Before he got his vanity plate, Robert Heppler and his friends would send pictures in their group chat of clever plates they saw around the city. It got him thinking about what his would say. “You want to wow the world,” he said. “You want to be shocking. You want to be sensational.”
He considered, then rejected, a few options — a call to “NVR4GT” 9/11, a “NOTPOOR” plate he decided sounded “really pretentious” — before settling on the name of the Keith Raniere-led sex cult just as the news of sexual abuse allegations was breaking. He took a screenshot of the mock-up and sent it to the group chat.
“Everyone I showed that to all died; they were like, ‘This is hilarious,’” he said. “And I felt because it was so early, because the movies hadn’t come out yet, that they couldn’t ban it.”
Heppler’s provocative sense of humor hasn’t translated well. As awareness of NXIVM rose, the reactions to the plate grew angrier. “I don’t know if harassed is the right word, but you know in the movie ‘Inception’ when all the population starts turning on them when they’re in their dreams?” he said. “I’ll see their eyes read it, and then I’ll see their brain say, ‘Oh, my God, this makes me mad.’”
People take pictures and glare, someone left a bag of dog poop on his windshield, his driver’s side mirror was smashed in (this may have been a coincidence) and he suspects a woman got into a car accident while trying to take a photo of his plate. The tipping point came when parents at his son’s private school complained about the plate and his car was banned from campus.
He’s in the process of getting a new plate, a reference to Orlando Magic player Mo Bamba and the hit Sheck Wes song named after him. Heppler liked the idea of a professional athlete walking onto the court on his first day to one of the biggest songs in the world, a song that happens to be about him. “I don’t know if that’s ever happened in the history of time,” he said, adding: “Anyway, I thought it’d be a little less scandalous and that I won’t get my windows smashed.” — AJ