A California man has stirred up controversy among his neighbors by displaying a gigantic swastika symbol in his front yard.
Steve Johnson, a resident of El Sobrante, told local ABC affiliate KGO this week that what he chooses to exhibit on his property is no one’s business but his own.
“I own this house. I’ll put what I want. It ain’t none of your guys’ business,” he said.
Johnson claimed his swastika is not akin to the infamous symbol of Nazi Germany, which has come to be associated with bigotry and white supremacy.
“It’s a Tibetan sign that’s way back before swastikas were invented,” he told KGO.
Asked if he was Tibetan, Johnson replied: “I could be.”
Both the clockwise and counterclockwise-facing swastika are icons of some Eastern religions. The Third Reich adopted the clockwise-facing swastika, which is what Johnson erected in a dirt lot in his yard.
One of Johnson’s neighbors, Renee Schultz, who is Jewish, told KGO that she found the display offensive. Others were concerned that the swastika would hurt their property values. Still others came to Johnson’s defense, saying he had always been kind in their interactions with him.
“I look at his behavior and attitude towards us – we’ve never had a problem with him. He’s always nice to us that’s what I can say,” Mary Salinas told KGO.
Speaking to local Fox affiliate KTVU, Johnson declared: “I ain’t got no hatred in me. There’s no hatred in me. I love everybody.”
Johnson’s swastika highlights a bigger debate
As America has grown more diverse, mainstream culture has become increasingly conscious of potentially offensive expressions, especially when it comes to members of allegedly marginalized identity groups.
Many conservatives, and some liberals, have complained that free speech is being over-policed by a bunch of woke youngsters armed with terms like “microaggressions” and “unconscious bias.” Such critics have argued that being “triggered” isn’t inherently bad, or an indication that racism is afoot. Sometimes, feeling uncomfortable is simply part of the process of encountering new ideas.
A subgroup of conservatives have taken it upon themselves to teach liberals this lesson with relentless trolling. However, to an outsider, it’s not always clear who’s owning the libs and who’s just a Nazi.