right to free speech in a small, yet meaningful step toward tyranny — one he vowed to fight.
“I wasn’t going to just lay down,” Kirk told The Washington Post.
The Feb. 17 letter sparked a three-week battle between the state of Alabama and Kirk, whose story attracted the attention of right-wing media outlets and rallied some prominent conservatives to his cause.
The saga of Kirk’s Biden-hating license plate started in October when he went to register his family’s Ford F-250. Kirk was applying for the plate just as “Let’s go, Brandon” emerged as an unofficial conservative rallying cry. The phrase stems from an Oct. 2 NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway, in Kirk’s home state. During a trackside interview with winning driver Brandon Brown, an NBC reporter mistakenly thought the crowd was chanting “Let’s go, Brandon.” The spectators were actually denouncing the president.
It has since become an unofficial GOP slogan, with the phrase being chanted at election night parties, political rallies and sporting events across the country.
Kirk described the decision to get the plate as “spur of the moment,” something that struck him as a way to communicate that he’s “not a fan of the administration.” Kirk cited the Biden administration’s botched exit from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war as one reason he doesn’t like the president.
“It was a way to get it on there just to voice, you know, a little displeasure with the way things are going,” he said. “I thought that would be just, you know, kind of a comical way of displaying that.”
He received the plate in late January. Reactions were muted, Kirk said. A few people flashed him thumbs-up gestures while he was driving. Others asked to take pictures with it. No one’s tried to run him off the road. Kirk suspects most people don’t even notice the license plate.
Then, in the Feb. 17 letter, Alabama’s Motor Vehicle Division explained that it was rescinding the plate and ordered Kirk to surrender it within 10 days.
“The Alabama Department of Revenue, Motor Vehicle Division, has determined the above referenced license plate contains objectionable language which is considered by the Department to be offensive to the peace and dignity of the State of Alabama.”
At the time, the department told AL.com that officials were worried about what the “F” in the license plate stood for.
“The department does not allow the ‘F-word,’ or any acronym for such, on a personalized license plate. That is the department’s only issue with this plate,” spokesman Frank Miles wrote in an email to the news organization on March 1.
Kirk acknowledged that “pretty much everybody” interprets the “F” in “FJB” as the f-word. But he has four children and two bulldogs, so he refers to the phrase as “forget Joe Biden.”
“I wouldn’t want them to hear a dirty word like that, even the bulldogs,” Kirk told The Post.
After receiving the letter, Kirk did interviews with several local newspapers. TV stations across the country picked up the story. So did right-wing media outlets, including Newsmax, the Washington Examiner, the Daily Wire and One America News.
“It was basically everywhere,” he said.
Kirk said he had planned to sue the state. He said he believes the powers that be, including social media companies, are trying to silence conservatives, and he saw the state’s attempt to take away his personalized license plate as part of that campaign.
That’s why it’s time for people to stand up for what they believe in, he added. “If you don’t, you’re going to lose your rights. You’re going to lose … what people have fought their entire life for in this country. And I just don’t think that’s right. I think everybody has the right to voice their opinion.”
As the story exploded online, Kirk said, thousands of social media commenters voiced support for him. More than 46,000 people either liked or loved a Facebook post about a Newsmax story in which Kirk said that if the state wanted his license plate, it would have to “come and take it.” David Clarke, the former Wisconsin sheriff turned conservative activist, wrote in a Facebook post that he supported Kirk and that it was time for Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) to “step up” and do the same.
On Saturday, Kirk received a second letter from the state. This time, it was good news.
“The Alabama Department of Revenue, Motor Vehicle Division, has determined the above referenced license plate will not be recalled,” officials wrote. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”
Miles, the Alabama Department of Revenue spokesman, declined to comment about the license plate affair when contacted by The Post.
Kirk described the state’s reversal as a victory not just for him but for anyone who wants to express their beliefs. A lot of people think and believe things Kirk doesn’t agree with, but he said they have a right to share those and “not be silenced.”
“I think it’s a win for everybody,” he said.