Woman who flipped off Trump says she learned values growing up in Ohio

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Juli Briskman’s middle finger propelled her to viral internet fame, grabbed headlines and, more recently, resulted in her losing her job

Jennifer Smola, Gatehouse Media Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Juli Briskman’s middle finger has set much in motion for the 50-year-old. It has propelled her to viral internet fame, grabbed headlines and, more recently, resulted in her losing her job.

Briskman has taken both heat and praise after a photograph of her flipping off President Donald Trump’s passing motorcade on Oct. 28 spread quickly.

But standing up for what she believes in is something Briskman said she learned in Columbus.

Briskman grew up in central Ohio and graduated from Worthington High School in 1985 before attending Ohio State University. She graduated with a degree in journalism in 1990 and worked for The Lantern student newspaper.

“I bleed scarlet and gray,” she said during a phone interview Tuesday with The Columbus Dispatch.

Briskman has worked in various communications positions and did stints as a community liaison officer for the U.S. Department of State. Now a Virginia resident, Briskman said she misses Ohio and what she described as the good principles here.

“That is where I learned my values,” she said.

“Every time I go back to Ohio, I feel good,” she said. “I notice that people wave at you even when they don’t really know who you are. It’s just so much more of a friendly place, and I miss it. I do miss it a lot.”

She’s been angered about the Trump administration. She’s frustrated by continued power outages in hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico, moves that threaten young immigrants who were brought here illegally as children, the administration’s actions on health care and a lack of diplomatic solutions in dealing with North Korea.

“It’s just insane,” she said. “I just want to scream.”

So it was with that rage that Briskman’s middle finger found its way into the air and toward the president’s motorcade as it departed Trump National Golf Course near her Sterling, Virginia, home last month and passed her as she rode her bicycle.

She told a few close family members and friends what had happened but had no idea pool photographers and reporters were snapping photos or sharing accounts of her gesture.

The next day, the photo — which shows Briskman from the back and her middle finger in the air — had surfaced on a closed Facebook group, and Briskman confirmed it was her.

Though surprised by the image, Briskman then made it her cover photo on Facebook and Twitter.

“And then things started to snowball,” she said. She was tagged frequently on social media. Then some people put the pieces together that Briskman worked at a local yoga studio and started sending the business threatening emails and posting bogus bad reviews, she said.

Briskman removed the yoga studio from her Facebook profile. Her primary employer, Akima LLC, a government contractor in Virginia, was never listed on her social media sites, she said. But Briskman said she decided to talk to a human resources representative there in light of what had happened at the yoga studio and as the photo continued to spread.

The next day, her bosses at Akima told Briskman she was fired. They said her social media contained obscene content and fired her based on the company’s social media policy concerning that, she said.

A co-worker had violated the same policy previously, Briskman said, but was instead given an opportunity to clean up his profile rather than lose his job.

Akima did not return messages seeking comment.

A GoFundMe campaign was launched Tuesday to support Briskman, and by Tuesday evening, donors had raised nearly $15,000.

This is probably not the first time someone has flipped the bird to a president or presidential motorcade, said David Jackson, a political-science professor at Bowling Green State University who studies American politics and political behavior.

Still, “there’s something very emblematic” about the photo, he said.

“The reason why it’s captured so much attention and interest is because of how much hatred there is for the president, how much devotion among his followers there is and just how divided the public is,” Jackson said. “That’s basically what our politics are right now in a nutshell.”

Jennifer Smola is a reporter for The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.

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