People rarely need to wonder what’s on Linc Sample’s mind, mainly because it’s usually posted on a large yard sign in his back yard. Since 2006, his 82 Oak Street property has been a prime location for his messages regarding gun rights, freedom of speech and historical quotations ranging from the Founding Fathers to Ronald Reagan.
The most recent one depicts a black rifle above a green zombie symbol with Z.I.R.T. painted below in black letters on a white two by eight-foot wooden background. The acronym stands for Zombie Infestation Response Team, which is Sample’s firearm and training business. Sample is a National Rifle Association-certified gun safety trainer. The Z.I.R.T. name was inspired after a conversation he had with a woman four years ago at a local convenience store.
While standing in line purchasing coffee, a woman noticed Sample was carrying a gun and asked if he was involved in law enforcement or was a game warden.
Sample told her he carried a weapon as part of his occupation as a zombie hunter. His response was inspired by his favorite television show. “It started off as a joke. I thought about how I was going to answer her — and I’m a big fan of ‘The Walking Dead,’ which was really big at the time — so I told her I was a zombie hunter.”
He named the business after discussing various possibilities with his wife and children. “And we came up with Zombie Infestation Response Team,” he said.
Over the years, his signs have generated controversy about the appropriateness of the message. In September, he posted a two by eight-foot sign stating “Black Rifles Lives Matter.” The message is a parody of “Black Lives Matter.” In 2015, a yard sign read “Just Because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right” and had two 12-inch by 18-inch Confederate flags attached to the top. The sign generated a firestorm of negative publicity for the town after a tourist posted a photo on Facebook. Rock musician Amanda Palmer posted the photo while vacationing in Boothbay Harbor. She commented on Facebook the sign made “her sick to her stomach.” According to published reports, the Facebook post generated 10,000 likes and 900 comments.
Sample’s critics believe both signs were racially insensitive. Sample said that’s not the case. The “Black Rifles Lives Matter” message resulted from a paid political ad in the Boothbay Register. The ad had 121 people promoting an assault weapons ban.
Sample is an NRA member and has handled guns since he was 5. He disagreed with the ad’s content by classifying various semi- and automatic firearms as assault weapons. Sample didn’t coin the phrase “Black Rifles Lives Matter.” He discovered the term on the internet.
“The ad wanted to ban certain weapons on their appearance, not their function. I think that is wrong,” he said. “I thought the term was catchy and would create a buzz. That’s why I used Black Rifles Lives Matter.”
Sample understands how some view the Confederate flag as a symbol of intolerance. But he believes the banner has greater historical significance. Sample describes himself as a Civil War buff who is drawn more to the Confederacy than the Union. He characterizes the Confederacy as having more compelling generals such as Robert E. Lee — who he calls “Bobby Lee” — along with Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. He believes to many, including himself, the Confederate flag is a symbol of “southern pride.”
”It can be a symbol of intolerance,” he said. “But it’s part of our history, too. The point of the sign is if people are looking solely at it as symbolism then you’re looking at the wrong part of history. You’re getting upset about a piece of cloth. Instead, you should be looking at things that create racism and division in this country.”
Sample’s signs didn’t generate any negative publicity until 2008. Sample is a Republican and no fan of President Barack Obama. During the presidential election, he placed a sign stating “01-20-09: The last day of American Democracy. The beginning of an era.”
“I stenciled a line through era and hand-painted error beside it,” Sample said.
The sign was inspired by liberal-leaning bumper stickers anticipating Jan. 20, 2009 as the last day of the George W. Bush administration. The anti-Obama message prompted town officers to enforce the sign ordinance, according to Sample.
Former Boothbay Harbor Code Enforcement Officer Dabney Lewis informed Sample he would need a permit and to adhere to the ordinance for future yard signs. The major restrictions regarding Boothbay Harbor yard signs are being limited to 48 square feet and prohibiting back lighting.
Sample was aware of the local ordinance. During his tenure as a Boothbay Harbor selectman, he worked on adopting the sign ordinance’s language. But after nearly two years without being required to apply for a permit, he asked town officials why now it was being enforced.
“I was told people thought the sign was racist because it was black letters on a white background,” he said. “I told them the reason for black letters on a white background was due to black letters on black (background) doesn’t have an impact.”
Sample has applied for and received permits for his subsequent signs. His first sign following the Obama message was the largest yard sign he’s placed on his property.
“It was the maximum size, 48 square feet. The whole thing is ridiculous. They thought if they made me apply for a permit I’d forget the whole thing and stop,” Sample said.
His current sign is a bridge from the political to the holiday season. Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor began decorating the downtown with an assortment of Christmas lights last month and Sample wanted to participate. He stenciled a black rifle onto a white background. Below it, he added the green Zombie image and Z.I.R.T in black lettering along with various colored blinking and non-blinking lights.
“It was more for fun than anything else. Everybody else was decorating so I wanted to join them,” he said.
During the recent election, he participated in the campaign to defeat Question 3, which sought to mandate background checks for all private gun sales and transfers. During the campaign, he was “guardedly optimistic” that Question 3 would be defeated. “Any law with that many exemptions is a bad law,” he said.
Sample was pleased to see local legislative Republican candidates Rep. Stephanie Hawke and Senator-elect Dana Dow win their races.
But Sample isn’t a big fan of President-elect Donald Trump, or as he refers to him, “Don Trump.” Sample doesn’t particularly like the New York billionaire’s brash style and arrogant demeanor. On Election Day, he voted for Trump, but expected a Democratic victory.
“I was flabbergasted. I never thought for a moment he would win. I didn’t actively support for him for president. I was more glad she lost than he won,” Sample said.
The first sign on Sample’s property appeared in 2006 with “Happy Birthday, America!” The tradition wasn’t started by Linc Sample. He had nothing to do with it. The sign was his wife’s and children’s idea.