Massive landscaped swastika has California neighborhood on edge
(NBC San Francisco) – A landscaping design in the East Bay had neighbors in an uproar Tuesday as an El Sobrante man carved a massive swastika into his front yard.
The Nazi symbol could be seen in aerial views of the home owned by Steven Johnson, who claimed it’s a Tibetan symbol from centuries ago.
"It doesn’t represent anything," Johnson said. "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?"
Neighbors see it as a swastika, and they say it’s offensive.
About six million Jews were systematically killed in the Holocaust by Germany's Nazi regime and its collaborators during World War II. Millions of others were also persecuted, among them Roma, people with mental or physical disabilities, gays and lesbians, Soviet prisoners, political opponents and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Renee Schultz, who is Jewish and has been a neighbor of Johnson‘s for 27 years, said he’s never done anything like this before.
"I was very clear with him about my feelings," she said. "I don’t agree with it; I think it’s wrong. I don’t like it, but it is his yard."
Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia says the county doesn't have the ability to force Johnson to remove the symbol, but he urged people to speak out against what’s seen as a symbol of hate.
"This is an unacceptable thing because of what this stands for and how people perceive the symbol," Gioia said.
The yard also has a peace sign in it not far from other swastika-looking symbols around the doorbell.
Johnson at times expressed ignorance about the symbol associated with hatred and racism. "What is a swastika?" he asked.
Another neighbor, Vince Poehnelt, who has known Johnson since childhood, said a lot of people are fearful, offended and afraid.
"I consider the guy harmless," Poehnelt said. "Maybe he’s a little too lazy to be a full-blown neo-Nazi."
Johnson also was asked about the swastika sticker on his motorcycle, at which point he ended the interview, telling reporters to get out of his yard.