‘A lot of regret:’ California man hides swastika landscaping with blankets — for now

Screengrab from KGO video

A California man says he regrets landscaping a huge swastika on his lawn — in part because it caused international outrage, and in part because he invested $800 in the design.

That’s how much it cost Steve Johnson, a retired welder in El Sobrante, to buy the cement needed to create the 10-foot-by-10-foot Nazi symbol on his East Bay lawn, Bay Area News Group reports.

“I didn’t expect anything like this,” Johnson said of the controversy, according to the outlet. “So I have a lot of regret about it from that standpoint. Everybody’s been going crazy. I didn’t expect that to happen, and I didn’t put it in to offend everybody. I did it because my neighbors told me to get rid of my weeds.”

After the installation made headlines earlier this month, an online petition titled “The Community of El Sobrante Speaks Out Against Swastika Installation” was created to condemn it.

“The presence of a swastika in our community makes many people feel unsafe to live in a community that tolerates visible expressions of hate and bigotry,” the petition reads. “Therefore, we are calling on this person to remove the swastika.”

Read Next

So far, more than 3,500 people have signed on — roughly 1,000 of them in California, according to the website that hosts the petition. A Facebook group called Indivisible El Sobrante has also created a “protest/vigil” event to rally against the swastika. It’s scheduled for June 20 to “raise our signs & voices against all hate in our community,”

“Our vigils are peaceful and nonviolent demonstrations,” the event description says. “Please bring signs and good energy.”

By Wednesday, Johnson had apparently gotten the message: He concealed the lawn swastika with blankets, Bay Area News Group reported. Johnson said that was just a temporary solution “to calm things down,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Johnson said three of his vehicles have been egged during the controversy, and he has an answering machine full of threatening, vitriolic messages, according to the Chronicle.

Now he says he’s trying to figure out what to do next.

“I haven’t decided what I’m going to do,” Johnson said, according to the Chronicle. “There’s been a lot more (reaction) than I expected. Everybody’s on my butt about this.”

Johnson mused that he “may fill in the rest of it where the dirt is, with another color, so (the swastika) doesn’t stand out so much,” according to Bay Area News Group.

Previously, Johnson denied knowing what the symbol meant or that it’s tied to Nazi Germany, with local TV station KPIX reporting last week that he asked “what’s a swastika” before he shooed reporters away.

“It doesn’t represent anything,” Johnson said when the controversy began, according to KNTV. “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?”

Johnson claimed to have copied the design from one he saw on a handrail near his door, KTVU reported.

“I was just continuing it on my front yard,” he said, according to the TV station.

But critics like the Anti-Defamation League — an international nonprofit that tackles anti-Semitism — weren’t buying it.

“This huge swastika is deeply offensive to Jews and all others, and understandably causes neighbors to be concerned,” the group wrote on Twitter June 5, sharing a Sacramento Bee article about the controversy. “We urge this homeowner to remove it immediately.”

Related stories from Durham Herald Sun