Neighbors in a California town are upset with a homeowner who put up a giant swastika display in his front yard, The San Francisco Chronicle reports, though the homeowner claims that it’s a Tibetan Buddhist symbol and not a symbol of hate.
The neighbor in question is Steve Johnson, a retired welder, and the neighborhood is El Sobrante, in the San Francisco Bay area. He says that he got tired of dealing with weeds in his front yard and decided that a permanent concrete display would be the way to go. He says he picked out a design he liked, bought the materials, and set to work.
However, it soon became obvious that his design bears a remarkable resemblance to a swastika, the symbol that was the emblem of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and which has since become a visual metaphor for white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and hate in general.
Neighbors aren’t pleased. Joni Arndt, who lives across the street, said that it makes her and her children feel unsafe.
“I don’t like it. I’m concerned for my children. When they want to go outside, I feel like I have to be outside,” she said.
Similarly, Renee Schultz, who is Jewish, says via Yahoo Lifestyle that she finds it offensive.
“On behalf of the Jews that died with that — yes, absolutely [it’s offensive]! I was very clear with him about my feelings. I don’t agree with it; I think it’s wrong.”
A man built a huge swastika in his front yard. But his neighbors weren’t nearly as enamored of the design. “I’m not against anybody,” Steve Johnson said in an interview. “I just thought it was a cool design.” https://t.co/GC0ZdSqBIn
— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) June 7, 2019
Johnson, however, says that he didn’t intend to turn his front yard into a giant hate symbol. He says that the symbol is a Tibetan Buddhist one, not a symbol of hate.
In fact, the design that became the basis for the swastika did originate in Buddhism. As BBC News explains, the original version comes from a Hindi word which means “well-being” and is, to this day, a symbol of luck. A similar design can be found in ancient Greek art as well as the art of ancient European tribes such as the Celts and Balkan and Baltic peoples.
However, there’s something of a difference between the original symbol and the Nazi symbol in that the original symbol could be found oriented either of two ways, as you can see in the image below.
In the Nazi iteration, however, the symbol is never presented in the mirror image orientation that you can see in the bottom two renderings in the image above; rather, it’s always oriented the way the top two are. Johnson’s swastika is oriented in the same way the Nazi version is.
Though Schultz is offended by the image, she thinks that Johnson doesn’t fully understand the implications of what he’s done.
“I just don’t think he’s very intelligent. I don’t think he understands the depth of it. I think he just thinks it’s cool.”
She also adds that she doesn’t believe her neighbor is trying to make a hateful statement with it.
“He’s not a bad guy. He’s harmless,” she said.