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East Bay community to owner of swastika lawn art: Get rid of it

Rick Hurd, East Bay Times on

Published in News & Features

EL SOBRANTE, Calif. -- It didn't take a petition for Steven Johnson to start regretting his decision to landscape a Nazi symbol on his front yard.

But his neighbors, disturbed by the giant concrete swastika that showed up last week on Johnson's lawn, decided that they needed to make their voices heard.

An online petition started by a group called "Not In Our Town-El Sobrante" called for Johnson to remove the 10 foot-by-10-foot swastika. By Wednesday morning, it had gathered 2,700 signatures, most from California, but others from around the world weighed in as well.

"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," a statement from the group said. "Therefore, we are calling on this person to remove the swastika."

Johnson, 65, apparently heard the call. The swastika was covered with blankets on Wednesday, a decision Johnson said he made a week ago after his Third Reich-inspired landscaping choice made national news.

"I didn't expect anything like this," he said of the attention he received. "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.

 

"These people here, they own their homes like I do, and they can put in anything they want to, and I'm not gonna say anything. But I put something in that I want, and that doesn't fly. That's just the way it is, I guess."

A week ago, Johnson defended his decision to have the cement swastika -- a widely recognized symbol of hate -- in his front yard, saying that people simply needed to "get over it."

According to the petition, local businesses and homes have posted a "Not in Our Town: El Sobrante" sign to urge Johnson to get rid of the cement display, though none of the homes on Johnson's street were displaying the signs Wednesday.

"We are speaking out now to show our neighbors that we want to keep El Sobrante as a welcoming community, free of intolerance and hate," the statement said.

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