El Sobrante Man Claims Front-Yard Swastika Is Spiritual, Fools No One

Meanwhile, the city of Dublin rethinks its opposition to flying a Pride flag in June, while YouTube bans white supremacists and Nazis.

Because we’re not going to run a picture of that swastika. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

YouTube finally got around to banning Nazis and white supremacists, which is wonderful news. But while the internet’s heavy-hitters might be cleaning up their acts, an IRL person in the Bay Area decided now’s a good time to display a big old Nazi symbol on his property. It looks kind of like a raised bed, but in an otherwise unkempt, weedy yard.

While sitting on his motorcycle, Steve Johnson of El Sobrante told KTVU that the emblem of the Third Reich he constructed is “a symbol of the hand rail on his house.” And it’s true: The entrance to his home has some conspicuous metalwork in that very shape. While it probably would have behooved the KTVU reporter to inquire where that particularly Hitler-ish door came from — because it probably wasn’t Home Depot Expo — he seems to have asked the same question again, and got a different answer.

“That’s a life symbol,” Johnson said. “Tibetan priests used to have that way before Hitler was ever even thought of.”

The reporter, to his credit, points out that the swastika’s arms point clockwise, just like the Nazis’ preferred ideogram of fascist domination did. While we can’t pinpoint Steve Johnson’s personal politics with any certainly — although here’s a guess: They’re muddled at best — his explanation feels similar to the way a lot of right-wing trolls operate. They do something outrageous and juvenile, cite a largely incorrect factoid pertaining to a cultural history to which they have no demonstrable attachment, then (frequently) claim their First Amendment rights have been violated when people rightly take offense. If Steve Johnson faces pressure to remove his tacky swastika and put up some nice pink flamingos instead, expect him to become Laura Ingraham’s newest cause celebre within hours.

What can we even say about the swastika as a symbol? A non-negligible percentage of people still seem to love it in spite of how it’s visual equivalent of the N-word, pretty much the worst thing you can display. Well, way back in 2017, some apparently well-intentioned but ultimately knuckleheaded hippie types wanted to reclaim the swastika for a line of apparel emblazoned with pseudo-profundities in the Live-Laugh-Love vein. (This interview with the creators of KA Design reveals such a lack of self-awareness that the whole thing may have been a stunt.)

It’s so unnerving to see one that even theatrical productions that involve them can court controversy — especially in Germany, which bans swastikas outright. Don’t forget that some guy in the Castro hoisted a Nazi flag the day after Trump was elected president, too.

Now look, it’s simply true that swastikas are a blessing in a number of cultures, from the Aztecs to the Celts. (The word “swastika” is derived from the Sanskrit word for “good health,” and etymologically, it’s related to the word “hygiene,” which is Greek for “good health.”) Further, you see swastikas from time to time, mostly as decorative elements in pre-war buildings. At the college I went to, which had a substantial Jewish population, you could see them in the tiles at the entrance to the campus’ main building. They’re not uncommon in places with a strong Native American heritage, like Albuquerque. But after the deaths of many millions of people in the Holocaust and the subsequent rise of neo-fascism, they’re radioactive — especially for white people in Trump’s America. Why is this so difficult?

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the East Bay, the city of Dublin reversed its earlier decision not to fly the Pride flag during June. This is good news, but it’s clearly setting in motion a confrontation between the city and some conservative-leaning residents who want them to hoist an “NRA Pride flag” or whatever.

To be clear: dues-paying membership in an association for gun-owners doesn’t register you as a member of a marginalized group, and gun ownership is not a protected class under federal or state law. Yet.

Let’s assume the Dublin city council saw this one coming, which was what spurred them not to approve the rainbow flag in the first place — even though Walnut Creek did just that, by unanimous vote. But then it became national news so Dublin had to un-paint itself out of one corner and potentially into another.

Anyway, the world is getting better in fits and starts, two steps forward and one step back and all that. And if you want some smart thoughts on YouTube’s decision, my former colleague Julia Carrie Wong has a very good tweet thread about that.

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