CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Phil Parlock (search) says he's a peaceful guy who doesn't mind carrying a Republican sign to a Democratic rally.
Others say he has a history since 1996 of attending Democratic rallies in West Virginia for the sole purpose of provoking the anger of the party faithful.
On Thursday, the Huntington real estate agent said, he hid nine Bush-Cheney signs under his pant leg and took 3-year-old daughter Sophia and 11-year-old son Alex to a rally for Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards (search). An older son manned the van outside the rally with a larger Bush sign.
When it came time for Edwards to leave Tri-State Airport, Parlock said, he gave his children signs to proclaim their support for Bush. Just as quickly, the signs were ripped out of their hands and torn apart, he said. Two more signs were thrust into their hands. Again, Edwards supporters tore them away, he said.
"It was like a feeding frenzy," the father of 10 said Friday. "I didn't want to have Sophia being defeated and I told her to hold up the sign, but they kept going after the last shred."
Sophia broke into tears, and the image of the child resting on her father's shoulders with a torn Bush sign in her hands was caught in Associated Press photographs.
That image became the subject of intensely partisan Internet chatter on Friday, with some Democratic supporters suggesting the incident was staged and that the sign had been grabbed by one of Parlock's other children. Other messages pointed out that Parlock was involved in similar incidents twice before.
In 2000, Parlock and one of his sons smuggled in 12 Bush-Cheney signs to a campaign rally for Al Gore at the state Capitol. Police ejected them after Gore supporters tried to tear the signs away from them.
During a 1996 campaign stop in Huntington by then-President Clinton (search), Parlock held up a sign outside the rally with the words "Vince Foster," referring to Clinton's former deputy counsel who was found dead in a Virginia park on July 20, 1993. The sign was taken by steel workers attending the rally.
"We're not part of an organization. We're not part of the political machine here," Parlock said. "It's not bad to show children that you can go and express an alternative viewpoint and stand fast for that viewpoint no matter what people say."
West Virginia is viewed as a battleground state in this year's presidential election. Although voter registration is 2-to-1 Democrat, Bush won the state in 2000 by 6 percentage points.
Amy Shuler Goodwin, a spokeswoman for the John Kerry campaign in West Virginia, said their goal is to "include everyone in our events. But when your main goal is to disrupt and be the center of focus of the event, that's not what anybody wants."
Parlock said he doesn't fault the Kerry campaign.
"Two of the Kerry people apologized even though it was not their fault," he said. "It was their constituency's fault."
The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades issued a statement Friday apologizing for the distress of the family. The photos showed a man wearing an IUPAT shirt and holding a piece of a sign.
"We extend our apologies to the Parlock family, especially Sophia, for the distress one of our overzealous members caused them," president James A. Williams said in the statement. A call seeking comment from the union after business hours was not immediately returned Friday night.