LA MESA, Calif. — Unfortunately, for much of East County, seeing a Nazi flag flying across town draped over an SUV has become more common. On January 12, the same car was spotted in a La Mesa parking lot.
This symbol, labeled by the Anti-Defamation League as “one of the most potent hate symbols worldwide,” spawned thousands of reactions on Twitter and a local community Facebook page called La Mesa Happenings.
The man behind the wheel has been written about before when residents first spotted his black and red car draped with the flag. He lives in Alpine and had a gun-violence restraining order issued to him in December 2019.
According to Rabbi Joshua Dorsch with the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in the Cowles Mountain area, it doesn’t matter the reasoning. He said the symbol is hateful and concerning to the community.
“It symbolized murder, it symbolizes the worst atrocities committed in human existence,” Rabbi Dorsch said. “It’s also a trigger as San Diego is home to a lot of Holocaust survivors.”
According to the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, 500 Holocaust survivors live in San Diego.
“There’s definitely a heightened awareness of the antisemitism in our society and in the world around us going on right now,” Rabbi Dorsch said.
Tammy Gillies is a San Diego regional director with the ADL and says these last four or five years have emboldened people to reveal hateful rhetoric and biases.
“Just like the folks that you saw on January 6, at the Capitol, people feel emboldened to express these hateful ideologies,” Gillies said. “And we just have to fight against it as a community every day.”
Gillies said that while the first amendment grants the Alpine man the right to wave the flag, he’s inviting more hate into the community already stricken with an assumption of white supremacy.
“The message of the flag is ‘if you like what I’m saying, come and talk to me, if you don’t like it, well, you know what I’m about and I want you to be afraid,’” Gillies said.
When asked to comment on the situation regarding the Alpine man hoisting his flag, nearly 250 comments sprouted from the La Mesa Happenings Facebook page.
BW Jones from La Mesa responded on Facebook by saying he’s disappointed with the divisiveness of the nation.
“This kind of expression cannot be tolerated, and I’m sick and tired of hearing about first amendment rights,” Jones said. “This is what happens when our next generations become too far detached from the mothers and fathers who lived and survived WWII.”
Cynthia J Flores from Spring Valley said “We as a people should be above this all since we are the most educated generation. Why are we still displaying these types of flags?”
Despite the public outcry, the La Mesa Police Department says there have been no complaints filed against the car or the flag.
“We are aware of the recent social media post depicting a vehicle displaying a swastika on its window in La Mesa,” a police spokesperson said in an email to News 8. “If any crimes arise regarding this vehicle or its occupants they will be documented and fully investigated.”
Rabbi Dorsch said that even though the man from Alpine hasn’t reportedly physically harmed anyone, it doesn’t dilute the sting his message sends.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but… words are really powerful,” Rabbi Dorsch said. “Not just because of how they make people feel, because, at the end of the day, they can also incite people to act upon those feelings in really violent ways.”
Gillies said people have reported this same man to the ADL before, but it’s important to look for other ways in denouncing hate speech and symbols.
“I think that really, it’s in the hands of the community to say this is not acceptable to us,” Gillies said. “We’re not going to embrace this, that we want to take actions to build a world where decency replaces this type of antisemitism, racism and hate.”
“Citizens are the eyes and ears of the community,” Gillies said. She added not to approach the man if he appears again with the flag and recommends reporting the sightings to local police.