In August 2020, readers asked Snopes to examine the accuracy of social media posts that claimed an auto dealer in Salisbury, Massachusetts, had erected a billboard that disparaged the 2020 Democratic vice-presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, using the misogynistic slur “hoe.”
On Aug. 17, 2020, a Facebook user posted a photograph of what appeared to be a billboard that read “Joe and the Hoe: Sniff and Blow Tour 2020,” above “Rob Roy Auto, Salisbury MA.” In her accompanying post, the user included contact details for the car dealership, as well as the Salisbury town clerk, an effort to encourage others to make complaints about the sign:
Similar social media posts followed, with users typically condemning the sign and calling for a boycott of the business associated with it. Some also appeared to celebrate the billboard.
The sign was real, and the photographs of it were authentic and unedited.
The billboard was erected in August 2020 by Robert Roy, who owns the dealership in Salisbury, and has gained a degree of local notoriety due to his penchant for erecting signs outside of his business that reflect his own pro-Trump, anti–Democrat views.
In an Instagram post on Aug. 24, Roy posed next to the offensive billboard, establishing its authenticity. Further verification was to be found in an Aug. 20 news segment on WYCN, which contained footage of the sign in question. Salisbury Town Manager Neil Harrington said he had received hundreds of complaints about the billboard, and WYCN reported that Roy had voluntarily taken it down.
“Joe and the Hoe” has emerged as an offensive epithet for the 2020 Democratic presidential ticket of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Harris. The California senator has already made history as the first Black woman on the presidential ticket of a major political party. If elected in November, she would break new ground again as the country’s first female vice president.
Earlier in August, the National Basketball Association (NBA) cut ties with photographer Bill Baptist after he posted a “Joe and the Hoe” meme to Facebook, and T-shirts bearing the offensive phrase were sold through Amazon until a backlash prompted the company to withdraw them.
The phrase “sniff and blow” can be found in certain right-wing corners of the internet. The word “sniff” appears to refer to past allegations of inappropriate touching by Biden (in May 2019, former Nevada State Assembly member Lucy Flores claimed that the then-vice president had kissed her on the head and smelled her hair during an event five years earlier).
The word “blow” appears to be a crude and deeply misogynistic allusion to a long-standing allegation among Harris’ critics that she owes her early rise in California politics to her past relationship with former San Francisco Mayor and State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. In August 2020, the right-leaning American Spectator published an opinion article in which Rabbi and Attorney Dov Fischer smeared Harris as a “mattress” and “escort.”
Speaking to WYCN, Roy endeavored to explain away the misogynistic references to Harris in his billboard, claiming, “I think she’s a tool for the left, that’s the whole meaning behind the sign.” He added without explanation that the references were “supposed to be satire.”