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Obama Joker artist unmasked: A fellow Chicagoan


When cryptic posters portraying President Obama as the Joker from "Batman" began popping up around Los Angeles and other cities, the question many asked was, Who is behind the image?

Was it an ultra-conservative grassroots group or a disgruntled street artist going against the grain?

Nope, it turns out, just a 20-year-old college student from Chicago.

Bored during his winter school break, Firas Alkhateeb, a senior history major at the University of Illinois, crafted the picture of Obama with the recognizable clown makeup using Adobe's Photoshop software.

Alkhateeb had been tinkering with the program to improve the looks of photos he had taken on his clunky Kodak camera. The Joker project was his grandest undertaking yet. Using a tutorial he'd found online about how to "Jokerize" portraits, he downloaded the October 23 Time Magazine cover of Obama and began digitally painting over it.

Four or five hours later, he happily had his product.

Obama-joker-time On Jan. 18, Alkhateeb uploaded the image to photo-sharing site Flickr (shown at right). Over the next two months, he amassed just a couple thousand hits, he said.

Then the counter exploded after a still-anonymous rogue famously found his image, digitally removed the references to Time Magazine, captioned the picture with the word "socialism" and hung printed copies around L.A., making headlines.

Alkhateeb's original Flickr page surpassed 20,000 views. The Times found his Flickr site last week thanks to a tip left by a loyal reader of The Ticket. By Friday, the page had been taken down.

On Alkhateeb's page, a manipulated image condemning fellow Chicagoan and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (captioned "epic fail") was mixed in with parodies of the "Guitar Hero" game franchises -- dubbed Quran Hero -- and of Napoleon riding a motorcycle (pictured after the jump).

Flickr had removed the Joker image due to copyright-infringement concerns, Alkhateeb says the company told him in an e-mail. A Flickr spokeswoman declined to comment due to a company policy that bars discussing inquiries about individual users.

Alkhateeb says he wasn't actively trying to cover his tracks, but he did want to lay low. He initially had concerns about ...

... connecting his name with anything critical of the president -- especially living in Chicago, where people are "very, very liberal," he said.

"After Obama was elected, you had all of these people who basically saw him as the second coming of Christ," Alkhateeb said. "From my perspective, there wasn't much substance to him."

"I abstained from voting in November," he wrote in an e-mail. "Living in Illinois, my vote means close to nothing as there was no chance Obama would not win the state." If he had to choose a politician to support, Alkhateeb said, it would be Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

Napoleon Possibly becoming a villain in his home city wasn't his only worry. Time's cover and the Joker obviously aren't Alkhateeb's copyrights to fool around with.

Concerned about a lawsuit, Alkhateeb, an unnamed superstar whose nationally recognized artwork had stunned friends and family, was relieved that the situation had floated for months without any major news organizations discovering that he was the man behind the paint.

After we contacted him, he hesitantly agreed to an interview.

If it's any consolation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that defends digital rights, says Alkhateeb has a strong fair-use defense if Time or DC Comics decides to take him to court -- that is if one even does file a lawsuit.

"You really want to think twice about going after a political commenter," said Corynne McSherry, a senior staff attorney at the EFF. In Time's case, "a news organization probably doesn't want to be in the situation of pursuing political criticism."

Perhaps the strongest case for anyone, McSherry said, is for Alkhateeb to claim money derived from people selling T-shirts with his picture. Is it worth pursuing? "It would be nice, but it's not that big of a deal," Alkhateeb said.

Although Alkhateeb claims he was making no political statement with the artwork, he's plugged into the Washington debate. Though born in the United States, his Palestinian family closely follows Middle Eastern politics.

"I think he's definitely doing better than Bush was," Alkhateeb said of Obama. Alkhateeb's views on foreign relations align with the Democrats, he said, while he prefers Republican ideals on domestic issues.

Alkhateeb's assessment of Obama: "In terms of domestic policy, I don't think he's really doing much good for the country right now," he said. "We don't have to 'hero worship' the guy."

Someday, Alkhateeb hopes to be a history teacher and high school football coach. He won't be pursuing a full-time career in art, but he'll continue playing with Photoshop on the side. He's honored by Shepard Fairey's assessment of his Joker picture, but disagrees with some of Fairey's comments criticizing the message of the Socialism poster.

"He made a picture of Bush as a vampire," Alkhateeb said about Fairey. "That's kind of speaking with two faces."

