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‘I own this house.’ California man shrugs off complaints about swastika in front yard

Screengrab from KGO video

Neighbors say the message sent by a giant concrete swastika in the front yard of a home in El Sobrante, California, is pretty clear — but the homeowner disagrees.

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“It’s a Tibetan sign that’s way back before swastikas were invented,” said Steve Johnson, who told reporters he “could be” Tibetan, KGO reported.

The Tibetan symbol typically has arms pointing counter-clockwise, while the swastika adopted by the Nazis has arms pointing clockwise, like the symbol in Johnson’s yard, according to the station.

But Johnson had other explanations — numerous ones — when reporters asked about the symbol.

He said he copied the motif from the design of a handrail by his front door, KTVU reported.

“I was just continuing it on my front yard,” Johnson said, according to the outlet.

“It doesn’t represent anything,” Johnson also said, KNTV reported. “That represents me not having to pull weeds over in that part of my yard; that’s what it represents to me. What does it represent to you?”

He also asked “what’s a swastika,” KPIX reported, before ordering reporters off his property.

“I own this house and I’ll put what the hell I want on my front yard and it’s none of you guys’ business, so get the hell off my property!” Johnson said, according to the station.

Johnson’s El Sobrante neighbors aren’t buying any of his various explanations. The community of 13,000 is located in the Bay Area, northeast of Richmond in the East Bay.

“I was very clear with him about my feelings,” said Renee Schultz, who is Jewish, KNTV reported. “I don’t agree with it; I think it’s wrong. I don’t like it, but it is his yard.”

“I’m very ashamed of it,” said Vince Poehnelt, who said he has lived on the street since 1967, KPIX reported.

But Poehnelt, who said he has known Johnson since childhood, also said he doesn’t think Johnson poses a threat to the neighborhood, KNTV reported.

“I consider the guy harmless,” Poehnelt said. “Maybe he’s a little too lazy to be a full-blown neo-Nazi.”

“I look at his behavior and attitude towards us — we’ve never had a problem with him,” said Mary Salinas, KGO reported. “He’s always nice to us that’s what I can say.”

But the San Francisco branch of the Anti-Defamation League called the swastika “deeply offensive” in a post on Twitter.

“This huge swastika is deeply offensive to Jews and all others, and understandably causes neighbors to be concerned. We urge this homeowner to remove it immediately,” the post reads.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.
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