Jacqueline Zaviska almost didn't submit the photo
It was 6:30 p.m. on July 13, just 30 minutes before judging at the Pennington County Fair ended, and the 18-year-old was "in the Huck [Olson Arena] parking lot putting my entries together with tape and sharpies I had just bought at Walmart."
She went back and forth, whittling down her eight possibilities to four, and messaged her friend: Should she include the one of the burning Trump-Pence sign, striking orange flames against a black backdrop?
Her friend said yes, so in it went, ultimately earning a blue ribbon from the judges.
Then the criticism started.
The Pennington County Republicans Facebook group shared the photo, describing it as "offensive" and calling on those who felt the same to contact the fair board and local 4-H club. The group also publicly challenged Zaviska, whose age was incorrectly listed as 17 on the photo, about the scene and its appropriateness.
"I wasn't really meaning to send a message or anything like that," Zaviska told Bring Me The News, explaining she just really liked the technical aspects of the photo and calling the criticism "pretty interesting."
"It was always something about the photograph 'perpetuating hate,'" she said, "never about the composition and/or quality, which is what I was judged on and why I got a blue ribbon."
Zaviska said she was "proud" of her shot, despite some negative reaction, adding: "I can not, and will not, be bullied into submission by those that do not like it." She also pointed to overt displays of support for former president Donald Trump at the county fair, including a booth on the midway.
"Their freedom of speech is totally OK, but suddenly when I do it, it becomes a big problem," she said.
She'd taken the photo "by happenstance" in rural Pennington County, she said, sometime in December (though she can't remember the exact date). She said she did not steal the sign, as some have suggested she might have done, calling it "just not true," and said the person who did have the sign had previously purchased it.
The scene, when she saw it, just looked right for a photo.
"I don't go into a situation planning on taking a picture," said Zaviska, who has long held an interest in photography,
The Trump-Pence sign photograph was one of four she submitted as part of the photo competition at the fair. Two others earned grand champion ribbons, so she'll get to head to the Minnesota State Fair.