Regardless, Alkhateeb does agree with the Obama "Hope" artist about "socialism" being the wrong caption for the Joker image. "It really doesn't make any sense to me at all," he said. "To accuse him of being a socialist is really ... immature. First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"

-- Mark Milian

No joke, click here for Twitter alerts on each new Ticket item. Or follow us @latimestot or @mmilian

Photo credits: Firas Alkhateeb

Comments () | Archives (980)

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I dont get all the hoopla...President Thug is no Joke...He will do more damage than any cartoon character. I feel sorry for the kid who will now know what it is like to poke fun at The Messiah. I for one am happy to see someone poke a finger in this clowns eye. You knoiw its the sme old same old; Bush as an evil Joker was just alright. And the Women in Pink and the Men In Black protested all the time against Bush's waar...where are they now? Oh thats right getting killed for Obama is just alright...the worst thing though, is that they were right! Bushs war was wrong and so is Obamas! Its not the R's vs the D's....its the Gov't Vs. The People!!!! Support Ron Paul and his Audit the Fed Bill...its the only way to bust this ring of criminals...


Hitler was a socialist, NATIONAL SOCIALIST! Socialism/Communism/Fascism is ALL bad!!! That is why America was started as a free-market, libertarian, constitutional republic! We didn't get this far because of socialism. People need to study some history and stop listening to their pedantic left/right fake talking points.

Elitists run this country, they run many countries. Do you think billionaires are going to leave the fate of the nation in the hands of the ignorant voters? LOL! No, they are going to buy off both candidates, control them vai the hundreds of corporate sponsored think tanks that line ALL of their administrations (including Bush and Obama's) with advisers, bills, and foreign policy. Then you have the lobbyists and straight up threats.

Do you like bankers running your country? They do, you have bankers running the entire Obama administration. Between them and Rahm Emanuel, the only thing Obama really does is read a teleprompter and sweet talk anyone dumb enough to lend him an ear. Same with Bush. Was he qualified or making any decision at all? Lol! God wake up people!

Socialism is EVIL because it steals the fruits of labor from one person and gives it to others. Its a form of slavery.

The connection of Obama with "socialism" is meant in a sarcastic way. President Obama has a big potential of becoming a new "Fuehrer" like Adolf Hitler, imposing on the U.S.A. someday Martial Law - a dictatorship. Rahm Emmanuel already has a compulsiory service for young people prepared - alike the infamous and misterious FEMA- camps spreading all over. Read some "Rense" from time to time - real "socialism" is possibly looming with Barack Obama. People might wish "idiot" and criminals ("911") Bush/Cheney back.

Leave the gut alone...
Obama is a "Joke-rrrr"...

He's socialized Wall Street, the Auto Industry and is trying for Health Care before moving on to legalizing tens of millions of illegal immigrants.

Just what the heck does it take to be branded a Socialist nowadays?

Check out Obama Joker merchandise and other pro-conservative items at:

Balances between liberty and tyranny always slip toward the latter because power corrupts.

Alternative media has its own YouTube

"First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"

Perhaps a few voices would. Like the millions of dead from National Socialism in Germany.

Like the millions of dead under Soviet Socialism.

Like the millions of dead under Sino Socialism and the cultural revolution.

Like the millions of dead under the Khmer Rouge.

Like the millions of dead from the Italian Fascist Socialist, the Red Brigades, the Iraqi and Iranian dead under Baathist Socialism and so many more movements all dedicated in their founding documents to socialism.

So easy to forget history and literally, demonstrably tens of millions of dead who have no voice, because it is so easy to ask yet again, "First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"

Socialism is absolutley evil and corrupt. History tells the truth.

Thank You and Congratulations Firas Alkhateeb ! And a Windy City resident to boot. That was a very good idea and poster you made. The whining and complaining from the Left and Dems has been all worth listening to now knowing who you really are. The residents of Chicago and Illinois put up with a guy who claimed to be 'present', never ran a business, never had real executive power or decision making and they thought he should be president. Unfortunately the joke is now played on the country. Firas, Good luck, be brave, the libs and socialists are the ones to really watch out for - overly emotional and high strung. Keep up with the history- for if we don't learn we are destined to repeat those socialist mistakes. Remember all you enlightened people you are obligated to forgive him and show him how compassionate and adult you are.

Many people are making money from this image on Here is a link to a search using keywords obama and joker:

Why all the fuss over the Joker/Socialist poster? I don't remember any press coverage of the of the Guillotine/Bailout poster that appeared in the same areas of Los Angeles just before the fuss started about the Joker poster. As I recall, Obama voted for the bailout (and lost my vote for doing so) and has developed that same annoying "Let them eat cake!" attitude common with the Fools on the Hill. So, why no hand-wringing over the "Off with their heads!" Guillotine/Bailout poster? I mean, guillotines are more threatening than putting white face-paint on a clown.

I hope this guy does NOT become a teacher, but he probably will. Anyone who would create this picture and put it up for grabs on the internet in this climate, with what Obama has to face, is lacking imagination.

