Someone painted Nazi symbols and slogans over the words “Black Lives Matter” in the Logan High School parking lot recently, prompting cultural tensions in the online discussion that followed.
Chris McGinty said he regularly walks by the high school, which is near his home. He “unfortunately wasn’t necessarily surprised, but really disappointed and disheartened” by the graffiti, which included two swastikas as well as other white supremacist and Nazi symbols, some in black spray paint and some that appeared to be in sidewalk chalk. The word “black” was scribbled out and the original message was altered to read “white lives matter.”
After thinking it over, McGinty decided to post a photo of the graffiti in online communities.
Mario Mathis of the local Black Lives Matter chapter responded to the graffiti, sharing McGinty’s photo to his own Facebook Page.
“As I have stated before, ‘If you know where you are on the map then you can get to your destination,’” Mathis wrote. “This is WHERE YOU ARE on the MAP, LOGAN and the rest of UTAH!”
Mathis told The Herald Journal he’s used the map analogy multiple times over the past year as he’s spoken at local events on the topic of racism.
“That’s four blocks from where I live, really, four or five blocks from where I live,” Mathis said.
Having experienced racism as a local black resident, the graffiti is “not surprising or shocking to me,” Mathis said. “It’s not frightening to me, either. But it is unacceptable.”
Logan City School District Superintendent Frank Schofield said the district is “disappointed in the imagery and the language that was used there.”
“Our goal as a district is to make sure that all of our students, regardless of their background, feel safe and supported in all of our schools and feel there are places where their unique personalities and background are respected,” Schofield said. “And unfortunately that imagery and those messages are contrary to that.”
It doesn’t look like the original Black Lives Matter message in the parking lot was vandalism, Schofield said, but part of a fundraiser where student body officers sell reserved parking spaces — and the chance to decorate those spaces themselves — to students.
Logan City Police Department Capt. Curtis Hooley said a school employee reported the incident, and it’s under investigation, but so far they don’t have any suspects. The graffiti appeared in the school’s west parking lot sometime Tuesday or Wednesday.
Hooley said it’s still too early in the investigation to know whether the evidence and information they turn up will fit the legal definitions of a hate crime.
“Having a swastika and stuff is obviously very concerning,” Hooley said. “But as far as whether it would be a hate crime, obviously we’d have to work through the investigation to understand all the details of that … it’s possible. It’s certainly possible, but it’s hard to say for sure, at this point, exactly where this will lead us.”
Seth Brysk, Central Pacific Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League, said it’s often difficult to tell at the outset whether incidents like this fit the definition of a hate crime, though the ADL counts them as at least “hate incidents” regardless of what the legalities turn out to be.
Many of the social media reactions to the graffiti assumed it was done by “stupid kids.”
“Kids make stupid mistakes,” Krissee Sorensen wrote on a Facebook thread. “And I agree that graffiti is wrong. This is clearly an error in judgement and possibly not just one minor involved. … Let’s give these kids a chance to learn and do better. Not crucify them for being educated ill-effectively.”
Brysk said while sometimes kids or others who aren’t “committed ideologues” of a movement might use its symbols in vandalism, the graffiti at Logan High displayed an accurate knowledge of relatively obscure Nazi slogans and symbols.
Vandalism by kids or those not aligned with an extremist movement is “usually distinguished by improper drawing of certain symbols, or it’s unaccompanied by some of the language that demonstrates a clearer commitment to and knowledge of an extremist ideology,” Brysk said. “That, sadly, is not the case here. It would appear from the picture you provided that the person or persons who did this have a very clear understanding of extremist ideology and are trying to promote it.”
In addition to the widely recognizable swastikas, among the the parking lot graffiti were less familiar Nazi symbols, including “1488,” a reference to two numbers used by Nazi groups. The 14 references the “14 Words,” a Nazi creed stating “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The 88 is used by Nazis as a code for “Heil Hitler,” because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Also included was a lightning bolt that could resemble the SS logo. “We are everywhere,” a slogan common in recent Nazi and white supremacist graffiti, was written at the bottom.
Neo-Nazis are a “very troubling group and worth taking seriously, but nevertheless very small, very fringe,” Brysk said. “And this (type of graffiti) is an effort to say, ‘No no, we’re big, we’re powerful, we’re everywhere.’”
The Nazi symbols were mixed with slogans also used by less extreme conservative and patriotic movements, including the hashtag “AmericaFirst.” While that was one of the Trump Administration’s slogans, the graffiti added the name of a white nationalist livestreamer with a show by the same name.
“1776” was also written in the graffiti, apparently a reference to the year the U.S. declared independence from England. Brysk said the number is sometimes used by those in the “Three-Percenter” militia movement, which is named after a belief that only 3% of colonial Americans participated in the Revolutionary War.
“And their rationale continues, therefore, that it’s a very small fringe that lead a righteous fight,” Brysk said. “And they sort of view themselves as being that 3%, that very small fringe but that is engaged in a righteous fight to protect Americans from government and to promote the beliefs that they have.”
A cross was also represented in the vandalism, which Brysk said was another example of a symbol with multiple meanings used in a specific way by extremists.
“Symbols have multiple meanings; even the swastika has a harmless meaning dating back in history, particularly for people from South Asia,” Brysk said. “The cross obviously has a positive meaning to it, but this is sort of a probably part and parcel of the ideology of the person or people who did this, that America is a country for white people, Christian people.”
McGinty posted his photo of the graffiti on the local Facebook page “Cache Valley 411,” where it sparked hundreds of comments. Reactions included many condemnations of Nazism and white supremacy in solidarity with black residents. But a few other users condemned Black Lives Matter and compared the movement itself to Nazism.
“For somebody to say that a movement against police brutality against black people and people of color is the same as a Nazi group?” Mathis said. “Nazis put Jews in concentration camps, LGBTQ people in concentration camps, other people of color that weren’t the ‘white, Aryan race’ in concentration camps and murdered them by the millions. Tested on them. Did experiments on them. Murdered them by the millions. How the f*** is that the same? It is not the same.”
A couple of commenters posed the theory that Black Lives Matter or other progressive activists wrote the graffiti themselves “to stir up hatred for the right.”
Mathis said that idea is “absolutely ridiculous.”
“The black people in this community are too busy with real racism to be running around trying to create — I don’t know — contrived, manipulated racism, racist events,” he said. “I go out of my door and people cross the street. I park my car — and two of my cars are very expensive cars — I park my car next to somebody else and they lock it, they still lock it, like I want to trade my car for their whatever. Just because I’m black. It’s a visceral reaction to my skin.”
Mathis added: “We don’t have to create scenes of racism to make ourselves relevant, to make racism relevant. To perpetuate racism? That just really sounds absolutely ridiculous to me.”
Brysk said there have been cases where someone’s created hate messaging targeting people like themselves in an attempt to drum up sympathy or attention, but it’s very, very rare.
“There are a couple of famous and rare occasions where it’s done by the ostensible targets to try to draw attention to themselves or to get a reaction that’s favorable to them,” Brysk said.
Brysk said more helpful responses to upsetting incidents like this include “speaking up, sharing facts and showing strength.”
“It’s important for people to speak up and speak out against this,” Brysk said, for “members of the community to stand up and say, ‘We reject this.’”
Hooley said anyone with additional information on this incident is encouraged to call the Logan City Police Department at (435)753-7555.
Brysk said hate incidents often go unreported, so it’s important to make sure police have been notified but also to contact organizations like the Anti-Defamation League so they can be documented. The Central Pacific Regional Office can be reached at (415)981-3500.