The official poster from Pearl Jam's concert in Missoula Monday night is drawing fire for drawings that appear to show a skeletal President Donald Trump's body being picked at by a bald eagle while U.S. Sen. Jon Tester flies over a burning White House like Evel Knievel, only on a tractor.
Tester, a Democrat seeking his third term in the U.S. Senate, and his campaign were not involved in the poster's design or publication. The poster was created by band bass player Jeff Ament and artist Bobby Brown, according to a tweet from the band.
Republicans and conservative groups have compared the poster to Kathy Griffin's 2017 tweet of an image of herself holding what looked like the decapitated head of Trump. She was later fired by CNN. The poster controversy has also been picked up by news outlets around the country.
On Wednesday, Tester spokesman Chris Meagher told the Associated Press the campaign doesn't like the poster and doesn't condone violence of any kind. The campaign said earlier in the day it had no involvement with the poster's creation and never saw it, the band's playlist or anything else related to the show before it began.
Pearl Jam released the poster at a concert Monday night in Missoula, one of four stops on its U.S. tour this year that also includes Seattle, Chicago and Boston.
The band came to relatively small Missoula as part of its mission of advocacy, something bass player Ament discussed at an event Sunday with Tester in Missoula. Both men are from Big Sandy and Pearl Jam played Missoula during Tester's campaigns in 2005 and 2012.
In early August, Ament told the Missoulian about the role he sees the concert playing in the campaign. "You want to do a show in front of your family, your friends, your community, and the fact that you can help out a fellow Big Sandy kid try to keep his Senate seat, that just adds a whole 'nother level to it," Ament told the Missoulian.
When the band came out for the second set Monday night, they wore T-shirts with Tester logos. The band did not bring Tester on stage as they have in previous shows, but the senator spoke briefly at a festival before the concert.
Ament released the following statement Wednesday:
“The role of the artist is to make people think and feel, and the current administration has us thinking and feeling. I was the sole conceptualist of this poster, and I welcome all interpretations and discourse.
"Love, from the First Amendment, Jeff Ament.”
Pearl Jam made jokes about crowd sizes, collusion and fake news, but never mentioned Trump by name.
The band also never mentioned Tester's Republican opponent, state Auditor Matt Rosendale.
But the poster includes a figure with a crab claw for a hand that appears to be Rosendale holding a flag saying "Maryland." Montana Democrats often call Rosendale "Maryland Matt" because he moved to the state from Maryland in the early 2000s.
Rosendale released the following statement Wednesday, criticizing the amount of time it took Tester to respond to the poster:
"This poster depicted a dead President Trump, with a burning White House, and Tester gleefully flying over it. He should have disavowed it immediately — and he didn't. Instead, Tester, through a spokesperson, waited for approval from the far-left before he denounced this horrific poster," Rosendale said. "If we can’t trust Jon Tester to stand up for what is right on his own, how can we trust him in Washington, D.C. representing the people of Montana? It’s time we vote him out of the U.S. Senate."
The concert itself was not a campaign fundraiser or event, although the Tester campaign purchased a block of tickets at face value and created a ticket package that served as a fundraiser. Tester also appeared with Ament at an event organized by the campaign Sunday night that included Missoula Mayor John Engen.
In addition to the poster, the band's Twitter page released an image of what looks like Ament's ideas for the poster. The text says:
D.C. burning Tester Evel Knievel on tractor ...
over the cesspool below
Russian money, golf courses, hookers?
Maryalnd Matt. Stars n stripes as flames
Y'all know the deal. We're at a tipping
point and it's time for action.
Jon Tester is the real deal and nobody
cares more about our country and especially
So here we are ...
This was a fun collab with one of my
favorite artists, Bobby Draws Skulls.
He killed it!
(signed) Jeff Ament
Calvin Moore, regional communications director for the National Republican Senate Committee, said the poster is a “sign of where the left is these days.”
Moore criticized Tester for not speaking out immediately about the poster Wednesday, saying it showed "there’s no stoop too low for him or his party’s attacks on President Trump or his supporters.''
After Tester's campaign responded, Moore said it wasn't a strong-enough rebuttal and said Tester still "embraced" the band.
“It’s too little, far too late. Only after widespread outrage they decided to finally come out with probably the weakest statement I’ve ever seen from a spokesman,” Moore said.
Tester has come into Trump's cross-hairs during this election cycle. The president attacked Tester when the senator brought forward allegations of inappropriate behavior by Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, Trump's then-nominee to run the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Jackson is under investigation by the Pentagon for claims that he drank on the job, crashed a government car and provided medication without a prescription. Trump called on Tester to resign and campaigned against him in Great Falls in July.
— Missoulian reporter Cory Walsh contributed to this story.