Just to inform you Mr. Alkhateeb, President Obama isn't a King. He is not all-powerful. He has to work within the government system to try and affect change. I too am disappointed in certain things that are happening, but I am not going to judge his performance day by day. A person can promise what he wants to do as President, but no one knows the job till they get there.

So, you are a fiscal liberal, and a conservative socialist?? That is very strange. Do you like religion in policy? Do you believe in separation of church and state? I wouldn't want you teaching my children.

I love your work Firas! When a painting says more than words - it is good!

I think those people like myself need to stand up and defend President Barack Obama, the African-American man who won the election! Yes I said African-American - that seems to be the problem for some people on the right and far-out right- they cant stand having a Black man for president.Ask Alkahteeb what he thinks of 911 and does he support Al Queda, Hamas, or Taliban before you say you agree with him.Besides he had to be "outed" he never came forth on his own - sound familiar?

Thank you! Thank you, thank you Chicago home-boy, I'm on the loose in the south bay L.A., on putting up as many freakin jokers of his ass everyware, trust me if the poster wasent a concern it would not be on the mass deception t.v., it's making a massive impack, patriots for truth keep pumpin, need more ink???? This is getting freakin fun, who's going to win the $1,000????

Now tell me, who did the Bush Joker picture some years ago?

"First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"

You ignorant SOB.

Socialism/Communism is the political system that has caused the most deaths and misery in the history of mankind. Nazism just gets the bad press, but it's the left that's most terrible, and contrary to nazism, socialism/communism still exists, and is now disguising as an "respectable political option". Read more, and travel more, you freaking moron.

I SALUTE you, Mr. Alkhateeb!!

I SALUTE WHOEVER made the poster and distributed it, even more!

I think this kid is a genius. How do you like THAT, Bucky?

The whole concept is perfect for pres zero:

- street thug

- kinda crazy....

-big huge enormous ego

IT'S A PERFECT FIT on so many levels it's incredible! God Bless You!

This Racist Wing-nut thinks Chairman Maobama is a "communist"...
--and possibly a fanatic (aka (HTIC) Terrorist)...


Obama is unmasked - FINALLY.

Can you imagine if this kid was white?? Oh the racism claims that would fly! I love this poster, because the truth hurts. Obama built this socialist agenda, he can learn how to deal with the backlash coming from it.

HA... That's funny. Now can he make one that makes B.O. look honest? (sorry, that just slipped out). I hope the herds of Obamanites don't do anything to harm this guy. What he did should be protected speach, but in these times you just never know....

Note all the pres zero sychophants that think the poster is not art.

Observe their anger at a minority.

This poster is more deep than you'll ever know.

"If you strike me down, I will become more powerful that you can imagine..."


typical 20 yr old, cannot tell the difference between socialism and capitalism.

Is no one else offended that our President is
shown here in white face?
Your discussion is beside the point of this image, which is racism.

Obama Joker, artist Firas Alkhateed is a 20-year-old college student from Pakistan, if I recall. Doesn't know if socialism being bad.

OH-OH! So much for the right wing! Funny how the "useful idiots" were going wild blaming the right! So, not only is Firas on the left but would have voted for Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich! LOL

Hardly a new example of the left media making things up without a bit of proof. Look at the gentleman with a gun outside the CO event has a PRO OBAMA HEALTH CARE SIGN! No wonder he hasn't been identified. Another plant from our little morons, like Cris "I have a tingle running up my leg" Matthews and the DNC.

AND we had the ever so under reported: Black Man Pleads Guilty to Posing as Obama-Hating White Supremacist on Facebook

I love it that a Palestinian photo-shopped this pic! I am also pleased that the "Socialist bandit" is still anonymous. May he or she remain so! Firas is 20; he has some common sense (as demonstrated by his disagreement with many of the president's domestic policies); and as for his question as to whether socialism is truly evil, he's young and will learn that his disagreement with BO's domestic policies is also disagreement with socialism. I agree with Chicago Garden. May the young man remain safe now that he is known.

Its the same as calling the kettle black.

Quote: "Socialism was the core principles of Hitler and Mussollini. That's why its wrong."

It was also the core principle of the earliest Christian communities. And many countries follow a very positive form of Socialism (think Norway, Sweden, etc... you know, all those countries whose quality of medical care/life is higher then the U.S.)

And as far as Alkhateeb is concerned- I may not agree with all of his views, but he did nothing extraordinary- just a guy playing around with his computer. But his handiwork has certainly been exploited by the loony-fringe.

complete unoriginal garbage....this would not even qualify for a student exhibition in the REAL art sucks like Jesus blowing his apostles....

I love the poster. I wish I could find a copy. I'm sure they won't try to bring a suit against the guy.

