By Ken Stone, Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego News Association
Photo: Smartphone images of SUV with Nazi flag parked near Alpine Albertsons. Photos by Albert Aguilar
July 4, 2020 (Alpine) - Who’s driving around East County with a Nazi flag on their rear window? And why?
Interstate 8 motorists and an Alpine resident have posted pictures and video of a red-and-black SUV with the black swastika since Monday.
It was the second Nazi flag seen in East County since Dustin Hart and his wife wore small versions on their face masks in a May 7 visit to the Santee Food 4 Less. (Hart says he isn’t the driver with the flag).
Gina Moore-Sanders on Monday posted a picture of the flag vehicle that she said she found on a Facebook group. She quoted a comment: “This was witnessed this morning around 8 am leaving El Cajon on 67 East. Often we don’t know the danger of those around us. In this case they are flaunting it comfortably.”
The latest images were captured by Albert Aguilar of Alpine, who was shocked to see the flag just before 7:30 a.m. Thursday after a visit to a local Starbucks.
He also was shocked by the reaction he got to posting two images on the private Facebook group Loving Life Alpine.
Aguilar told Times of San Diego that some people were “blaming Antifa” and calling the picture — a rear view of the truck in the Albertsons parking lot — a “set-up.”
Others wondered if it really was the Albertsons parking lot.
So Aguilar went back to the scene and shot video showing the background of the original photos.
“I panned to my left and did a complete 360 just to show people that yes, this is happening here in Alpine,” he said in a phone interview.
Aguilar’s post on Loving Life Alpine was deleted, he said, as a violation of its anti-bullying rules.
“I wasn’t bullying anybody,” he said. “I was making a statement of what I saw. It was shocking. … I’m a Mexican. It really took the wind right out of my sails.”
Rachell Lara, the moderator of the Facebook group, said the post was removed out of fear it would instigate violence in the community. She said members of the group were outraged that anyone would display the Nazi flag. She added that the man’s action is in no way a reflection of attitudes in Alpine.
Aguilar rejected a theory that someone placed the flag as a “payback.”
He observed that people have reported the flag being seen in La Mesa and El Cajon, with the same California plates — 8BUC868. “So yeah, he’s doing this intentionally.”
A video shot Monday on an East County bend of Interstate 8 was accompanied by the note: “Terrorism out in the open. Subjecting us to fear in broad daylight. I couldn’t believe this was here in SoCal. I’m still in shock that I passed a car like this.”
A still image showed the vehicle and flag heading east on I-8 near the College Avenue ramp. The tweet said it was taken Tuesday.
“Another San Diego Nazi,” said the Twitter account. “My coworker saw a guy waving a nazi flag on I-8 on Friday (6/26).”
Aguilar said a lot of people have been spotting the anti-Semitic symbol. A neighbor said that a friend saw the flag last week on an Indian reservation.
But Aguilar apparently is the only person to get a good look at the driver.
Before he drove away, Aguilar and the driver — a bald, bearded man in his 20s — had a brief staredown.
“I was just looking at him, and he was kind of mad-dogging me,” Aguilar said. “And he took the flag off and stood there looking at me. I was shaking my head, and then I just drove off.”
Aguilar was surprised that the man was dressed as if to attend a job interview: very nice pants, nice shoes and a belt. Tucked-in shirt.
“I found it odd,” he said.
Also strange was that he didn’t appear Caucasian. “He had like a brownish tone to his skin,” he said.
Reacting to the latest images, Tammy Gillies of the San Diego Anti-Defamation League tweeted: “Haters are feeling emboldened. The swastika sends a message of hate not only to Jews, but all minority communities. It says we’re not welcome. Guess what, we’re not going anywhere!”
East County politicians were contacted late Thursday for their reaction.
Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, facing ex-Rep. Darrell Issa for the vacant 50th Congressional District seat that includes Alpine, said: “The latest sickening display of intolerance and anti-Semitism in our community breaks my heart and is one I condemn in the strongest possible terms. But it sadly proves that hate in 2020 is not only alive and well among a cowardly few, but that it has become even more brazen and blatant.”
He said it’s no surprise when some leaders encourage it, retweet it and “cheer on those who advertise intolerance” in an effort to intimidate law-abiding Americans.
“This type of racist fanaticism has oozed out of the gutter and polluted our community too many times in the recent past,” said Campa-Najjar, himself the target of anti-Muslim attacks in his 2018 race against resigned Rep. Duncan D. Hunter. (Campa-Najjar is Christian.) “If we expect to stop bigotry, we need (to) stop electing people who refuse to call racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry by its real name.”
John B. Franklin, chief adviser to Republican Issa, said via email Friday that his office hadn’t gotten reports of this yet.
“You are the first to give publicity to this hate monger as far as we know,” he wrote.
Franklin quoted Issa as saying: “Displaying the swastika is morally repugnant, hateful and disgusting.”
Aguilar said he saw a social media post that reported someone seeing the driver “walking out of the Sheriff’s Department.” A sheriff’s spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
When Aguilar got home from Albertsons, he said he took a minute to compose himself.
He said he asked God to help the Nazi flag driver.
“Probably something happened in his life. … We’re not born like this,” he said. “It’s taught. Hopefully, he’ll change his ways.”