Cranberry Eagle | by Paula Grubbs | January 13, 2023
The man who built the billboard along Route 422 in Summit Township defended his messages, which many say are inappropriate.
John Placek, who owns a business in Butler County, said he paid $150,000 to erect the electronic billboard on leased property at the intersection with Bonniebrook Road that began displaying his messages on Monday, Jan. 9.
He said he did so because God gave him a mission to reset the country’s path.
“I believe our country has run amok and is heading in the wrong direction,” Placek said. “I have a calling to make it right.”
He said he will do everything in his power to spread the word that “God is alive and well, and anyone who does not repent will pay the price.”
Regarding the messages on the billboard, which include “FBI corrupt & dangerous THE GESTAPO” with a large swastika; “Whites are under attack stop it now!!” with “Stop teaching critical racist theory to our kids”; “God’s law ‘marriage’ one man-one woman”; and “God prohibits same sex marriage,” Placek has advice for parents who are concerned about their children reading the billboard as they ride past on the school bus.
“That’s why you have parents, to explain what that sign means,” Placek said. “Tell them ‘That’s one man’s opinion.’”
An electronic billboard along Route 422 in Summit Township displays political and vehement messages on Tuesday, Jan. 10. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle
He said today’s parents do not understand the trouble the country is in because of the tenets he says are being taught in public schools.
“We’re teaching our kids the wrong stuff,” Placek said. “Tell (parents) to go sit in the classroom for a week and see what teachers are doing to their child, and then tell me I’m wrong.”
He explained the message comparing the FBI to the Gestapo by saying the FBI is terrorizing people who are doing good and ignoring the crimes of people who he said are destroying cities and killing people.
At the same time, Placek said, a man who protested outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic last year was hauled off to jail in front of his seven children.
“He was not doing anything wrong,” Placek said. “That is corruption.”
He said without a belief in God and strong morals and values, the USA will falter and fail.
“I’m not trying to make anyone upset or angry,” Placek said.
Regarding the messages on his billboard, which are repeated in another sign at a filling station he owns in Armstrong County, Placek said they are merely to educate people on his convictions.
He said the billboard will not come down, regardless of the number of people who oppose them.
“I spent 22 years in the military defending this country, and I’ll spend my last hours doing the same thing,” he said.
He decried same-sex marriage and depictions of same-sex relationships on television.
“No one wants to say that’s wrong,” Placek said. “Well I want to say, ‘That’s wrong.’”
An electronic billboard along Route 422 in Summit Township displays vehement messages on Tuesday, Jan. 10. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle
On the message that white people are under attack and critical race theory should not be taught in schools, Placek pointed to public school systems.
“They are teaching that being white is bad and that’s wrong,” he said. “You can take that woke stuff and stick it in your ear. White people are as important as anybody else in this country.”
He said census numbers show that white people make up 62% of the U.S. population.
“We’re not going to take a back seat to any minority,” Placek said.
He is adamant that he is not racist, and has Black and Hispanic grandchildren.
“I’m teaching people that white is beautiful,” Placek said. “There’s nothing wrong with being white, and that’s not said in a racist way. That’s just how I see things.”
He said he tells his Black and Hispanic grandchildren that all humans have skin that is 1/16th inch deep.
“God made one race: the human race,” Placek said.
He has heard that his views are the result of white privilege, which he rejects.
“I worked hard all my life,” Placek said. “I grew up on welfare, poorer than any Black you’d ever know, and now I’m a multi-millionaire and I own several businesses.”
He said his billboard will stand in the hopes that more people realize his opinions are correct.
An electronic billboard along Route 422 in Summit Township has drawn attention to its messages. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle
“Anybody who doesn’t like what I say, go find a piece of land and build your own billboard,” Placek said. “I put my money where my mouth is.”
A ‘principled person’
A man who grew up in the same Armstrong County community as Placek vouched for his morals on Wednesday, saying Placek grew up in a tough situation.
“I’ve known him for 65 years, and I never, ever heard a racist utterance from him,” said Marc Mantini of Ford City, Armstrong County.
He said Placek completed multiple tours in Vietnam and worked for many years as a medical helicopter pilot after leaving the military.
Mantini said Placek likely saved the lives of many people of various ethnicities and races during his time piloting the medical helicopter.
“He’s a principled person,” Mantini said.
Regarding the concerns of the parents whose children will see the billboard, Mantini wonders if the same children hear the “F word” on television or elsewhere.
“If (the parents) met Mr. Placek, they would be a lot more sympathetic with him,” he said.
Mantini conceded that he would have put a black streak through the swastika.
“It’s Mr. Placek that I’m in favor of,” Mantini said.
The Rev. John Pistorius, pastor at Christ’s Family Church in Chicora, said he saw Placek’s Worthington billboard and stopped to get gas there.
The next time he passed through, he left a copy of his book, “No Authority Except from God: The Biblical Boundaries of Obedience and Submission in the Last Days” for Placek.
After reading the book, Placek called Pistorius to compliment his work and asked if he could place a picture of the book on a billboard.
“I said ‘I wouldn’t mind that at all. It’s publicity,’” Pistorius said. “I didn’t know about the other messages.”
He said he hasn’t seen the billboard himself, but he does agree with Placek that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
“Biblically, you cannot dispute one man, one woman marriage because that’s what the Bible declares,” Pistorius said.
Regarding parental concerns about the billboard, he can understand Placek’s contention that whites are under attack.
“I think we have gone so far with every minority group in one direction that I can see how people would think or perceive that other groups are under attack,” Pistorius said. “What is wrong with saying the opposite?”
He said there is no division of races in the Bible when it comes to salvation.
“Scripture says ‘Whoever believeth in Him shall have eternal life,’” Pistorius said. “There are no exclusions.”
He said the messages on the billboard might be jarring enough to get people thinking about salvation.
“Sometimes I think to wake people up, there has to be some language people don’t approve of,” Pistorius said. “I’m not sure.”
He said his best friend is Black, and he grew up in a community of both white and Black residents.
“We love all, and that’s what Scripture tells us, to love one another,” Pistorius said.
Open to discussion
Bill Bittner, a local man of faith who holds a doctorate in theology and meets with Christian church groups regularly, is aware only of the photographs he saw in the Butler Eagle, as he has not seen the billboard.
Bittner was incensed by the comments of Richard Stewart, past president of the NAACP’s Pittsburgh chapter, in a Tuesday article.
He said Stewart’s rant against the billboard contained strong, accusatory language.
Regarding the swastika pictured on one message on the billboard, Bittner finds it distasteful.
“I would not use one,” he said. “I can see where some people would feel negative about it, but that doesn’t mean that you bury the past, either.”
He disagrees with the billboard message that white people are under attack.
“I think that’s very negative,” Bittner said. “What they are creating are negative feelings between people.”
Bittner also maintains that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that the Bible mandates it.
“I believe in God and I believe what He says,” he said. “Who am I to argue with Him?”
When you boil it all down, Bittner said, immovable beliefs by anyone are dangerous.
“If you’re not open to discussion, you’re not learning,” he said. “I talk to Christians every day, and some are very closed-minded.”
Brian White, Butler Area School District superintendent, responded to reports of parent concerns over the billboard by saying kindness and respect are taught in his district.
“Any message to children that is contrary to that sows the seeds that we are not all equal,” White said in a written statement. “We all need to strive to ensure that every person is treated as our equal for our democracy to work.”