And yes, socialism and all forms of collectivism are evil. God protect us from those you know what's best for us.

We are now working twice as hard for less money, while more & more lazy people go on the public dole. It must be nice!

The number of erroneous claims made here is staggering.

"the end of life as TRUE RED BLOODED AMERICANS once knew"

Tell it to the Native Americans...

"...its destruction to any your History."

See European Union. Read your... well, try just reading for a start.

"Socialism was the core principles of Hitler and Mussollini"

You're thinking of fascism. I can see why you made the error, they're similar... in that they're exact opposites. Well done.

"BTW, socialism is evil--because it leads to communism--and that has NEVER, EVER, EVER worked as a final solution to problems. NEVER."

Again, see just-about-any-other-industrialized-nation-in-the-world. As an aside, capitalism has never, ever, ever worked as a final solution to problems. Never. As a reference, Google the Asian contagion. See what happens when capitalism has exhausted your usefulness.

"Next time around, we need to elect people like Kucinich or Paul. I don't care anymore if they pretend to agree with my positions, I want someone who has principles."

Fair enough I suppose; Obama wasn't my first choice, and had McCain not sold his soul to the GOP war machine late in the race, it may have been a tougher decision when I went to the polls. Not to make the comparison, but the aforementioned Hitler and Mussolini were men of intense principle. So was Bush. That comparison was intended.

Please, research your claims. Understand that most of the modern world incorporates a healthy amount of socialist thought in their domestic policy, and that one of the fundamental maxims of the socialist mind - From each according to their ability, to each according to their need - appears in the Book of Acts. Socialism is not just a viable political philosophy, it is seen by major world religions as morally laudable.

Immature to call Obama a socialist? Why would you say that? He is a socialist. I don't say that to demean, no more than calling someone a capitalist. I happen to agree capitalism is horrible but its the best the world has seen. Socialism has utterly failed, but its ideals survive because "the people who tried it did it the wrong way" or some other naive thinking.

I say obama is a socialist, I also say being a socialist is a bad thing, depending on the extent to which the legalized theft(excessive taxation) by government is carried. The United States is in a dire state of EXCESSIVE TAXATION. It takes taxpayers(those who actually pay taxes) until August 12 to pay the tax burden, that leaves 14 weeks of wages to live on for the year. It is time for the Democrat Socialists to be de-throned and de-horned.

America has been under attack by the far left-wing wack jobs for the 21 years, things have continued to decline and will not improve under more socialism. Death to socialism, it has become worse than anti-America at this point.

who was behind the 'bush joker' photo? oh, we didn't care, did we. i get it.

The real joker is Firas Alkhateeb. I get so sick of people attacking President Obama who is tackling the toughest problems this country has faced in 75 years.
The President as Joker was created months ago so what chance has this Firas Alkhateeb really given the President to succeed? Is he like so many others, just hoping the President fails so he can feel like he was right? As someone who is in a small company and right on the edge of losing medical coverage as a 50 year old man, I am pulling for our President to succeed.

I nominate Firas Alkhateeb for the artist of the year.

Obama is a socialist and this guy is going to become a teacher to start teaching history the way he wants it to been seen. I wonder what he'll do when a young lady questions his false teachings. hmmmm....

"...who said being a socialist is evil.."

The saddest part of the story is that there is a whole generation of young people (and some even not so young!) that sincerely believe that socialism can be benevolent, after a whole century of thorough experimentation in this field - pretty costly experimentation at that, worth over 100 million lives. And in terms of proverbial knowing your own history (those who don't are destined to repeat it), he must be creme of the crop in his generation - a history major. We're doomed!

"To accuse him of being a socialist is really ... immature. First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"

Let's see... a boy with too much time on his hands puts a clown face on a picture of the president of the United States and he calls us "immature". (Snicker) I guess he would know.

BTW, to answer his question... All of us who do NOT want to be socialists!

Consider the tens of millions of people who've lost their lives at the hands of socialists and the billions of people who've lost their liberty under the yoke of socialism.

If you value life and if you value liberty, "evil" would certainly be a fair characterization of socialism.

Nice work, Firas. I hope you understand that the criticism and name calling by neo liberals is just a way to shut you up. So by all means, don't shut up and keep on photoshoppin'!

Apparently, Patrick Hamilton doesn't know that ALL humans have red blood. It's not just Americans, you short-sighted fool.

Typical of bedwetting libs....if it would have been Bush, you all be saying how great AND appropriate it looks. But since it's of your god, he needs to go back to being a Wal-Mart door greeter.

If I were intellectually dishonest and vacant, I, too, could be a lib.

If something happens to this guy, go arrest our thug of a prez.

I think it was a cool picture and very creative.

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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