During a meal at a local Chinese restaurant, a silver-haired man paying for a carryout meal spotted Karen Fonseca across the room and asks, “is that your truck?”
Parked a couple spots down from the front door of the Rice and Roll restaurant in Stafford was Fonseca’s infamous white GMC Sierra with the stickers on the back window dismissing President Donald Trump and Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls.
Fonseca, seated with her 19-year-old daughter and a reporter, nodded, and smiled. The man gives a wide grin and gave a thumbs-up gesture.
“I like it,” he said and walked out grinning.
It’s a scene repeated daily, Fonseca said, but even more so once her message went viral after the sheriff posted a picture Nov. 15 of the truck on Facebook stating he’d received multiple complaints and wanted to talk with her. Nehls stated at the time that her message of “F— Trump and f— you for voting for him” was inciteful and could “breach the peace” if someone took it personally.
He said he could charge her with disorderly conduct and the following day she was arrested while leaving the Rice and Roll restaurant with a bowl of soup.
The arrest sparked a flurry of outrage over freedom of speech. Nehls said once he learned her identity he removed the post from his Facebook page. He also learned she had a felony warrant for an alleged fraud from a 2014 incident. She was arrested on that charge.
The arrest created a flurry of protest from those who said the sheriff targeted Fonseca because he did not like the message and violated her First Amendment right to free speech.
Fonseca was surprised because she had the sign on the truck for nearly a year. Last year on Dec. 23 she went to Austin and got married. Her husband Mike had a small sticker on his truck with the same message and the truck was stolen.
It took two months to get another truck and her husband said he wanted a bigger sign. By now Trump was in office and Fonseca said she was growing weary of the new president.
“I know f— Trump is a bold statement to say how you feel. You can say, ‘we don’t like Trump or impeach Trump.’ Everyone says that. But when you’re mad you say ‘f— Trump and f— you for messing up our world,” Fonseca said.
The mother of 12 dismisses the concerns from some who are upset when they see the truck on the road and have to explain the obscenity to their children.
“I understand, but they can hear this in their music,” she said. “And what about the president and what he is doing?”
“I don’t like the border wall separating families, and he has the audacity to say Mexico will pay for it,” she said. “The few who do make it over here are not causing the high crime; they are trying to raise a family. And crime, it’s in every nationality. But he’s all about separating. We are one. I’d say to Trump, ‘why don’t you try to help them and not separate them.’”
News of her arrest landed in newspapers across the country and abroad. Now she is selling merchandise including bumper stickers, hoodies, sweatshirts and bumper stickers online and in person when she travels across the state meeting folks who engaged her on Facebook. The first Go Fund Me page was created by one of her daughters following the arrest. She was released on bond and the case is expected to go to court in January. She said it involves a dispute between Fonseca and a former family friend she stayed with during her divorce from her husband of 22 years.
Now, Fonseca is traveling across the state with her message. People want to get pictures of themselves with the truck so a second go Fundly.com account was started to pay for traveling expenses. Any additional monies will go toward helping the elderly get public transportation to the polls, she said. So far she raised $930 from both campaigns.
Even State Rep. Ronald Reynolds stepped in to support Fonseca and stood up with her when she gave a press conference following her arrest.
“What outraged me was that she was targeted. I never saw anyone from the right criticize anyone who had an ‘F’ Obama vulgarity and I saw plenty in Fort Bend County,” he said. “There was never any outrage, but she was targeted because she was criticizing Trump and she was used as a political football for his (Nehls) agenda to run for Congress. So she reached out to me, I stepped forward and gave her someone, Attorney Brian Middleton, who is doing this pro bono because her rights were violated.”
Reynolds said he is “not buying” the idea that she was arrested the day after the sheriff posted on his Facebook page and it was because of the fraud charge.
“Coincidence, I don’t think so,” he said.
Fonseca said she does not like the way Trump treats women.
“He has no family values. I don’t see them when he’s groping the women. He makes fun of the disabled and I have a special needs son. He mocks the elderly and he is very divisive. But we are all one,” she said.
She is gratified, she said, to see support coming from all races and demographics and from across the country and abroad. She sold bumper stickers to people in Japan and Britain. She went to Austin recently fulfilling a request to come sell her merchandise and to allow people to take pictures with the truck.
Not everyone is supportive. The message angers some older, white people, she said.
She recalled a moment in a Walmart parking lot where a motorist waited for her return and tried to interview her with his camera phone running.
“He stood in my face asking why do you represent this, why don’t you like Trump,” she said.
She believes he was taping a live segment because he kept looking into his phone while questioning her and shoving the camera in her face.
“I got in my truck and said, ‘tell your people if they like this kind of entertainment to go f— themselves too,’” she said.
She said strangers have made up stories about her online. When they learned she had a dozen children it was assumed that they all had 12 different fathers and she was on welfare, she said shaking her head.
Her children ranging in ages 6-24 are all from the same father from a 22-year marriage. She went through a divorce that took three years to complete.
“We can’t live together but we make it work for the kids,” she said. “We have shared weekends with the little ones.”
Because of the stress of the divorce, she said, she quit her job after working a year and a half at the Fort Bend County sheriff’s Office as a jailer. She said she met Nehls after working there for three months when he came to the jail for a talk. He was two years into his first term. She was surprised, she said, when she saw him walking down the hall and he stopped to ask her the location of the briefing room.
“What kind of boss doesn’t know where the briefing room is,” she said.
She enjoyed her stint at the jail where some were behind bars for tollbooth violations and others with more serious offenses. She said she would talk with anyone, unless they were a child molester or murderer. Fonseca said she also worked as a guard at a state prison in Huntsville.
Fonseca was born and raised in the Catholic Church tradition in the Richmond/Rosenberg area.
“That was my grandmother’s upbringing. She instilled in me strong family values. I grew up a hard road. I didn’t have a father. I left home when I was 16. But everybody has a story and that’s what I would tell the inmates. I would listen to them and encourage them,” she said.
Some have found her on Facebook and told her they appreciated how she treated them.
Fonseca no longer clings to one religion.
“You have to be one with God; he knows everything. I see the haters out there but I don’t judge them. I see me as a person for everybody. Skin doesn’t matter, religion doesn’t matter, sexual preference doesn’t matter,” said Fonseca. “You have to see what they project.”
She said her goal is to see Trump impeached and to empower those sitting on the sidelines to vote and become active in civics and know the law.
Fonseca recalled a time in Richmond when an officer stopped her as she was getting gas. He wanted to give her a ticket because of her truck message.
“I told him I would accept the ticket if he could show me what I was doing wrong,” he said.
He looked for 20 minutes and could not find anything.
Another time two police officers in Houston driving alongside her laughed at the message and asked to take a picture of the truck. One of the officers, she said, told her to take her time getting through the intersection so he could get a good photo of the back of the truck.
Fonseca said she has no words for the sheriff.
“I have no words for him but I want to thank him for putting us on his Facebook page and putting me on blast instead of coming to talk to me. It opened eyes onto what kind of sheriff we’ve got,” she said. “This has done me a favor because I have most everyone coming up to me and saying I’m glad you are doing this.”