A suspected white nationalist unfurled a nazi flag at a Bernie Sanders rally in Arizona late Thursday, before it was pulled down by other members of the crowd and he was thrown out of the building by security.
In video from the scene, the crowd can be seen cheering as Sanders takes the stage. The man then unfurls the swastika banner. Jeers erupt as those around him notice the Nazi flag and rip it down. Security officers then escorted him out the building.
One attendee at the rally told Buzzfeed that the man shouted anti-Jewish slurs at Sanders and gave the Nazi salute.
Apparently, Sanders did not see the flag in real time. But his spokesman, Mike Casca, told Buzzfeed that: “The senator is aware of the flag with the swastika on it and is disturbed by it.”
Video shows Sanders appeared to smile when he saw the man being escorted out, saying: “Whoever it was, I think they are a little outnumbered tonight.”
“And more importantly they are going to be outnumbered in November,” he said.
Sanders told reporters on Friday that the incident doesn’t raise “a question of whether I feel unsafe,” but of the bigger impact of anti-Semitism in the public square.
“It is horrific. It is beyond disgusting that, in the United States of America, there are people who would” display Nazi symbolism, Sanders said. He thanked local law enforcement for their handling of the episode.
“It was absolutely wild,” campaign surrogate Brianna Westbrook told the Washington Post. “I never thought I would have seen a swastika at a political event. It’s gross.”
“It really wakes you up and you see how bad things really are and the climate that we’re in,” she said.
The Anti-Defamation League called the incident”a new level of depravity.”
“Targeting a Jewish candidate with a Nazi flag represents a new level of depravity. There is no place for hate in politics. Disagree on issues, but all good people should flat out reject this kind of poison when it appears in the 2020 race,” tweeted CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
The progressive Jewish activist group IfNotNow called it an act of anti-Semitism.
“All people of conscience must condemn this antisemitism against the most visible Jewish politician in the country,” they tweeted.
Finally, for confirmation – he admits it himself. pic.twitter.com/zDqKLLUGU5
— Panic! in the Discord (@discord__panic) March 6, 2020
The ADL identified the white supremacist as Robert Sterkeson of Glendale, Arizona, who on multiple occasions has posted video of himself harassing Muslim and Jewish targets.
On Oct. 27, 2018, the day a white supremacist murdered 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue complex in Pittsburgh, Sterkeson unfurled a Nazi flag at a Jewish National Fund conference in the Phoenix area shouting anti-Semitic epithets while someone filmed him.
“Flying the swastika at Jewish National Fund conference on the same day as the synagogue shooting! #RobertBowersDidNothingWrong,” Sterkeson said at the time on social media.
There were several other disturbances and scuffles at the rally, including another man who was ejected by police after unfurling a pro-Trump banner.
Many on social media called for security to be stepped up for Sanders.
The Democratic contest now centers on Sanders, who is trying to rally progressives, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who is appealing to moderates.
Sanders, 78, was long reluctant to discuss his Jewish upbringing but began to open up well into his 2016 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination when he became the first Jewish candidate to win major-party nominating contests.
He has made his Jewish identity a central factor of his 2020 campaign, although he has also drawn criticism for agreeing to have as surrogates like activist Linda Sarsour and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who have been accused of peddling anti-Semitic myths.
This is an appalling display of anti-Semitism against a man whose family perished in the Holocaust.
And this SAME white nationalist has been harassing the Muslim community for years.
Our struggles are tied.https://t.co/9lsfceJmYQ
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) March 6, 2020
In February Sanders said being Jewish was one of two main factors that shaped his world view.
“It impacts me very profoundly,” he said. “When I try to think about the views that I came to hold there are two factors. One I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money…and the second one is being Jewish.”
Sanders recalled as a child reading “big picture books of World War II” and “tears were rolling down my cheeks” as he learned the fate of Jews. He also remembered seeing Holocaust survivors in his Brooklyn neighborhood with numbers tattooed on their arms, and a recent visit to his father’s hometown in Poland, where locals took him and his brother to a site where Nazis committed a mass murder of Jews.
Much of Sanders’ extended family perished in the Holocaust.
He said the experiences shaped his views, particularly in opposing US President Donald Trump and the “racial division” he said Trump promoted.