The North Iowa Tea Party began displaying the billboard in downtown Mason City last week. The sign shows large photographs of Obama, Nazi leader Hitler and communist leader Lenin beneath the labels "Democratic Socialism," "National Socialism," and "Marxist Socialism."
Beneath the photos is the phrase, "Radical leaders prey on the fearful & naive."
The co-founder of the roughly 200-person group said the billboard was intended to send an anti-socialist message. But Bob Johnson admitted Tuesday that the message may have gotten lost amid the images of fascist and communist leaders.
"The purpose of the billboard was to draw attention to the socialism. It seems to have been lost in the visuals," Johnson said. "The pictures overwhelmed the message. The message is socialism." He said he didn't know of any plans to remove the sign.
But others in the tea party movement criticized the sign.
"That's just a waste of money, time, resources and it's not going to further our cause," said Shelby Blakely, a leaders of the Tea Party Patriots, a national group. "It's not going to help our cause. It's going to make people think that the tea party is full of a bunch of right-wing fringe people, and that's not true."
Blakely also expressed outrage at linking Obama to Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany who oversaw the killing of 6 million Jews and whose invasions of neighboring countries led to World War II.
"When you compare Obama to Hitler, that to me does a disservice to the Jews who both survived and died in the Holocaust and to the Germans who lived under Nazi regime rule," Blakely said.
John White, an Iowa coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, said that he can understand the North Iowa group's perception that Obama is "Hitler-esque," but he thinks the billboard is offensive and unproductive. White said that he planned to discuss the matter with national tea party officials.
"I fear they may end up in some kind of trouble over it, because it's basically slanderous," White said. "I don't know that it's the message we want to send. I'd much rather see billboards that say 'Remember in November. Get Out and Vote."'
The billboard is owned by Waitt Outdoor of Omaha, Neb. Waitt general manager, Kent Beatty, said the company didn't have a problem with the message.
"We believe in freedom of speech," Beatty said. "It doesn't reflect our views, necessarily."
The White House declined to comment on the sign.
One person who welcomed the billboard was Dean Genth, a Democratic activist from Mason City, a city of 30,000 people just south of the Minnesota border, who said he thinks the sign lays bare the views of tea party supporters.
"I welcome them to continue to spew that kind of stuff because I think it's going to do a lot of good for the good Democrats around the state," Genth said.